Queens’ Play is the second book of Dorothy Dunnett’s excellent historical fiction series, the Lymond Chronicles. Although it is not absolutely necessary to read the first book, Game of Kings, you will enjoy the other books more if you do. If you decide to continue this series, it is important to read them in order after this one.
Francis Crawford of Lymond enters the scene disguised, and it is some time before we figure out which of two characters he is. Francis has been asked by Mary de Guise, Queen Dowager of Scotland and mother of Mary Queen of Scots, to travel to France and protect Mary. Although Mary is still a little girl, plots revolve around her, and her mother is afraid her life is at risk.
The Irish prince Phelim O’Liam Roe’s arrival into France is a spectacular one, as his ship almost crashes into another one when entering the harbor. This incident is perhaps not an accident, as evidence mounts that someone is trying to kill the prince. To the French court, O’Liam Roe is unbelievably provincial, and he is immediately the butt of ridicule. He is attracted to Oonagh O’Dwyer, an Irish woman living on the borders of society, but she disdains him. In fact, she is the mistress of the Irish rebel Cormac O’Connor.
O’Liam Roe has brought with him Thady Boy Ballagh, an ollav, or trained master poet. Untidy, fat Thady Boy is gaining popularity with the decadent French court through a series of reckless deeds and his brilliant musical performances.
It seems that the Queen Dowager’s fears are correct. During a hunt that employs the king’s leopards as hunting animals, someone lets Mary’s pet hare out in front of the cat near her pony. As she struggles to save her pet, the cat turns its sights on Mary.
As always, Dunnett combines heart-stopping action and suspense with a detailed knowledge of the period. This book begins some of the plot threads that will continue throughout the series.