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Legendary Lymond Chronicles #0004: Pawn in Frankincense: Fourth in the Legendary Lymond Chroniclesby Dorothy Dunnett
Reading Group Guide
1. For discussion of Pawn in Frankincense
In Pawn in Frankincense Lymond searches the Mediterranean for the child of Oonagh O'Dwyer, using as his cover the delivery of a special "gift" from the king of France to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. In Chapter Two we see the gift described (among other things) as "grisly . . . sickening . . . revolting." What is the gift? How does it figure in the plot? Does it also serve as a symbolic representation of Lymond himself?
2. This is in some ways the most exotic of the six novels, giving us silkworms, giraffes and leopards, opium, pearls, and "qahveh" (coffee), Algiers, Thessalonika, and Stamboul. What is the novel's general attitude toward the East? For what covert purposes does the mysterious Kiaya Khátún engineer Philippa's journey through Greece and into Topkapi? What are the equally mysterious Marthe's covert purposes in her journey? In what sense, or senses, is the exotic but certainly Western-born Marthe "at home" in the East?
3. Lymond and Gabriel have been opposing "knights": how does it amplify, complete, or even critique their long contention to see them also as chess masters in the novel's climactic human chess game? What are the implications of Lymond's tragic last move? How does this moment recall some of the Dame de Doubtance's statements and prophecies to Lymond in Chapter Two?
For discussion of the Lymond Chronicles
1. The hero of a long series of historical novels, like the hero of a crime or detective series, lives properly in a milieu of struggle and physical violence and is likely to be the object of this violence over and over. Yet, of course, he must survive it if the series is to continue: "Popular resurrections are a tedious pastime of Francis'," says Lady Lennox in Queens' Play, trying to recover from yet another reappearance by the handsome nemesis she had thought was dead. What are the most interesting or important examples of the deaths and resurrections of Francis Crawford in the series? How and for what purpose do such scenes play with the feelings of the reader?
2. In its various travels and stories, the Lymond Chronicles encompass several religious systems--Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox Christianity, as well as several forms of the Islamism of the Ottoman Empire. What is the series' attitude toward religion, religious institutions, and authentic spirituality? What do figures like the Dame de Doubtance, John Dee, and Michel de Nostradamus--astrologers and scientists, mystics and psychologists--represent in this respect?
3. Over the length of the Lymond Chronicles the protagonist must withstand the attacks of three powerful antagonists--Margaret Lennox, Graham Malett, and Leonard Bailey. How do these figures of evil differ in their reasons for wanting to possess or destroy Francis Crawford? Does the manner of their deaths or downfalls seem particularly appropriate to their characters?
4. As the secrets of the Crawford family structure surface one by one, through the very last few pages of the last novel, the questions raised in the first novel about Francis Crawford's relationship with his father, his brother, and his sister acquire disconcerting new dimensions. What new father, brother, sister does he need to integrate into his understanding of his family? One thing never changes, however--the centrality of his relationship to his mother for his psyche, his sexuality, even his politics. What by the end do we think of Sybilla Semple Crawford?
5. The essence of a good historical novel is its capacity to create colorful scenes for pure entertainment value, while also offering shrewd characterization, complex plot evolution, and acute political and social insight. Is the comedy of a scene like the feast and fight at the Ostrich Inn in Part II of The Game of Kings, for instance, a good balance for the pure thrill of the swordfight and chase into Hexham in Part IV? How do these scenes illuminate character, plot, and relationships?
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