The Books of Dorothy Dunnett

I first encountered the series of six historical novels known as The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett as an undergraduate (thanks Sharron Albert, wherever you are!). They’re a series of complex, intricately plotted historical novels set in late fifteenth century Europe and the Mediterranean. The enormous quantity of literary allusions and quotations in the Chronicles enticed me into a paper chase as I tried to locate Dunnett’s sources. I already liked Middle English literature, but my Dunnett-inspired researches introduced me to Middle Scots literature, and helped convince me to change my major from Music to English. The Lymond Chronicles are  also at least partially responsible for my decision to specialize in Medieval English and Celtic literatures in graduate school.

Though Dunnett’s prose and historical detail can be slow going at first, the books really are worth the extra effort. They are truly wonderful books, and still inspire narrative lust after multiple readings. Dunnett followed The Lymond Chronicles in the 1990s by the Niccolo series, and though all the books of both sequences stand alone, the Niccolo books are tied to the Lymond Chronicles, which they precede in historical terms.

I’m not alone in my immediate and strong reaction and attention to Dunnett’s striking prose, careful research, and gift for narrative; this post from novelist M.M. Bennetts wherein she describes being Dazzled by Dunnett is very like my own immediate reactions and absorption. See also Sarah Hughes via The Guardian: Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles: far more than sex and swords.

Below are a few links I’ve found about Ms. Dunnett’s various books. If you are intrigued and can’t find the Lymond Chronicles, or her novel about the historical Macbeth, King Hereafter, her sequence of historical novels about Niccolo, or her contemporary mysteries featuring the impenetrable and impermeable Johnson Johnson, at your local bookstore and library, you can order the Lymond Chronicles from Vintage at their web site (linked below), or at one of these online bookstores.

I’m absolutely delighted that the Lymond Chronicles as well as Dunnett’s Johnson Johnson mysteries, her Macbeth historical novel King Hereafter and the House of Niccolo books are all finally available in multiple ebook formats, as well as in audio book format.

Dorothy Dunnett died in November of 2001; she will be deeply missed, but perhaps more importantly, she and her books will both live on in memories and in the lives of new readers.

The Dorothy Dunnet Companions


The Lymond Chronicles and the House of Niccolo are connected, and both series rely on numerous literary and historical allusions. The two Companions books offer the sources and even the translations, for many of the allusions. The Lymond Poetry is a collection of most, not all, of the poetry and lyrics.

Dunnett, Dorothy. Compiler. The Lymond Poetry. New York: Penguin, 2003. ISBN: 0141012447.

Morrison, Elspeth. The Dorothy Dunnett Companion. Vintage Books. 2001. ISBN 0375725873.

Morrison, Elspeth and Dorothy Dunnett. The Dorothy Dunnett Companion II. Vintage Books. 2002. ISBN 0375726683.

Myers, Jenny. Bruges: The Dorothy Dunnett Guide. The Dorothy Dunnett Society. September, 2011.

The Lymond Chronicles

The Game of Kings. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. ISBN 0679777431.

Vintage excerpted Chapter 1 from Game of Kings on their website.

Queen’s Play. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. ISBN 067977744X.

The Disorderly Knights. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. ISBN 0679777458.

Pawn In Frankincense. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. ISBN 0679777466.

The Ringed Castle. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. ISBN 0679777474.

Checkmate. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. ISBN 0679777482.

The House of Niccolo

Niccolo Rising. New York: Vintage, 1999. ISBN 0375704779.

Spring of the Ram. New York: Vintage, 1999. ISBN 0375704787.

Race of Scorpions. New York: Vintage, 1999. ISBN 0375704795.

Scales of Gold. New York: Vintage, 1999. ISBN 0375704809.

The Unicorn Hunt. New York: Vintage, 1999. ISBN 0375704817.

To Lie With Lions. New York: Vintage, 1999. ISBN 0375704825.

Caprice and Rondo. New York: Vintage, 1999. ISBN 0375706127.

Gemini. New York: Vingage, 2001. ISBN 0375708561.

Dorothy Dunnett Links And Resources

The Dorothy Dunnett Society.
The The Dorothy Dunneet Society is a Scottish Charity based in Edinburgh, was set up by Dorothy Dunnett, and aims to promote interest in her novels and the historical background in which they take place. This is mainly done by the publishing of the magazine “Whispering Gallery” which is published quarterly and distributed to members world wide. Whispering Gallery contains Dunnett related articles, and letters from readers. Submissions are welcomed from members. There are also annual meetings.
Interview with Dorothy Dunnett

An interesting interview by Isolde Martyn of Dorothy Dunnett from March, 2000.

Margaret Throsby interviewed Dorothy Dunnett for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2000.

Bill Marshall’s Dunnett SiteThis is the best maintained, most complete, and most useful Dunnett web page I know of. There’s a bibliography, a page of questions answered by Dorothy Dunnett herself, and information about the Dunnett Reading Association and their publication Whispering Gallery.

Vintage Books Dunnett web site

Vintage Books, a division of Random House, reissued all six of the Lymond Chronicles in paperback, and the eight volumes of The House of Niccolo as well. You can read all about them here. Notice the Dunnett forum as well. There’s also a sample chapter of the first book, Game of Kings, some reviews, a biography, and materials for book clubs.

Notes on Game of Kings

Someone has created some very nice annotations about quotations, allusions and Scots words in The Game of Kings


  • Mike Brain

    An ‘Ode to Dorothy’ by Michael Brain with apologies to William McGonagall 2015

    ‘And ooohhh Dorothy Dunnett’s a wonderful girl,
    For Historical fiction, a priceless pearl,
    On Scotland’s past she writes with skill,
    Some heart stopping novels, with computer, not quill.
    While Lymond courts that Somerville Phippy, he still finds time for Mikal the hippy.
    Frances and Gabriel often get laid; a murderous game of chess is played.
    Macbeth (or Thorfinn) makes Groa his wife, meets Rognvald in a pit and fights for his life.
    Niccolo travels the Renaissance world, his caterpillar lip cheekily curled, we meet Jodi, Henry, Kathi & Bel, and fat father Jordan, the grand pappy from Hell.
    Johnson Johnson, that cardigan-ed spy, (anyone know if it’s 2 or 3 ply), he’s a sailor solving mysteries of ingenious plot, meets dollies galore on that same named yacht.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.