The Literary Horizon: The Game of Kings, The Pillars of the Earth

The fraternal twin sister to the doorstopper fantasy novel is the doorstopper historical fiction novel; it’s a matter of setting and scope, I think. When either one is executed well, there’s a similar sense of immersion and escapism that can be downright comforting. So I’d thought we’d look at two doorstopper historical fiction novels on my reading list—both of which are set on the British Isles.

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

Dunnett introduces her irresistible hero Francis Crawford of Lymond, a scapegrace nobleman of elastic morals and dangerous talents whose tongue is as sharp as his rapier. In 1547 Lymond is returning to his native Scotland, which is threatened by an English invasion. Accused of treason, Lymond leads a band of outlaws in a desperate race to redeem his reputation and save his land.

via Amazon

Dorothy Dunnett… the historical fiction writer whose thoroughly rewarding novels take weeks to finish. (I say this lovingly and on the basis of having read one of her books, King Hereafter.) Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles are well respected, and I would like to have a historical fiction series to check in with every once in a while.

Author Linda Gillard, writing for Rhapsody in Books, adores this entire series and notes that Francis was once voted “The Greatest Romantic Hero of All Time”, beating out Darcy, Rochester, and Heathcliff. Yati at half-real worlds of paper and ink also adored it, but notes that’s challenging, dense, and not all that accessible—but it’s also amazing.

The Game of Kings was published in 1961.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

As a new age dawns in England’s twelfth century, the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral sets the stage for a story of intrigue and power, revenge and betrayal.
Ah, The Pillars of the Earth—ubiquitous in bookstores and recently adapted into a Starz miniseries. (Does anybody else think it’s kind of adorable that Starz is playing with the big boys now, pitting Camelot against Game of Thrones?) I think I finally put this onto the reading list after encountering it at the bookshop in the British Library; that institution couldn’t steer me wrong, right?

Teresa at Shelf Love was not impressed; while she thought it was a good story, she found the characters one-note and the novel unnecessarily long. Eva at A Striped Armchair, however, found the characters so human she identified with them thoroughly (except William. I gather I am going to hate William).

The Pillars of the Earth was published in 1989.

11 thoughts on “The Literary Horizon: The Game of Kings, The Pillars of the Earth

  1. Hooray for The Game of Kings! That was the first Dunnett I read and it got my absolutely hooked. Love, love, love it. And since you’ve read King Hereafter, probably her toughest book, you’ll probably find this to be not so bad.

    But Pillars of the Earth is another thing altogether. I’ve grown to think less of it since I read it. It’s one of those books where the good points are entertaining enough while you’re immersed in them, but the bad parts are what linger. You may feel differently, though; I know lots of people loved it. I would have liked it well enough at half the length.

  2. Thanks for linking to my guest blog, Clare.

    I just love those US covers. The British covers didn’t do Dunnett justice.

    A word of warning about “dipping in”. It all depends on where you stand on delayed gratification. I took years to read the 6 vols of THE LYMOND CHRONICLES, but my husband polished them off in 6 weeks, stopping only to eat and sleep.

  3. Oooooh, William…yes, he will be hated! I’ve read Pillars of the Earth and have Game of Kings. Pillars was, I thought, a really good, fast, absorbing, twisty sort of novel, if you ignore the writing. I often found myself, in rare moments of quiet in the plot, reading a sentence and thinking, Did he really publish that? But overall, very enjoyable. As for Game of Kings, I’m looking forward to giving that series a try, though I’ve heard it’s dense. I’m saving up my mental energy!

  4. I tried several time to get through The Pillars of the Earth with no luck. I never got past page 65. William, oh, you’ll hate him. He was one of the reasons I gave up reading. I’d say more but all I can remember is a really long scene where everyone chases a pig. For as much as I love historical fiction, this one wasn’t for me. Hopefully you’ll find it more interesting.

  5. I have both of these sitting unread on my shelves; I think the chunkster nature of them is what’s been delaying my reading of them… they’re kind of intimidating! Maybe I just need to think of them as new Outlander or Wheel of Time novels, which I have no trouble devouring even at equivalent sizes.

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