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4.9 out of 5 stars
Checkmate: The Lymond Chronicles Book Six
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on 17 March 2008
Checkmate opens as Lymond and his band of mercenaries leave England behind and travel to France to serve the French King in his battles with King Phillip. As Lymond is still set upon returning to Russia King Henri offers Lymond the annulment from Philippa that he desperately wants if he serves France for one year - if he doesn't Henri will do all in his power to block the annulment forever. Philippa comes to France to serve as lady in waiting to the young Mary Queen of Scotts, and continues her investigation into who actually parented Lymond and Marthe, as Lymond starts his own separate inquiry into his parentage.

The story unfolds amidst the pageantry of the French Court as it prepares for the wedding of Queen Mary to the Dauphin of France, and Philippa and Lymond struggle to deny the love they have come to feel for each other. Lymond and Philippa's adventures take them from the domicile of the deceased Dame de Doubtance, to a wild chase through the back streets of a French town (loved it!), until Philippa's quest to obtain the proof of Lymond's birth before it's sold to the evil Margaret Lennox and culminates in a disastrous encounter for Philippa that tears Philippa and Lymond apart and almost destroys any chance they have for happiness together.

As with the first five books in the series, Francis Crawford is a fascinating hero, and is as suave, debonair, flawed and fascinating as only a 16th Century version of James Bond could be. This was a rock-solid finish to a fabulous series, and it was wonderful to see the return of Jerrott and Marthe, along with more of Lymond's mother Sybilla and his brother Richard. I most especially enjoyed the mature and grown up Philippa who stole every scene and was a perfect foil for Lymond. My only complaints are the return of the French and Latin without translations as was found in the first book, and thumbs down to the publisher for not including a cast of characters as they did in the first four, this was a complex tale with many characters coming and going and that would have been greatly appreciated. Five Stars.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 January 2017
This is the last and best book in this truly brilliant series. Some other reviewers have complained about the melodramatic nature of this episode, but in truth I think the whole series is high melodrama, (in the first chapter of the first book, for goodness sake, there was a drunk pig and Lymond sets fire to his family home with his mum inside). This is just building to a climax before the end. The highs are higher and the lows are lower, it is all as we should expect, and it is glorious.

Quick recap: In the Previous book Lymond became estranged from his family. Now convinced his parentage is not what it ought to have been, he cannot face his mother. His brother, Richard, sensibly demanded that he cut out the usual confusion and deception and tell him exactly what was going on. He got half an answer and he didn't like it, and so smashed Lymond in the face. Lymond more than deserved it but it hasn't helped family relations.
In the hall or revels, thanks to an Lish play, Francis finally realised what everyone else had known long ago, and fell deeply and unfortunately in love with his wife.
Phillipa has decided that the only way to heal the family rift, and make Francis whole again, is to find out all the dirty little secrets surrounding Francis's birth, and once Phillipa has decided on a course of action it is pretty much impossible to divert her.
These three strands, along with France's wars against her all her neighbours and any one else who wants a go, drive the plot of this book.

An early episode has Lymond being chased across the rooftops of Lyon, an echo of an adventure many years ago in Bios, only this time more deadly and in much better company. It is as if all his previous adventures have just been preparation for the events of this book. Lymond appears on top form, dealing with danger through wit, guile and humour, Philippa, his equal in every way, follows leaping across the roofs, cheerfully dispatching her opponents with skills leaned in the Sultan's Harem. Together they soar, laughing, sure of each others talents. It is strong wine indeed for a wife in name only, the crash that follows is complete.

Jerott is back too, last seen abandoned to fate with Marthe in Volos They are married now, I am not entirely sure why, a reason is given in the book but I suspect it way just as likely that Marthe just wanted to cause someone pain.
You want to marry me? Fine – Do it! And then we shall see how happy you are...
Not very, by all accounts, Marthe is as fierce as ever an clearly has no great love for her husband. Jerott puts a brave face on it and cries into his wine every night.

Phillipa is the real star of the show, coming into her own in the French court, she has wealth and status of her own, and a whole troop of men who would lay down their lives for her love. She still makes just about every sacrifice possible to help her reluctant husband.

The ending was stunning, to say the twists were unexpected is a massive understatement, it is a roller-coaster. I was so glad – having enjoyed the series so far so much I was glad to see it go out with a bang.

Oh, I love this book, I have read the ending about 20 times in the past week and cried for about 5 of them. If that means I am a soppy sentimental lover of melodrama then so be it.
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on 21 May 2012
In this dazzling triumph of a book Dorothy Dunnett brings to a close her six-book Lymond saga, surely the most resonant, knowledgeable and brilliant series of historical fiction ever written. Unless her subsequent series, the House of Niccolo beats it (?). In this final doorstopper of a book (581pp) Lymond ranges across France with the remnants of his St Mary's force, fighting the Spanish insurgents and commanding his polyglot army who sometimes fight amongst themselves until he brings his iron control to bear. But in this book Lymond is also brought low by his failures of control, not least control over his own body. Archie Abernathy's opium doses cannot help him this time since the crippling migraines he suffers have reached a point where they are literally blinding.

The reign of Henri II and his wife Catherine di Medici was marked by wars with Austria and Spain and the persecution of the Huguenots, and these and other true incidents, are reflected in the events of this book which are closely matched to history. The research that has gone into this book is absolutely peerless - though it rarely makes itself felt. A further point that might be made is that these books will make demands on the reader as the plots are often complex and the series involves a supremely accurate portrait of the renaissance world with all its cruelty, brilliance, filth and violence. This is sometimes not an easy read, but the character of Lymond, (often infuriating and not someone who suffers fools gladly, or at all) with all his flaws and virtues, makes the experience worth while.

There is, of course, the problem of how to achieve a final rapprochement between the lovers. Although they are now in the same country they move in distant circles and Lymond, from a sense of shame for his own past, will not impose anything on (still virginal) Philippa. He becomes affianced to a young and beautiful French courtier (after sleeping with her mother) - subject of course to obtaining an annulment of his marriage. Meanwhile there is a war to be won, and in between the efforts of Philippa to find out the truth of Lymond's origins and the intrigues of the French court, events conspire to send both of them home. One more intrigue by Margaret Lennox awaits Lymond before Ms Dunnett leaves us with our hearts in our mouths in a final, terrifying scene on the approach to the Summerville estate in Flaw Valleys. Absolutely superb. (Nb. Readers without any French will be annoyed at not knowing what the many verse sequences mean. I solved my ignorance on this score by resorting to Vol. I of the `The Dorothy Dunnett Companion by Elspeth Morrison.) And now for the House of Niccolo series!
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on 20 June 2016
MAGNIFICENT! The final book of the utterly amazing and addictive Lymond series by arguably the best author, ever. This series is no light-weight, easy read. It takes time and commitment. Once you're hooked, you're hooked for life.

By the time you've reached this book, assuming you've read the other five, you will be completely smitten by Francis Crawford of Lymond, and this final book is possibly the best of the six. Make sure you read to the last page. I don't want to give anything away, but at one stage I threw my paperback into the fire (luckily it was unlit) and I heard of someone else throwing hers down the aisle of a train. Someone was kind enough to pick it up and return it, with the advice to keep reading - presumably that person had read it, too. Every one who has read the book knows the passage I am referring to, but I will give no clues.

I get a tingle of excitement every time I pick up this series to start re-reading yet again. I've never found its equal, although I read every day, all my life. I envy anyone reading it for the first time. Emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback? Definitely. Don't hesitate. Buy, read and enjoy.
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on 16 January 2016
I returned to the Lymond Chronicles after many years. I have found them hugely enjoyable, as before, and have spotted many details which I missed the first time. My complaint is about the audiobook versions. I listen to books on CDs in the car, and thought this would be a good way to reacquaint myself with the series. The reader of the first book is tolerable, but his successor on the other five is awful. He is quite good at making it clear which character is speaking, and this is important for an audiobook. However, his French is terrible, in a series of books full of French quotations and two of which are set in France. His English pronounciation is, if anything, worse, as he has less excuse. To many words he gives the wrong stress, such as "Le'vant",others he clearly does not understand, such as "breathily" or "seconded" in the sense of temporary transfer to another post. He knows how to pronounce "benign", but not "benignity" or "benignant". Worst of all, he could not get the name of our hero right; Lymond is "Limmond" until part way through his third book. Someone must have corrected him, so why could all the other howlers not be picked up? It is a tribute to Dorothy Dunnett's wonderful writing that I have stuck with the CDs.
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on 24 October 2000
The Lymond chroncilcle, starting with "Game of Kings" and culminating with "Checkmate" is compulsive reading. Set during the lifetime of Mary Queen of Scots, the action ranges from Scotland, France, Malta, Istambul, Russia and finally back to Scotland. A mixture of fictional and real characters come alive on the pages. The central character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, is one of the most charismatic characters in any book I have ever read. His colleagues and enemies are equally realistically drawn, and equally compulsive. These books encouraged me to find out more about the times and places they tell of. I cannot count how many times I have read them and must have driven the publishers mad with calls to find out when "Checkmate" would appear. It took years and the tension was almost unbearable.
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on 19 October 2000
I can remember vividly when I first read this book - having had to wait years after finishing the first five. The first five were wonderful but this one was even better. A perfect culmination to this stunning series. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history, language and complex personal relationships.
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on 25 November 1999
I agree with the previous reviewer - this is a wonderful climax to the Lymond chronicles. It would be spoiling a good story to read this book without completing the five earlier books in the series. However, once you have become smitten with Francis Crawford of Lymond and his entourage, I promise that you will want to read these books again and again for sheer pleasure. No other writer of historical fiction comes anywhere close to Dorothy Dunnett for quality of plot, setting and language.
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on 10 October 1999
Don't even think about reading this book until you've read the previous five in the series. Francis Crawford of Lymond will drive you to the depths of despair, but never disappoint you. You will be on a knife edge until almost the last page, so I can't say more. For me ,this is D.D.'s best book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 April 2006
This is the sixth and last book in a series which you will either love or hate. It is also one of those multi-book series which must if at all possible be read in the right order, which is

1) The Game of Kings
2) Queen's Play
3) The Disorderly Knights
4) Pawn in Frankincense
5) The Ringed Castle
6) Checkmate

This concluding story brings all the threads together. Having completed his service to Ivan the Terrible, Francis Crawford of Lymond returns to France and becomes a pawn in the battle between the English and the French King.

Meanwhile Phillipa Somerville, nominally Crawford's wife but still a virgin, is tring to uncover the truth behind her husband's origins. Dunnett keeps the reader constantly off-balance with surprise after surprise before the final conclusion.

There are two reasons why this series, and the author's similar "Niccolo" series, should be read in chronological order. The first is that the plots are incredibly complicated and if you read them out of sequence you have no chance of understanding what is going on.

The second is that many of the characters meet their deaths in ways which are exceptionally unpleasant both for themselves and for the characters who survive them. If you read the books out of sequence, advance knowledge of how characters are going to die, can have a significant impact on the pleasure you would otherwise have had in reading about the earlier events of their lives when you do get around to reading the earlier books.

Like the books, the central character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, is brilliant, violent, and extremely complicated. Unlike the books he is very flawed. Lymond is a mercenary with particular interests in Scotland and France, and gets involved in nefarious deeds all over the world as 16th century Europeans knew it. Dunnett brings the splendour, cultural ferment, and violent cruelty of the Renaissance world splendidly to life.

If you are at all squeamish, or do not like having to make your brain work overtime to follow a book, leave this series alone. Lymond's story is neither "chewing gum for the brain" nor a comfortable read. And even if you prefer flawed heroes to knights in shining armour, Lymond may infuriate you from time to time. But if you can put up with these features, these books will richly reward the effort you make in reading them. Those who do like the series will find this a magnificent conclusion.

There is no middle ground: you will either hate the Lymond series or recognise these books as one of the greatest works of historical fiction ever written. Or very possibly both !
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