When we last left Lymond, he had left behind a couple of aliases and gained a new title — the Comte de Sévigné — as a result of his hazardous protection of the young Queen of Scotland. The Disorderly Knights begins as far from that cool, jaded, and chattering French court as you can possibly imagine. Lymond first finds himself among the Knights Hospitallers, on Malta, Tripoli, and Gozo, preparing for an invasion from the Turk. Among the Knights of this order are Lymond’s childhood friend Jerott Blyth, who now regards Lymond as a secular renegade, and the beloved, admired knight Graham Reid Malett, called Gabriel because… well, you can imagine why. The second half of the book takes us back to Scotland, where Lymond is training a small army of Renaissance mercenaries, Jerott and Gabriel among them.
Jenny: I have to say up front that re-reading this book was a completely different experience for me than reading it for the first time. (This is my third trek through the series.) Much of the book is seen through Jerott’s eyes, as someone who doesn’t particularly like or trust Lymond, even if he is learning to admire his capabilities in time of siege, war, or adventure. This is a familiar posture in these books: Lymond has a disorderly reputation, if you will, and he has had to learn to show what he can be trusted with, rather than simply profess that he can be trusted and expect people to believe him. But knowing what we do about his capacities and motives, it’s fascinating and a bit uncomfortable to watch the events on Malta unfold.
Teresa: This book is definitely different on rereading. I was surprised at how much I had forgotten about the first half of the book. The second half, in Scotland, is what had remained in my memory. But it’s also different from the first book, in which we aren’t sure how much to trust Lymond, in that we know by now that Lymond is trustworthy, and we’re watching Jerott work through the process of figuring Lymond out—or not. And, for the first time in the series, we meet someone who could be considered Lymond’s equal. Gabriel seems to match Lymond in intellect, boldness, and skill, and he doesn’t suffer from a poor reputation. He’s a natural leader, loved and admired by his men.
Jenny: Yes indeed. During these early chapters, the main thing that seems to set Gabriel apart from Lymond is simply his faith. Lymond isn’t faithless, but he keeps his (somewhat heterodox) beliefs to himself, whereas Gabriel, as a Knight Hospitaller and a leader of religious men, is open in prayer and religious language. In this particular situation, it puts him at a significant advantage over Lymond. Those around them are much more likely to believe Gabriel’s word than Lymond’s, simply because Gabriel has God to back him up.
One of the things I like best about The Disorderly Knights is the mix of intrigue and practicality. You get to see that on Malta when the siege occurs and the Knights are involved in fending off the attack in every way they know how (including discovering saboteurs among their midst). You also get to see it back in Scotland, at St. Mary’s, when Lymond is training his men to be a razor-sharp band of officers. The training montage, as it were, is wonderfully memorable, showing the art and practice of war as well as the swirl of schemes that are out to trap Lymond. And of course, back in Scotland we get the Somervilles!
Teresa: They weren’t in evidence in Queens’ Play, so it was wonderful to see them again. Both Kate and Phillipa are great characters, and we’re just starting to see Phillipa grow out of childhood and into womanhood. The relationship between these two women and Lymond is one of the best ongoing threads in the series.
But in contrast to the Somervilles, we have Gabriel’s sister, Joleta. She’s presented as ethereal, otherworldly, angelic—the female version of the pure and noble Gabriel. But we learn that there’s more going on with her than meets the eye. But now we risk getting into spoiler territory. So much in this book relies on expectations and assumptions that get upturned that it’s almost impossible to discuss it without mentioning those twists. So from here on, there will be spoilers…
Jenny: Again, I can’t remember at all what my reaction was to Joleta the first time I read this book. Did I fall for her act even for a second? Wasn’t I suspicious of someone so perfectly perfect? If Lymond didn’t like her, and we know Lymond’s excellent judgment, wasn’t that clue enough? Of course, I couldn’t guess the details of her nasty secrets, but I feel sure I should have known enough.
Gabriel is another matter. Not only is he a much smoother customer, given to self-deprecation and blaming himself once the disaster has occurred and it’s too late to be mended, he’s nearly undetectable. Who suspects or dislikes Gabriel, apart from Lymond? Only women, with hunches, until the very end — and then, finally, there’s proof, but not without terrible consequences.
Teresa: From what I remember of my first reading, I was suspicious of Joleta almost from the start and definitely by the time Lymond met her. Even if she wasn’t deliberately lying, I was certain that her perfection had to be either a ruse or built on something so shallow that it would be easily corrupted. A relationship with her could lead nowhere good of that I was certain.
But I was totally taken in by Gabriel. I thought his doggedness about converting Lymond was over the top and certainly misguided, but I sympathized with the desire. Even on a second reading, I missed a lot of the clues to his true nature, despite being on alert! Mostly, I noticed suspicious circumstances. Just as Lymond hides his true nature, even from readers, Gabriel hides his. (Or Dunnett hides both, to be more accurate.) Again, he’s a perfect foil for Lymond, and by the end of the book he even has power over Lymond. We see his pain in the incredibly wrenching final lines of the book:
So small a spirit, to lodge such sorrows as mankind has brought you. Live … live … wait for me, new, frightened soul. And though the world should reel to a puny death, and the wolves are appointed our godfathers, I will not fail you, ever.
Jenny: That is heartbreaking, of course, and just after we’ve had a terrible missed opportunity. But I had questions about that, this time around, as well. In an age when so many children died of inexplicable diseases and failure to thrive and nothing at all, and since this particular child is illegitimate, and since Lymond has never laid eyes on him, why is he so important? Is it really plausible that Lymond would launch an all-out oath-driven campaign to get Khaireddin back? It’s wonderful phrase-making, but I don’t know whether it actually fits. And since this motive drives the next two books, I want it to fit.
Either way, though, this is a splendid book, light on court intrigue and heavy on the machinery of war and the ways a fine-honed instrument can make or break an emerging nation. We see once again the way the politics of several countries and the ethics of a single man can fit together. Dunnett’s genius is evoking that with marvelous prose, rich humor, and masterful plotting. Can’t wait for the next book.