The Disorderly Knights

disorderly knightsWhen 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.

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10 Responses to The Disorderly Knights

  1. Lisa says:

    I think Lymond’s concern for his son is connected to his own childhood and his parents & their issues – which of course aren’t completely revealed or explained to the reader until the end of the series.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, but I’m not sure I’m convinced by that. All that effort for one baby that may or may not even still be alive, and on whom Lymond has never clapped eyes? I know Dunnett does a lot of set-up in this book (the Kerrs, for instance, that’s genius) for this piece, but I’m not sure I was all in this time, especially knowing what was coming.

      • Teresa says:

        I felt like part of what’s going on was that Lymond is disturbed that there’s an innocent who is in Gabriel’s power because he wasn’t attentive enough. He can be rather cavalier about other people’s safety, especially if they ought to know enough to keep themselves out of trouble, but he goes out of his way for those who aren’t able to defend themselves. (I’m thinking particularly of the young queen here.) Heap that onto his own childhood history and whatever guilt he feels about Oonagh, along with his drive to get the better of Gabriel, the closest thing to an equal he’s encountered, and you’ve got a lot of reasons for him to profess that Kharedden’s safety is his sole concern, even if his reasons for caring so much are murky.

  2. prue batten says:

    Beautiful discussion. I have to say that on my first read, twenty odd years ago, I distrusted Mallett immediately. Probably because he was so godly, perfect and ‘virtuous’. Likewise, I thought Joleta most likely a little mad. All that said, WHAT a fabulous collection of antagonists and how clever to twist the plot to reveal a child. On that point, don’t you think Phillipa, and perhaps even Sybilla, had a lot to do with Lymond’s POV changing toward the child?

    • Jenny says:

      Both of them were obviously very moved by the idea of the baby, but again, why do you think Philippa would have any effect on Lymond at this point in their relationship? Yanking at his sleeve, “Mr. Crawford, Mr. Crawford, there is a baby!” Oh yeah, right, kid. No, I don’t find that really convincing. I’m playing devil’s advocate a bit here, since we are all supposed to love babies, but I’m just not sure it is totally plausible as a motive for the next two books. Still, you’re right about how wonderful this bookful of antagonists is!

      • prue batten says:

        Ah, how i love the discussions on Dunnett here!!!!
        An individual’s response to any novel is always subjective – that’s the beauty of reading and of discussion. For me, I like to think Dunnett contrived Phillipa as the conscience voice that Lymond didn’t have himself to any great degree. From the very beginning there was a link between the two of them and whether or not he wanted it to happen, she always made her mark in some way. Her yin viewpoint to his yang, if you like. And I rather like the idea that this young, inexperienced, unworldly girl so lacking in artifice could make a point so much more strongly than any of the others who apparently cared for Lymond’s wellbeing. As I said, it is not beyond the realms of possibility, as I read this novel again, that Phillipa is the lone if immature voice of care and concern.

      • Lisa says:

        I adore Philippa, but not in that moment, when she yanks not just his sleeve but the knife out of his hand and lets Gabriel go free. to wreak yet more havoc and cost many more lives. And I don’t quite see her attachment to this unknown baby either, since she’s shown no sign of interest in children. It has to be a displaced attachment to Lymond.

    • Jenny says:

      I agree with you, Lisa — this seems to me an attachment to Lymond, not a voice of conscience (Lymond has plenty of conscience of his own, indeed maybe too much!) I adore Philippa, but here she is worse than a nuisance. Still, the book is crafted to show us the importance of children: the Kerrs, as I said, and Kevin, and the young children on Gozo. It’s not by accident; with Dunnett it never is.

  3. gaskella says:

    Oh dear – having got you started off on a re-read of Lymond, I’ve managed to fall by the wayside. Not for want of wanting to read the books, just taking on too many others to read. Must try harder.

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