But the real touchstone in 20th-century examples has to be Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond chronicles, and I don't know that I'll be able to resist turning this inquiry into why some historical novels work and others don't into an excuse to reread the whole set--something I have not done for too many years. I took my old copy of The Game of Kings down this morning and realized it is more than 25 years since I first read it (I know because it is inscribed to me on my birthday in 1979). I had not realized until recently that my enthusiasm for these novels is actually part of a much wider phenomenon. I have still never met anyone else who has read them. Here's a testimony from Scottish novelist Linda Gillard (you'll notice I have learned how to use the 'insert link' function):
The Chronicles are my literary Forth Bridge. I re-read the cycle perpetually and when I come to the end of Checkmate, the final volume in the series, I always feel a need to return to the beginning again. With every re-reading I admire Dunnett’s achievements more, marvel at how she dared to write books that could not be appreciated fully in one reading or even two. She didn’t care if you couldn’t immediately grasp a point of plot or motivation. She refused to simplify. She expected you to work hard and knew that many readers enjoy working hardJust starting The Game of Kings has quickened my reader's pulse, but also I realize that these novels are among those that I'm reluctant to approach in a critical or technical way. Still, that's how many of my students feel about Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre and I always assure them that such an approach won't spoil the fun.