More Dorothy Dunnett Analysis

More Dunnett, this time a fight scene that’s as carefully choreographed as her prose. Here Lymond and Jerott are fighting, and it’s soon after Jerott’s ideas of Lymond have been reversed. It doesn’t come out till somewhat after the passage that Lymond is desperately (with Lymond, it’s always desperately) ill with fever.

His breathing soft and quick, as it should be, Jerott bounced to his feet like a cat. Bit by bit, he was losing his anger, in the sheer artistry of what they were doing. He crouched, ready to engage, just as the candle went out.

That as it should be anchors the moment firmly inside Jerott’s head. I find this telling because Jerott is the mirror in which Lymond is rendered in this particular volume, the role played by Will Scott in the first book and by Robin in the second. It’s a progression that continues throughout the series. And it’s his perception of Lymond’s fighting skill, along with his own, that makes him shed his anger and become an even better observer of the moment.

And Lymond, he realized, was prepared for it: had in the last second of light already marked his next grip, and from the force of the onslaught Jerott now received, hurling him back willy-nilly into the far corner of the hut, had determined to subjugate him, with the darkness as his ally, here and now.

That’s all one long sentence, just as the action is one long action, Lymond’s rush forward into the darkness, with a little pause for breath there with that capping here and now.

Then Jerott was down, as he had so often been down, suddenly, in the days of training. He answered it properly. He used his strength, which was suddenly invincible, to free the one hand that could chop, with its cast-iron edge, at the throat rising from the open-necked shirt above him; and as Lymond rolled sideways to go with the impact of the blow, Jerott surged up, kicking, and with all the force he possessed, flung himself on top of his commander and then, his hands hard in his shoulders, propelled him over and over the uneven ground until Lymond crashed back, under Jerott’s passionate thrust, straight into the spiked bulk of the table. As his back took the full force of the blow, he exclaimed aloud.

Again, long sentence for continuous action. And we are so very firmly anchored in Jerott’s head that we’re experiencing the memories he has of training and his surge of confidence in that training that appears with He answered it properly. More action follows — note the giddy backward sway of propelled him over and over the uneven ground and, of course, the odd sexuality of passionate combined with thrust. Not to mention describing Lymond as his commander, which reminds us that we’re experiencing Jerott’s mental convulsions regarding Lymond while the fight is going on.

But the really shining thing about that paragraph is the final sentence, where the thought movement goes something like this: This is the first time he’s made a noise throughout the whole struggle and while at the same time that retroactively transforms (or rather finetunes the focus on) the fight it also tells us how bad the impact of his back with the table’s spiked bulk is — particularly when we remember he’s still recovering from being flogged. Oh, Dorothy, this is why I love looking at your prose.

There followed absolute silence, ringing with the reverberations of someone’s shouting, abruptly cut off. From Lymond, spreadeagled under his hands, there was no further sound and Jerott, kneeling back abruptly, was able to review what he had done. It had been deliberate. He was, after all, an homme de metier.

Homme de metier translates (according to the web, which is sometimes lacking) as a craftsman, someone skilled in a particular art (and while the frequency with which Dunnett forces one to investigate foreign language dictionaries can be irritating, it’s always informative). This is how Jerott sees himself, and it’s something that he’s running through in his mind at this moment, asking himself if what he’s done was the right thing and reassuring himself with It had been deliberate. I myself would not use abruptly particularly twice in rapid succession, but Dunnett tends to be less distrustful of adverbs than I am.

Facebook Twitter Email

Related Posts:

About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
This entry was posted in teaching and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.