I wrote this,as I remember it,in response to a post from a reader who had found Lymond, as Thady Boy, unattractive and hard to understand in terms of his overall characterisation. Not everyone will share my viewpoint, I know :-).
Now I think Lymond's struggle in the first half of Queens' Play is wonderful writing and psychological insight on Dorothy Dunnett's part.
A lesser writer would have made everything in the garden rosy for Lymond, as soon as he is reinstated and reunited with his family at the end of Game of Kings.
Instead he is like a war veteran, carrying the mental scars of conflict unseen into his later life - a sufferer from post-traumatic stress, as we would probably put it today, acting out has distress. Think of what happened to him in the six years which culminate in Game of Kings, including the gravely damaging events of the book itself.
A disastrous sexual initiation and subsequent betrayal, alienation from his family and country, years of acute physical danger without remission, the death of his helpers through their association with him and more, all by the age of twenty one.
It's hinted subtly that his family were concerned about his failure to engage with any serious plan for his future life in the years between Game of Kings and Queens' Play and he has almost to be pressganged into going to France. Duty wins, but metaphorically, rather than going willingly, he drags himself there kicking and screaming.
It seems to me that all the things he is supposed by everyone to be learning in Queens' Play he already knows.
He learnt from the deaths of Matt and Christian that if he led, people would follow and that however hard he tried to protect them they could be hurt or killed (this is pretty much spelled out in his conversation with Tom Erskine where Christian is mentioned: and he did try to protect Christian.) He wouldn't just be able to shrug it off because that is not his temperament, but would bear all the pain of it, and sometimes it would be nearly intolerable.
He knows all that; it is exactly why he is so reluctant to do what the Erskines and Mary of Guise want. And he does find it immensely difficult and painful, hence all the destructive behaviour, drowning of pain in drink and debauchery. The music, on the other hand, is absolutely genuine and passionate, I believe. By the end of Queens' Play he has found the strength to take on the burden of leadership, and its pains, with composure - but it is never certain that he will be able to maintain that composure in the longer term and that is the drama of his life lived on the edge, almost to the point of death, as we know.
He has tremendous courage, intelligence and compassion too, but he is vulnerable, just because he does feel deeply and pushes himself so far. Actually it is Margaret and Phelim, the newcomers to the world of action where people get hurt, who really have to learn the consequences of hurting others in a good cause. Lymond is just the sounding board on which they hammer out their lesson.
Diana Crane, Cirencester UK