In "House of Cards", Michael Dobbs introduced Francis Urquhart, the ruthless politician who rose to power through scheming, betrayal, and murder. In Dobbs's follow-up novel "To Play the King", Urquhart is now the Prime Minister of Great Britain - arguably the most powerful man in the country. His appointment as PM comes at the same time the country crowns a new King.
Urquhart has ambitions to maintain his powerful position for as long as possible and to make an indelible mark on history; but the idealistic King wants to focus his government's efforts and resources on the poor and underserved in his country. Urquhart sees this as an encroachment on his territory. Traditionally, the monarch is a figurehead who avoids policy and politics. The conflict forms the backbone of this story as the King tries to advance his agenda, while the PM uses his power and inside knowledge to turn the public against the Royal family and to force a crisis for which the public will blame the monarch.
It leads to a game between the powers of the Crown and Parliament. The weapons are politics and treachery, and the amoral Urquhart has a decided advantage in this arena. Francis pursues power relentlessly without regard for the cost to others and with little thought of how that power will benefit his country. The King is a newcomer when it comes to these battles and sometimes fades to insignificance - so much so that the author does not give him a name.
Dobbs is an excellent storyteller with a gift for building and evolving characters. Urquhart - once the unflappable politician - becomes seduced by his own authority and it changes his personality, making him more outwardly aggressive.
The conclusion to the conflict (and the novel) is satisfying, if a bit rushed.
I look forward to the final book in this trilogy.