Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett

Gemini In June last year, having finished the final book of the Lymond Chronicles in April, I picked up Niccolò Rising and embarked on Dorothy Dunnett’s second historical series, the House of Niccolò. And now here I am, seven months and eight books later, at the end of Gemini and finding it hard to believe that there are no more adventures of either Lymond or Nicholas left for me to discover. There will be re-reads, of course, but it does make me sad that I can’t read any of these books for the first time again.

*Spoilers follow for both the House of Niccolo and the Lymond Chronicles*

Geographically, unlike the last few Niccolò books where the action switched between a variety of different settings, Gemini is focused mainly on one location: Scotland. After causing damage to the Scottish economy in the course of his long-running contest with his wife, Gelis, Nicholas has returned to try to make amends. Soon after his arrival in Scotland, Nicholas finds himself having to contend with a possible inherited illness (porphyria?) afflicting the royal family, trying to handle the King’s wild and unpredictable younger brother, John of Mar, and attempting to thwart a rebellion by the King’s other brother, the Duke of Albany. With Nicholas’s two biggest enemies, his grandfather, Jordan de St Pol of Kilmirren, and his former trading rival, Davie Simpson, also in Scotland, Gelis stays behind for a while in the relative safety of Bruges with their son, Jordan. But it’s not long before she and Jordan are in Edinburgh too and the eighth and final volume of the House of Niccolò starts to head towards its conclusion.

I did love Gemini overall, but I confess to getting a little bit bored with the political aspects of the novel. It’s not that I don’t find this period of history interesting and important, because I do – it’s just that at this late stage in the series, and especially as I began to reach the end of the book, I was too impatient to slow down and concentrate on all the details. I’m sure on a future re-read I’ll be able to appreciate this side of the novel more, but on this first read I was desperate to see how Nicholas’s personal story would be resolved and to have some of my questions answered.

I found Simon’s and Henry’s deaths particularly moving, though not so much for their sakes as for Nicholas’s, though I did feel slightly cheated when I realised that Simon was never going to acknowledge Nicholas as his son, and that neither Simon nor Henry were ever going to find out the truth about Henry’s parentage – I think I had expected there to be a big confrontation at the end of the book where everything would be revealed. I suppose it’s not the first time in a Dunnett novel that things haven’t turned out the way I had been anticipating! I was also a bit disappointed that a true reconciliation between Henry and Nicholas never happened, despite there seeming to be some steps in that direction earlier in the book.

I get the impression that opinion is divided over the Epilogue with some readers finding it unnecessary, but personally I liked it and was pleased to see that some of the links with the Lymond Chronicles were explained at last. Although I’ve been doing my best to avoid spoilers while reading this series I must have picked up somewhere that Rankin was Lymond’s father because I had that at the back of my mind, but I was completely confused as to how Rankin of Berecrofts could possibly be the same person as Francis Crawford, 1st Baron Culter. As for Sybilla’s parents, I had guessed that Jordan was probably her father, though I had no idea about the identity of her mother. I had been coming up with various theories about the significance of Bel of Cuthilgurdy, but not the right one.

Now for one of the most shocking revelations of the novel: Julius. I didn’t like him and had started to suspect there might be more to him than met the eye, but even though his mother’s name was there in the family tree at the front of the book, it had never occurred to me that there was any connection and when it was revealed it took me completely by surprise. When I get around to reading this series again I will certainly be looking for clues about Julius and paying more attention to everything he says and does in the earlier novels!

*End of spoilers*

I’ve really enjoyed working my way through this series, but the House of Niccolò hasn’t had quite the same effect on me as the Lymond Chronicles, mainly because Nicholas himself, to me, is a less appealing character than Lymond – though I know others will disagree. While I was reading the Lymond Chronicles (and sometimes even now, a year later) I was thinking and worrying about Lymond all the time, even when I was away from the books, but I never really connected with Nicholas on the same level. Still, I did love the series as a whole and am looking forward to reading all the books again and looking out for some of the things I know I missed during the first read. I’ve also bought a copy of King Hereafter and will be reading that at some point, but first I’m spending some time catching up on all the non-Dunnett books I’ve been neglecting over the last year!

28 thoughts on “Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett

  1. Teresa says:

    I liked the Niccolo books a little better than the Lymond ones, but not by a lot. I think Nicholas’s complexity appealed to me more. (Not that Lymond isn’t complex–both are great characters.) King Hereafter, however, is my absolute favorite and Thorfinn my favorite of Dunnett’s three leading men. I’ll look forward to seeing what you think!

    • Helen says:

      I’m really looking forward to reading King Hereafter and I can’t wait to see what I think of Thorfinn. He must be a great character if you like him even more than Lymond and Nicholas!

  2. katejoe says:

    I, too, enjoyed the charactor of Lymond more than Nicholas. Possibly the reason for this lies with the fact that I read the Lymond series first and at a traumatic time in my life. They were excellant escape vehicles for a while! I love the use of language by Dorothy Dunnett!!

    • Helen says:

      I do think Nicholas is a fascinating character but Lymond is more my type of hero – though I’m not sure if it would have made a difference if I had read the Niccolo books first.

  3. Ann says:

    I read these a long time ago when they were first published and fell head over heels in love with Lymond. It was agony waiting for the next book to come out! Like you I enjoyed the Niccolo books but never had the same feeling for him.

    • Helen says:

      I regret that I’ve come so late to these books, but I suppose I’m lucky that I haven’t had to wait for each one to be published. I can imagine how agonising it must have been!

  4. Lisa says:

    As I’m sure I’ve said before, I am in the Lymond camp myself. I find the Nicholas books confusing, still – even after several re-reads and years on a Dunnett discussion board! I was also disappointed that there was no reconciliation with Henry, that this difficult situation that had overshadowed their lives for so long was left unresolved.

    • Helen says:

      I was really surprised that the Henry storyline was not resolved the way I thought it would be, especially as his relationship with Nicholas did seem to be improving slightly, at least until Simon arrived on the scene again!

  5. Leander says:

    Ah, brava, Helen! At last! Like everyone else I’m in the Lymond camp. I think that ultimately Nicholas is not romantic enough as a hero to challenge Lymond. Like you, I was sorry that there wasn’t more of a conclusion about Henry; and I was shocked about Julius. I didn’t see that coming at all! As you may have seen, I was ambivalent about the epilogue. In one sense I was pleased to have the loose ends tied up, but it did feel slightly artificial. Like you, I’m going to be acquiring King Hereafter very soon. We shall see how Thorfinn compares! Until then, once again like you, I have a few more non-Dunnett books to get through 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I can definitely see why people don’t like the epilogue and it did feel a bit contrived, but I was grateful for it as I really wanted to know how the characters were linked to the characters in the Lymond Chronicles. As for Julius, I’m sure there must have been clues from the beginning but I obviously missed them all as I didn’t see those revelations coming either! I hope you enjoy King Hereafter. I can’t wait to meet Thorfinn and see how he compares to Lymond and Nicholas.

  6. jayne62 says:

    I love the Niccolo series more than Lymond as we watched Nicholas mature and grow more than Lymond had to. I fell in love with Nicholas half way through Niccolo Rising and never fell out of it. I enjoyed this book and I felt it tied everything up well

    • Helen says:

      Sorry for the late reply to your comment, Jayne! I enjoyed watching Nicholas develop as a character throughout the series too, but never felt quite the same way about him as I did about Lymond.

  7. Kristy says:

    I read through both the Lymond and Niccolo series about 15 years ago. (I only just worked that out and can’t believe it has been so long!) I have re-read Lymond 5 times and Game of Kings at least 3 times more (in fact I just finished GoK once more), but I have never been able to push myself to read Niccolo again. Maybe it is the thought of going through such a long series, or perhaps the character himself. I, too, was immediately drawn to Francis, but it took me some time to warm to Nicholas. I think part of my problem was I was constantly comparing the two and finding Nicholas wanting. I did enjoy Gemini, and was glad for the Epilogue. I always like having just a little bit more… Particularly after such an epic, engrossing pair of chronicles. I have never found anything like them since, and Francis remains one of my greatest heroes of all time.

    • Helen says:

      Hi Kristy, it’s good to hear from another Dunnett fan. I agree that the thought of reading Lymond again is more appealing, but I do want to re-read the House of Niccolo too as I know there were so many little details I missed the first time. When I do get around to re-reading I will be paying closer attention to Julius, among other things!

  8. AJH says:

    I am in the middle of the Niccolo series but don’t have the same compulsion to read them as I did with Lymond. I realise that the apparently carefree apprentice has a hidden side, but somehow his development doesn’t ring true for me the further I get through the books. I think there is less sense of a mystery to be uncovered in his back story, so the revelations don’t have quite the same ‘a-ha!’ moment.

    So I’m going to re-read Lymond instead 😉

    • Helen says:

      Although I loved the Niccolo series, I do agree with you that they’re not as compelling as the Lymond books. If you continue reading to the end of the series, though, there are a lot more surprising revelations to come regarding Nicholas’s back story.
      Enjoy your re-read of Lymond!

  9. Margaret Greenland says:

    I read the Lymond series many, many years ago and loved the characters. The first time I read Niccolo I wasn’t as impressed by him. However, having read each series many times I find I enjoy each of them. For about the 6th time, I am just about to start the final Niccolo and then move on once again to Lymond. I look forward to many enjoyable hours ahead.

    I think the more times you read each series the more enjoyment there is – plus more understanding of this incredible work by Dorothy Dunnett.

    • Helen says:

      Since I wrote this review I have read the Lymond Chronicles again, but not Niccolo. I’m looking forward to re-reading this series too, as I know there were a lot of things I missed on my first read. I thought Nicholas was a fascinating character, but I didn’t love him the way I love Lymond…I’m hoping that when I get round to reading the Niccolo books again I’ll be able to appreciate and understand him more than I did the first time.

  10. Karen says:

    I have always been an ardent Lymond fan and I read the Niccolo novels as they were published but never really warmed to them. I haven’t reread the last three or four since just after they were published. Thanks to you and Leander I decided to give the series another go and although I battled a distinct feeling of foreboding through most of Rising I ended up hooked. I made the rather wonderful discovery that if you can stand the wait rereading after 13-14 years is almost like reading for the first time. The plots are so dense that I kept on finding myself thinking “how could I ever forget that?” I even forgot that Jodi existed.
    I have read Lymond many times since so I enjoyed spotting the allusions (like Nicholas’ first impression of the Loire Valley being almost the same as Jerrot’s).
    I still prefer Lymond but this reread has been a wonderful experience. Thank you Helen and Leander.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for your comment, Karen. It’s always nice to hear from another Dunnett reader. I’m so pleased Leander and I convinced you to give Niccolo another chance! I also prefer the Lymond Chronicles (mainly because I find Lymond a much more compelling character than Nicholas) but I do think all of Dunnett’s books are wonderful.
      So far I’ve only read the Niccolo series once but I will certainly be re-reading – although I don’t think I could wait 13 or 14 years! I spotted some of the connections but didn’t notice the Loire Valley one – that’s something I’ll look out for next time.

  11. Sue says:

    Wondering if you’ve had the chance since writing these lovely reviews to revisit House of Niccolo? I have always loved Nicholas in all his complexity. Although I was fascinated by Lymond and his times, once I found Nicholas he seemed contrived and immature by comparison. Dorothy grew into herself as a writer by the time she got to King Hereafter and certainly when she got to Nicholas, and I think that shows in the richness of her characterizations. She could have used an editor by about book 6, to be sure, but I loved the continuing saga of Nicholas too much to quibble much! Thank you for sharing your reading experiences on this blog, and hope you give Nicholas a reread when you have the time!

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for commenting, Sue. I always like to hear from other Dunnett readers and I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading my reviews. Although I didn’t love this series quite as much as the Lymond Chronicles, it was still a fascinating reading experience. I haven’t had a chance to start re-reading Niccolo yet but I certainly will at some point – possibly next year – and now that I know the story, I’m looking forward to taking my time and picking up on some of the details I missed.

  12. Mary Chalmers Main, ne Buchanan says:

    It ha been really good to find Dorothy Dunnett fans on line! I fell in love with Lymond too, and was really happy to find the Niccolo series. They are more complex, and take a lot of concentration, but are worth it. Even after having read both series more times than I can count, I still can’t totally understand Niccolo! I have longed to visit Bruges, but it is a long way from Vancouver, and I am now too old for travelling, so I must be content with having seen many of the other places in both chronicles. I have mislaid my copy of Gemini, so I must find it!!! I loved the Johnson Johnson books too.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you for your comment, Mary – it’s lovely to hear from another Dunnett fan. I’ve only read the Niccolo series once, but I’m looking forward to reading it again as there was so much I didn’t understand the first time. I prefer Lymond but Nicholas is a wonderfully complex character too. Bruges is definitely on my list of places to visit!

  13. Kevin Chard says:

    Like others have said, what a great place to find others who love Ms. Dunnett’s books. I too like the Lymond books more enjoyable than the Nicollo series. Yes, Lymond was my first exposure to Ms. Dunnett’s writing and I think that’s a major reason I enjoyed them more. Also The House of Niccolo books are so very filled and filled even more with history that at times I felt overwhelmed. Yet both series are such amazing and exciting reading I couldn’t put them down. For me, an eternal romantic, the love stories of Francis and Phillipa, and Nicholas and Gelis are amazing. They are classic! One thing about Gemini’s epilogue that I’ve always wished for is to have read it with other fans and been able discuss everything that the astrologer saw in his beryl or his ink tray that day!

    • Helen says:

      Thank you for commenting, Kevin. The Lymond Chronicles were my first Dunnett novels too, which is probably one of the reasons I like them better than the House of Niccolo – as well as the fact that I prefer Lymond to Nicholas as a character. As you say, there’s so much going in the Niccolo books that they can feel a bit overwhelming…so far I have only read them once, but I’m looking forward to re-reading as I think I’ll probably get more out of them the next time.

  14. Susan R Suing says:

    Currently am almost finished with the 7th book of House of Niccolo. (Read the Lyman books years ago and don’t remember much about them, but will probably read them again sometime.) I like Dunnett’s thorough grasp of history and how she weaves historical characters into the lives of her fictional roster. Also like to be able to Google the many places she mentions in her books and see what they looked like in the Renaissance period and the present. Just try Timbuktu.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I love Dunnett’s books for all the reasons you mention. The Lymond Chronicles are my favourites, but the Niccolo series takes us to so many fascinating locations! I hope you enjoy Gemini when you’ve finished with Caprice and Rondo.

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