Niccolò Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll probably remember that I read (and loved) Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles earlier this year. I read the sixth and final book in the series in April and was planning to wait a bit longer before I started the House of Niccolò series, but in the end I couldn’t resist the temptation.

The House of Niccolò books were written after the Lymond Chronicles but are set in an earlier period (the 15th century rather than the 16th) and there are some links between the two series. Niccolò Rising, as the title suggests, follows our hero Nicholas as he begins to rise in the world to become a successful merchant and courier. And that’s really all I can tell you about the story. It has so many different layers and is so complex, intricate and cleverly plotted that I wouldn’t know where to begin writing any kind of summary. It’s also difficult to know how much I can say without spoiling things for future readers; if you started reading this book without knowing anything at all about it, it’s possible that you might not even be able to tell at first who the main protagonist of the series is going to be, as Nicholas goes by a different name for the first half of the book.

This book, like all the other Dorothy Dunnett novels I’ve read, was not the easiest of reads but in my opinion it was definitely worth making a bit of extra effort. I did find myself feeling completely confused on many occasions while I was reading, but some of my questions had been answered by the end of the book and the rest I’m hoping will become clearer later in the series or on a re-read. The biggest problem I had was trying to keep the characters straight in my mind. There are over one hundred of them listed in the character list at the front of the book (many of them are real historical figures) though with even the help of the list I still couldn’t seem to keep track of them all! The historical setting for this story is not one that I’m at all familiar with (the world of trade, banking and politics in Flanders and Italy in the 15th century), but I enjoyed learning more about it. Bruges, where a lot of the action in the book takes place, is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time and it has now moved even higher on my list.

All the time I was reading this book I was trying my best not to compare it with the Lymond Chronicles or Nicholas with Francis Crawford but really it was almost impossible not to. So the question is, as an introduction to the series did I like this book as much as the first Lymond book, The Game of Kings? The answer is no. The writing style is quite different and I didn’t find it as much fun to read. I was enjoying it enough to be in no doubt that I would keep reading to the end, but it never quite reached ‘unputdownable’ status. Nicholas, I suppose, could be considered more instantly likeable than Lymond (though it soon becomes obvious there’s a lot more going on behind his seemingly cheerful exterior than anybody realises) but he hasn’t quite won me over yet; we’ll see how I feel about him when I get further into the series.

When I came to the end of this book I didn’t feel compelled to immediately pick up the next one the way I did with the Lymond Chronicles, but I will definitely be continuing with the series. A copy of The Spring of the Ram is already waiting on my shelf.