Niccolo Rising, by Dorothy Dunnett

niccoloSo I’ve plunged into Dorothy Dunnett’s other historical fiction series, after getting completely absorbed in her Lymond Chronicles last year. This series, The House of Niccolo, is set more than a century earlier than Lymond’s Scottish adventures. It begins in mid-fifteenth-century Bruges, where the titular Niccolo (not yet called Niccolo) is an apprentice in a dye-shop. He seems innocent, happy-go-lucky, perhaps a bit simple-minded. But as the scenes unfold, it becomes clear to the reader that there’s a lot more to young Nicholas than meets the eye. Not only is he brilliant, he may also be a schemer — less the hapless victim of events that he appears to be, and more the mastermind behind them.

Exactly what Nicholas is, and what game he’s playing, is not fully revealed even at the end of the novel. In reading this book my expectations were shaped by the Lymond books. In the first of that series, A Game of Kings, the reader is also, initially, deceived about the main character. Lymond appears to be the villain of the piece, and is seen that way by most of the characters: his heroism is only gradually revealed, and not till the end of the novel is it made clear exactly what he’s been doing and what his motivations are, at which point we see a lot of his earlier actions in a different light.

Knowing that  Dorothy Dunnett was a writer who packed her scenes densely with detail, gave little away, and expected her readers to be smart and follow closely, I wasn’t as lost and confused with Niccolo Rising as I was with the first Lymond book. I trusted that by the end, all would be revealed and my misunderstandings would be cleared up. But Niccolo Rising is a less self-contained novel than A Game of Kings; Dunnett fans tell me that when she wrote this one she was well aware that she was at the beginning of a long series, and left many secrets to be gradually uncovered in the next seven books. 

So if I need to read all eight books to understand what I need to know about Nicholas/Niccolo, so be it. In the company of a writer as skilful as Dunnett, who can make the past come so vividly to life you could swear she was a time-traveller, I plan to settle in and enjoy the ride.



Filed under Fiction -- historical

3 responses to “Niccolo Rising, by Dorothy Dunnett

  1. I am a devoted acolyte of The Lymond Chronicles and though I have tried twice, I can’t seem to get into the Niccolo books. Maybe I should try again as I had to try three times before I was able to get into Game of Kings!

    • I thought I was going to have a hard time getting into Niccolo but I actually took to it pretty quickly. But from what other readers tell me you do have to have the patience to watch the whole thing unfold over the entire series.

  2. Neil

    Hello Trudy,

    I read most of the Niccolo series about 10+ yrs ago and thoroughly enjoyed them. I missed the Lymond series completely, and will now track some copies down to absorb this winter. Would you recommend the 2 Companion books. I found you when looking for more feedback on Scott Richardsons book.

    This was after discovering this evening; that a game from my favourite game designer Phil Eklund, was inspired by the Niccolo series. Have a look at Pax Renaissance on BGG, which may still be available , I see that Spirit Games still have some in stock. I am hoping to get it on the table for my girls soon, with the help of some of the Player Aids and Rule summaries from BGG.
    The PAX series are very much sandbox CDG type games where you can rewrite history, while soaking some up and enjoying hopefully some Niccolo inspired moments.

    Best Wishes Neil

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