yati: An open book lying on a green grassy field. (grasp the horizons)
[personal profile] yati
I've never been much of a reader of historical fiction. Most of the problem came from the fact that I didn't have much grounding in world history; it seemed like my education began with the ancient civilisations and skipped straight to World War II. (Well, the Renaissance was in there somewhere, I vaguely recall the pictures in the textbooks, but it went by very fast and didn't grab me much.)

Then came Dorothy Dunnett. I read her Lymond Chronicles and loved the books, and The Game of Kings, the first book in the series, is one of my favourite books ever. But that story (or the retelling of it) is for another time.

I started her House of Niccolò series this year. The series is a prequel to the Lymond Chronicles, following the adventures of one Nicholas de Fleury, an ancestor of Lymond in mid-fifteenth century Europe, who started as a lowly apprentice and rose to become a merchant trusted by kings. Stylistically, it doesn't have much in common with the Lymond books -- I am no good at expounding on these kind of things, but the tone in general is different -- and, if pressed, I can't even say that "If you enjoyed the Lymond Chronicles, you'll like the House of Niccolò!" the way Amazon blatantly presumes.

If you tried reading one of the series and didn't like it, I think you should try reading the other one. There seems to be a number of people who prefer one of them vastly over the other. I prefer the Lymond Chronicles. Not vastly, but if told to choose a single book from both series combined to take to a deserted island, I'd pick The Game of Kings.

Despite being a prequel, the Niccolò books can be read without first reading the Lymond Chronicles. There are eight books in total, in sequence: Niccolò Rising, The Spring of the Ram, Race of Scorpions, Scales of Gold, The Unicorn Hunt, To Lie with Lions, Caprice and Rondo and Gemini. There are some events that vaguely refer to the Lymond Chronicles (or not so vaguely, but they aren't really spoilers even if you haven't read the Lymond Chronicles) that appear in moments of premonition or hints about the future, and some parallel themes run through both series, but the series stands on its own.

A check on Goodreads shows that I finished Niccolò Rising at the end of February this year, which means I probably started reading it early February or late January, and I just finished the last book, Gemini, around two o'clock this morning. That's around ten months of reading these books, and thinking about the characters and grousing about historical events that I didn't know the significance of. I read other books in between as well, but I'm rather blown away by the thought that I spent ten months reading about a time period I knew nothing about, and in the end I found that I didn't mind that at all.

What can I say? The lady was a magnificent writer.

Below are some thoughts about the series, and some knee-jerk reactions especially to the last book, Gemini, since it's fresh in mind and I am somewhat boggled about a number of things. They are not in any particular sequence. None of them are very coherent.

There are spoilers below, for the entire House of Niccolò series, and there are references to the Lymond Chronicles.

• I'm looking at the family tree in Marzipan's archive and am sputtering over a number of things, like how everyone is somehow related to almost everyone else. I know some of the things in it are from Dunnett's notes and can't really be considered "canon", but still. (Seeing Philippa is a descendant of Diniz made me smile, though. I am rather fond of Diniz, and I do love Philippa.)

• asdfbjker; Julius? Come on. Even if this had been planned from the start, even if, still . . . Julius? Geez. The image of Julius I have in my head is the one from the very beginning of Niccolò Rising, where he was in that bath with Claes and Felix, trying to be philosophical. He was one of those characters who never changed much, and now my brain is trying to bend everything around the thought that he planned this from the start.

He planned it from the start. I could believe it of Nicholas, but thinking of Julius doing so makes me go asfsjgfiugakljgf;;

In my mind I was always thinking something bad was going to happen to Julius or Diniz or Umar, and was relieved each time Diniz came away unharmed. Umar's death left me bereft. The wedding night shocker left me gaping at the end of Scales of Gold and made me order The Unicorn Hunt almost immediately, though the thought that lingered with me after that wasn't about the child, but that Nicholas didn't even get the chance to tell Gelis about Umar. Anyway. I was horrified and felt terrible for Nicholas when he shot Julius in Caprice and Rondo. Something bad had already happened to Julius, so I had naïvely assumed that he would end up mostly all right.

I was wrong. But still. It's Julius! He'll come under awful scrutiny from me if I ever reread the books.

• Was I the only one irritatedly wondering who in the world was this Niccolò the whole of the first part of Niccolò Rising? (It was a d'uh! moment when I realised that his given name was Nicholas.)

• And here's the thing that irritates me most about Nicholas: he knows everything. He has everything figured out. I know he's a genius and has very astute observational skills but. Everything. I feel sorry for the villains when they come to gloat: they have nothing to gloat about because Nicholas already knows. Sure, he made mistakes, and horrible errors of judgement, but none of it came from lack of information.

• . . . How the heck did I miss that Robin's family name was Crawford? I had a headache trying to figure out where Francis Crawford, first Baron Culter, came into the picture the whole time I was reading Gemini and lo! There he is at the end. I scratched my head for a bit, and then dug out the Companions.

Speaking of Robin, there was this Twitter exchange I had with another reader (her account is locked so I thought it was best if I didn't link to it) when I was reading To Lie with Lions who thought that Robin was too good to be true. I had replied that I found Katelijne Sersanders too good to be true, even more so than Robin, and she agreed. She said that "the result is that she often annoys me more than Robin. Yet, Philippa Somerville, equally versatile, does not irritate me".

I pondered that for a while. Kathi didn't annoy me. Neither did Robin. I have a healthy amount of disbelief regarding the versatility of both, but it was something I had no qualms to just accept for the sake of the story. Surprisingly, Philippa annoyed me more in some moments in Checkmate than either Kathi or Robin, and I adore Philippa.

• It's strange how the books made me care about minor characters. There wasn't much mentioned about little Efemie Adorne, but I found myself being gladdened each time it was mentioned that she was being cared for and was a happy little girl. The entry about her in the Companion is fascinating.

• I still react horribly when children die.

• Simon's death didn't do anything to me. I never cared much for him -- he was so arrogant and all he seemed to think about was how to bring Nicholas down. Henry, though . . . I just sigh when I think of it. Jodi got through to him, and I keep thinking, maybe, just maybe, but that ended in naught. Sigh.

• I don't think I have a favourite book out of the whole series. Though I must say Caprice and Rondo quietly broke my heart into tiny, tiny pieces and carefully put it together again. Gemini, despite resolving some things, seemed like an extremely long epilogue to the whole series; it took me the longest to finish, I think.


Date: 29 January 2013 05:37 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] settledin
I know your blog is old, but I really enjoyed it. I am reading both series for a second time after about 15 years. My deceased mom was a huge DD fan. I've also read King Hereafter.
I just finished Scales of Gold. I am rereading very carefully looking for the subtle information and back stories that prefigure what happens later. I also don't see convincing evidence that Julius could have the ability to plot the things he does that are revealed later. If there was a hidden bad guy- I would have rather suspected Toby.
Dorothy sure had a tangible way of recreating the 15th century!

Re: Niccolo

Date: 19 November 2013 03:09 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have just finished the 3rd book, and have been devastated by Katalina's death. I don't understand why his true love had to be killed off. This may be silly in the overall complex story, but i fell in love with her in book one. I guess I'm just an old sentimentalist.


yati: Flonne squishing Laharl (Disgaea) while waving one arm (Default)

September 2013


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