King Hereafter: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★½

For the last week or so, I’ve been lost in another world – in the sea-spray glinting off a longship’s figurehead, and the sheen of sunlight on helms and spears. It is the dawn of the 11th century. Viking culture, with its pillaging, sagas and piratical leaders teeters on the edge: and, falling, begins to assume the Christian values and the lineaments of the world we know today. It is also the moment when one man, by chance or the will of the Fates, finds himself in a position to begin unifying the disparate earldoms of Alba, Caithness and Orkney into a political entity that will assume the more familiar name of Scotia. That man is here most often given his pagan, Norse name: Thorfinn. History knows him by a much more famous name. Macbeth.

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Gemini: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★

The House of Niccolò: Book VIII

And so it ends, after weeks lost in this rich, beguiling other-world: it ends with sun, and an orchard near Sevigny, and a teasing glimpse of another Francis Crawford. I stayed up until midnight last night to finish this: there was no way, at this stage, that I could go to bed with only a hundred-odd pages to go.

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Caprice and Rondo: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★½

The House of Niccolò: Book VII

Time moves on apace and, in this penultimate instalment of the House of Niccolò, we rejoin Nicholas in the exile forced upon him after the revelations at the end of To Lie with Lions. Having allowed his personal vendetta to colour the dealings of his bank and almost brought down a nation in the process, Nicholas has been severed not only from his beloved company but also from his wife Gelis. Now he must take stock, judge where his future and desires really lie, and prove his competence and reliability to his friends.

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To Lie with Lions: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★

The House of Niccolò: Book VI

The tone of the ending lingers with me yet, subdued and bittersweet rather than the dramatic cliffhanger I might have expected. After feeling rather lost in The Unicorn Hunt, I felt that this was a definite return to form. A very carefully-crafted plot on (generally) a limited geographical scale allows the characters and their relationships to shine. There are also some wonderful set-pieces – classic Dunnett – offering flashes of theatrical brilliance among the warp and weft of the intrigues.

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The Unicorn Hunt: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★

The House of Niccolò: Book V

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, just as you have a favourite book in a series, you’re likely to have a least favourite; and this is mine. Please be cautious if you haven’t read it because, later on, I won’t be able to avoid spoilers. For me it’s the least successful Niccolò book for the same reason The Disorderly Knights dissatisfied me: the story hares from place to place, never quite managing to take root.

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Scales of Gold: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★

The House of Niccolò: Book IV

As I’ve said before, I’d already read the first three books of the House of Niccolò series, up to Race of Scorpions: this novel and its successors, by contrast, are gloriously fresh and new. During the last three books, I have to admit that I missed the breathless sensation of reading a Dunnett novel for the first time. Fortunately Scales of Gold has more than lived up to my expectations in that respect. Within the first hundred pages there is pomp and pageantry, a mass reunion, espionage, an attempted assassination, a death, a mysterious visit to Murano and the prospect of complete ruination for Nicholas’s bank. And that’s even before he unveils the main thread of the plot, more ambitious and dangerous than any of his previous escapades.

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Race of Scorpions: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★

The House of Niccolò: Book III

One of the things I most enjoy about reading Dorothy Dunnett’s books is the way in which she can so effortlessly create a sense of place. As in the Lymond Chronicles, the House of Niccolò moves to a new location for each novel, for each new move in the game, and the settings are ever more exotic and brilliant. Every time I finish one of these books I’m left longing to know more about the setting; until I move onto the next in the series and am beguiled anew by somewhere else.

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The Spring of the Ram: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★½

The House of Niccolò: Book II

While the Lymond Chronicles were built around the notion of a great game of chess, the House of Niccolò is ruled by the zodiac. At this early stage, who can tell whether this will prove to have the same significance for Nicholas that chess had for Lymond? Maybe it’s just serendipity that the word ‘house’ has both mercantile and astrological connotations. In The Spring of the Ram, the title alludes primarily to the potential riches of Nicholas’s journey east, to quarry the wealth of the Orient in Trebizond. This last, fragile outpost of the Byzantine Empire is the new Colchis and throughout the novel there runs a thread of references to the Golden Fleece, Jason, the Argo and Medea.

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Niccolò Rising: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★ ½

The House of Niccolò: Book I

Having finished the Lymond Chronicles, I needed a little time for my absorption in that series to fade, before I embarked on my next fix of Dorothy Dunnett. It would have been sheer indulgence to read the Chronicles and the House of Niccolò all in one go. As you know, I’m not a complete newcomer to Niccolò: I read the first three books last year, which on their own were sufficient to prompt an outpouring of enthusiasm. Now my mission is to complete the series, and to find out what destiny has in store for Nicholas and the Charetty company.

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Checkmate: Dorothy Dunnett

★★★★★

The Lymond Chronicles: Book VI

In the last half an hour, traversing the final few chapters of the book, my emotions have been masterfully manipulated. I’ve swerved from denial to triumph, followed by shocked immobility, and then a cool, tingling spread of realisation; finally, I have to admit, I actually cried (mainly with relief). I should say, first and foremost, that if you have any intention of reading this series – and by God, if you enjoy good books you should – then you shouldn’t read this post. There is no way on earth that I can write this without spoilers. So stop reading this now and, for goodness sake, go buy the first book and start the series for yourself!

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