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!

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18 thoughts on “Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett

  1. Teresa January 27, 2013 / 3:46 am

    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 January 29, 2013 / 7:51 pm

      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 January 27, 2013 / 10:57 pm

    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 January 29, 2013 / 8:00 pm

      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 January 28, 2013 / 6:12 am

    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 January 29, 2013 / 8:10 pm

      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 January 29, 2013 / 3:02 am

    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 January 29, 2013 / 8:29 pm

      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 January 31, 2013 / 5:02 am

    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 February 3, 2013 / 3:14 pm

      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 February 20, 2013 / 9:07 pm

    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 March 18, 2013 / 8:17 pm

      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 March 14, 2013 / 11:23 am

    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 March 18, 2013 / 8:13 pm

      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 April 24, 2013 / 8:07 am

    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 April 26, 2013 / 10:03 pm

      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 November 30, 2014 / 4:44 am

    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 November 30, 2014 / 9:17 pm

      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.

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