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!