I did it! I persevered. I finished the book!
I am not sure I can do justice to the complicated plot(s) and characters in “Niccolo Rising”. (The character list alone in the front of the book is pretty intimidating!)
Claes (later known as Niccolo), is a dyer’s apprentice. He is smart, he has ambition, self-control, and a sense of humor. The novel set in 15th century Bruges, (the capital of Flanders), is about trade, European politics and wars, and the Medici dynasty. (Mostly.)
At first slow-moving, the book picked up for me mid-book (around chapter 17 or so)… suddenly *something* happens to Claes that is, simply, not nice. I wanted to keep reading to see if he will ‘get his own’ back… will anyone be able to make Simon, or his father, accountable?
And then a few more somethings…. the attempted murder of Claes that takes the reader completely by surprise…but he is rescued by the most unlikely person(s)! Then, a marriage that was totally un-looked for, followed by a fire, in turn followed by a trip through the Alps….
Dunnett is good at building suspense, but also very good at throwing a wrench in the works at very unexpected moments! The reader is carried along, and suddenly something happens and they are left saying to themself, “what? what was that?” : )
“That had been in September, and galley-time. Now it was February, and time for the Carnival which would decide whether or not she was to be packed straight off to Brittany to be maid of honor to the widowed Duchess, who was yet another sister of the Scots king. Another fortunate widow, now some thirty years old. At her betrothal, they said, her future husband wasn’t upset when they warned him his fiancee was more than a trifle dim-witted and didn’t know much of the language. It suited him, said that nobleman…
Well, if she, Katelina, wanted to be a widow, she would have to be a wife first and tonight, of course, was her chance. So said her mother: a forceful woman whom Katelina disliked, and who had now taken in hand the matter of her daughter’s future. From a list of suitable cavaliers, three had been chosen in face of Katelina’s determined indifference, and friendly visits had been paid by her mother to the mother of each. Even now, as she sat with her parents looking down on the market square, young men of good family were probably eyeing her form below, and agreeing which would stand masked in her path after nightfall this evening, a scroll in his hand. Or agreeing, all of them, to plead a previous engagement.”
A few business deals, some war battles… a death (that was so tragic and I still am upset about. Don’t get that at all…why did Dunnett choose to kill off that particular character?)
Sometimes the plot moved quickly, sometimes the plot seemed to not move at all, and the ‘action’ was a convoluted tale of deals, implications, hidden motivations, secrecy, European intrigues, and…, well, plotting.
I really liked the character of Claes! I loved the way he kept his cool through so much provocation. I kept reading partly because I just wanted to find out what was going to happen to him… and the author kept me guessing about him right up to the end. I also really liked Katelina, who is so smart, and not at all intimidated (at least outwardly) by scheming, conniving men!
(My one quibble: I do wish that the characters were not so promiscuous, but at least there are no graphic scenes – in this particular first book, anyway!)
I do want to read the next book in the series, but, not just yet : ) This is going to be a rainy/snowy weekend here for us here … a great weekend for reading, and I have a whole pile of library books waiting for me. As others have said, if you are going to read Dunnett, pretty much any other reading has to be put aside for a while! She is very intense, and demands your total concentration.
As a first read, “Niccolo Rising” took a lot of effort, and definitely not an ‘easy read’ or for the faint of heart, but I do think that as I continue with the series, it will pay off. I have learned so much already, about Europe and it’s culture during this time period, and am enjoying the learning process!