With the bravura storytelling and pungent authenticity of detail she brought to her acclaimed Lymond Chronicles, Dorothy Dunnett, grande dame of the historical novel, presents The House of Niccolò series. The time is the 15th century, when intrepid merchants became the new knighthood of Europe. Among them, none is bolder or more cunning than Nicholas vander Poele of Bruges, the good-natured dyer's apprentice who schemes and swashbuckles his way to the helm of a mercantile empire.
Niccolò Rising, Book One of the series, finds us in Bruges, 1460. Jousting is the genteel pastime, and successful merchants are, of necessity, polyglot. Street smart, brilliant at figures, adept at the subtleties of diplomacy and the well-timed untruth, Dunnett's hero rises from wastrel to prodigy in a breathless adventure that wins him the hand of the strongest woman in Bruges and the hatred of two powerful enemies. From a riotous and potentially murderous carnival in Flanders, to an avalanche in the Alps and a pitched battle on the outskirts of Naples, Niccolò Rising combines history, adventure, and high romance in the tradition stretching from Alexandre Dumas to Mary Renault.
Dunnett has chosen the 15th-century Low Countries as the setting for her new historical series. The four-page list of characters announces the panoply of individuals, many based on historical persons. The fictional Claus, later Niccolo, is an apprentice at the Bruges branch of the Charetty company, run by the widowed owner. Claus is an engima, seemingly a buffoon getting into scrapes with Felix, the Charetty heir, but also capable of initiating a courier service in connection with the Charetty commercial and mercenary ventures. In an era of economic and political intrigue, Claus makes the most of all opportunitiesromantic and business. The action is swift; major and peripheral characters are well developed; and settings and events are interestingly depicted. The unresolved plots leave the door open for a sequel. Ellen Kaye Stoppel, Drake Univ. Law Lib., Des Moines