Following Nicholas’s success in Trebizond (see The Spring of the Ram), we follow him to the wars of Italy, and then to Cyprus, the island of Aphrodite. This exotic country is torn between the warring Lusignan half-siblings Carlotta and James who both covet the crown. They, like the princes of Trebizond, are descendants of a great power which no longer has a real place for them: the Trapezuntine Emperor looked back to the vanished glories of Byzantium, while Carlotta and her half-brother are driven by the memory of their Crusader ancestors who were kings of Jerusalem when that still meant something. Nicholas is a valuable player in the game: young and imaginative, with a troop of soldiers and a fine captain under his command. The question is which of the siblings can win him to their cause, whether it be by force, flattery or seduction.
In this third book in the series, we see Nicholas growing into his abilities – both tactical and physical - although he remains an engima. Dunnett's characterisation is, as ever, wonderful, and she ensures that Nicholas is rendered in shades of grey: brilliant, tactical and imaginative, but also not entirely, perhaps, 'good'. Compared to the earlier books, I found this slightly easier to follow in that there was a much clearer explanation of who was responsible for what, in the immediate story, which shifts much of the blame away from Nicholas himself (perhaps to reassure any concerned readers). Yet there is still a sense of something much greater going on, which I don’t yet understand. In short, there is some form of very clever game going on here, which must stretch far beyond the political or mercantile problems specific to each novel, but I’m still none the wiser as to what the aim of the game is, nor who the players are. There is a strong hint that other characters are also weaving their own webs, which may be advantageous for Nicholas but might, equally well, take advantage of him.
One of the things I most enjoy about reading Dorothy Dunnett’s books is the way she can so effortlessly create a sense of place. The House of Niccolò series 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.
For a full review, please see my blog.
- Paperback: 560 pages
- Publisher: Michael Joseph; 1 edition (30 August 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780140112658
- ISBN-13: 978-0140112658
- ASIN: 0140112650
- Product Dimensions: 18 x 3.2 x 11.1 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 422 g
- Customer Reviews: 54 customer ratings