Book: Niccolò Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

Very enjoyable historical novel of the early renaissance

Dorothy Dunnett
Niccolò Rising
Vintage, 1999 (originally published in 1986)
ISBN: 0-394-5310708
470 pages

Niccolò Rising is a historical novel by Dorothy Dunnett and it begins in 1460 in the Flemish city of Bruges. As it begins, it's about Claes, a dyer's apprentice and a clever prankster. He's on his way home from a brief excursion with his employer's son and another young man, and they've gotten a ride in a canal-boat. On their way, they get into a bit of a scrape, as young men sometimes will, but this one has some interesting consequences.

Though the book concentrates on the Charetty company (run by the Widow Charetty) which Claes works for, it's really about the early renaissance in Bruges and, to a lesser extent, among the often-warring duchies of northern Italy. Various historical figures play small roles. There's Giovanni Arnolfini, the silk merchant, and various minor Sforzas and Medicis. And the era was a fascinating one. If it wasn't exactly an era of globalization, then it was at least one of Europeanization. Merchants were becoming prosperous and even, occasionally, politically important. Burgesses improved their social standing by learning to joust.

The scene, as Ms Dunnett sets it, is at once familiar and unusual. It's familiar enough that the characters and their motivations seem natural, but it's unusual enough that I was always eager to see what would happen next. The book is the first in a series of eight. For that reason it doesn't have much of a plot, at least not in the sense of a place that this book needs to get to. It feels like it's doing something more like setting things up for the books that are to come. It does an interesting and entertaining job of that and I'm eager to read the others.

Posted: Fri - November 7, 2008 at 05:30 PM   Main   Category: