Book: The Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett

Very good second novel in historical-fiction series

Dorothy Dunnett
The Spring of the Ram
Vintage, 1994 (originally published in 1987)
ISBN: 0-375-70478-7
469 pages

The Spring of the Ram is the second book in the seven-volume "House of Niccolò" series of historical novels by Dorothy Dunnett. My opinions about the first book are here. Some spoilers for that book follow.

The series is set in the early Renaissance and is (so far) about the Charetty company and the people associated with it. Until recently the company wasn't much more than a dye-shop in the Flemish city of Bruges. There's Marian de Charetty, the widowed owner, Nicholas vander Poele, formerly her apprentice and now her husband, and various daughters, lawyers, military men, and other people associated with the company.

As the book begins, it's 1461 and Marian's younger daughter, Catherine, aged 12, has been acquiring polish while living with relatives in Brussels. While there, Pagano Doria, a flashy, unscrupulous, and smooth-talking rake, takes advantage of Catherine's naivete and a rebellious streak she has to persuade her to elope with him.

Nicholas knows none of this but finds it convenient to be away from Bruges for a while. He has the idea to get Medici financial and political backing for a trading expedition to the grandly-named but rather small Empire of Trebizond (roughly the coastal area of eastern half of the south shore of the Black Sea). That empire styled itself the successor state to the recently-defunct Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire. The city of Trebizond was at that time a northern terminus for the camel caravans that made up part of the "silk road". (Wikipedia link for Trebizond omitted because the article there contains a spoiler for the book.)

And, what do you know, Doria and his bride are headed to Trebizond as well.

What follows is a fine adventure. This book is at least as good as the first volume and I'm eager to read the next. Unlike some series of historical novels, this one doesn't seem to be episodic. Ms Dunnett doesn't restore the situation to pretty much what it was at the beginning of the book. It seems that the series will follow a single, extended plot.

When I say that a book is intricately plotted, I generally mean that as a compliment. I do in this case too, but it's near the limit of what I enjoy following for fun. Nicholas is a very clever schemer and trader and there were a few times that I wondered to myself, "Why is he thinking that?". Also, it's not important at all, but the female characters in the book seem to have a bit more depth to them than the male ones. And you can safely skip the introduction by Judith Wilt, a professor of women's studies.

It may be that Nicholas is speaking ironically, but I suspect that a "not" was omitted from, "She's my step-daughteer. Of course I've forgotten her" (p. 172). And an editor might have suggested "reached" rather than "fell" in, "The monks had given him a loose robe which fell to the ground, concealing most of his injuries...." (p. 308).

Posted: Wed - December 17, 2008 at 07:04 PM   Main   Category: