Book: Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett

Excellent fourth book in a series of historical novels set in the early renaissance

Dorothy Dunnett
Scales of Gold
Vintage, 1999 (originally published in 1991)
ISBN: 0-375-70480-9
519 pages

Scales of Gold is the fourth book in the "House of Niccolò" series of historical novels by Dorothy Dunnett. They're set in the late fifteenth century and in the previous books the story has taken us from Bruges, east to the Black Sea, and south to the island of Cyprus.

Little needs to be said here. This is the fourth book in the series and no one should start the series except at the beginning. Reviews of the previous books are at: 1, 2. 3. People who have read the first three books won't be surprised to hear that this one is just as good as they are.

Considerable spoilers for the previous books follow.

As the book begins, Nicholas vander Poele, formerly a dyer's apprentice and more recently a very canny trader, the agent for a small mercenary army, and a knight, is on his way back to Venice where he has established a bank. As he returns there's some excitement and, shortly thereafter, he finds once again that his fortunes won't remain constant. Some financial reverses require another successful trading expedition. Nicholas sets out for Portugal. From there, he'll go, in a ship partly financed by the Portuguese crown, to The Gambia. The Gambia, then as now, is a large river that flows from the west coast of Africa, just south of the Sahara desert, into the Atlantic Ocean. A bit confusingly, the same name is (and was then) given also to the country that surrounds the river. Nicholas's plan is to save some heathen souls (a condition of the Portuguese sponsorship) and to trade for gold. There's some idea of an overland journey there as well. But that would surely be very risky.

The story is splendid and the characters are fascinating. And neither of those observations will come as any surprise to anyone who has read the earlier books.

Posted: Wed - August 5, 2009 at 12:18 PM   Main   Category: