Book: Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett

Splendid seventh novel in an excellent series of historical novels

Dorothy Dunnett
Caprice and Rondo
Vintage, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-45477-2
539 pages

Caprice and Rondo is the seventh book in Dorothy Dunnett's excellent eight-book "House of Niccolò" series of historical novels. (Reviews of the previous books in the series are at: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 , 6.) The series is set in Europe in the early Renaissance and the main character of the series is Nicholas vander Poele. He begins as a dyer's apprentice in Bruges with a head for figures and a knack for mimicry. In the course of the books he goes on fascinating and astonishing adventures. It is an indication of Ms Dunnett's skill that it sometimes appears that the history of early Renaissance Europe was arranged for her convenience.

Little needs to be said here. No one should begin the series except at the beginning and readers of the series who have gotten this far will not be surprised to be told that the book is at least as good as its predecessors. Significant spoilers for the previous books follow.

At the end of the previous book, To Lie With Lions, a reconciliation between Nicholas and his wife Gelis was spoiled, but it would have been based on false pretenses. The extent of some of Nicholas's schemes is revealed and he is effectively barred from his home. As this book begins, he has resigned his position at his bank and has run away to Danzig (modern-day Gdansk, on the Baltic, and then as now, part of Poland) where, going by the name Colà z Brugge, he plans to spend the winter with the boisterous pirate Paúel Benecke, who can always be relied on for drinking, womanizing, and fighting. While there, he finds that a mission from the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, and Duke of Burgundy will be passing through the city on the way to the Persians at Tabriz in the hopes of persuading them to attack the Ottoman Turks. Further, the mission includes Nicholas's sometime friend and sometime competitor Anselm Adorne as well as Lucavico de Bologna, the Patriarch of Antioch, and several other people, all well known to Nicholas. Anyone who thinks that Nicholas might be able to avoid that meeting or that its outcome might be simple hasn't been reading the series. Some of the subsequent arduous journeys are to the east and southeast where some of the people we meet are Mongols, from the previous emigration from central Asia.

A good many things are made explicit in this book that were indicated only by implication in previous volumes. And, as usual with the series, the women characters are generally more interesting, especially in their motivations, than the men. But that's not important.

Posted: Wed - March 10, 2010 at 08:58 PM   Main   Category: