Tuesday, 9 January 2001

Dorothy Dunnett: Gemini (2000)

Edition: Michael Joseph, 2000
Review number: 710

I found the final novel of the House of Niccolo series almost as disappointing as the one which preceded it, Caprice and Rondo. The series comes to a climax with the fifth novel, To Lie With Lions, in which the identity of the secret partner in the Vatachino trading house whose rivalry is attempting to destroy that of Niccolo is revealed. This is surprising and almost crushing; the last two novels of the series amount to around 1500 pages trying to wrench the situation round to a happy ending. Both contain new hidden enemies, but the revelations about them are not as well prepared and the repetition of the same plot ceases to be interesting, and becomes more far fetched - surely there must be a limit to the number of secrets related to Niccolo's origins.

The story this time takes place in Scotland, scene of some of Niccolo's earlier adventures. This location is necessary for the promised connection to Dunnett's Lymond series. Niccolo becomes involved in the complicated Scottish politics of the 1480s, born of the crisis caused by the incapacity of the Stewart royal family. Basically, King James III and his younger brother both have personalities in which there are strong elements of stupidity, vanity and bad temper, and difficulties between them are fertile ground for exploitation by the old enemy of England. Niccolo is still also involved in a vendetta with the St Pols of Kilmurren and another old enemy, David Salmeton, is now based in Scotland, making the already dangerous situation personally antagonistic to Niccolo.

The series draws to a disappointing end; a pity, when its first five novels are so good. Gemini is also likely to be Dunnett's final novel, and it is even given a literary introduction, as though she were already dead. The Lymond and Niccolo series will ensure that she is remembered, but not this novel itself.

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