And so it begins! (House of Niccolo)

My insides are dancing a jig. My brain is squealing in excitement. And the reader in me has a distinctly satisfied smile on her face.

All this because I have decided to embark on The House of Niccolo series. Yes! Miss Dunnett leaped across like a seasoned athelete, clearing the miles long TBR pile confidently and sure-footedly.

Having been gobsmacked by Miss Dunnett the first time around though I am determined to be better prepared this time!

For one, I am ordering the Dorothy Dunnett companion books by Elspeth Morrison. Miss Dunnett’s superb wielding of European history and my woeful ignorance of the same, her use of archaic words that prove un-findable, her lavish use of poetry that goes right above my head and her switching between multiple languages — all these were frustrating obstacles during my reading of the Lymond Chronicles and issues that I would like to address before commencing the House of Niccolo series.

For another, I intend to read up all the spoiler-y things about the Niccolo series. Before Dorothy Dunnett fans jump up and scream blasphemy, let me explain my rationale! My whole experience of the Lymond Chronicles was marked by a sort of lurch forward, a stagger backwards where my desire to savour each and every word was at a constant war with my impatience to know what happens next. One could argue that a mark of a good story is inspiring this very behaviour in a reader. This time around though I have an overwhelming desire to focus more on the rich details and the incredibly beautiful prose that is so central to Miss Dunnett’s works than spending energy fretting about future events. I’d also like to read more critically which I know will require a more patient reading as compared to how I read Francis of Lymond’s chronicles.

Knowing myself this will be possible only if I have a general idea of the biggies of the series, of which, two I know I need to know for sure for my strategy to succeed – the identity of the villain, if there is one; the identity of Niccolo’s love interest and the one he finally ends up with.

I am also thinking of processing my thoughts on this blog as I read along. I don’t know what the schedule would be – halfway through the book, end of each section / book, or something else – but I’m tempted for sure!

Or that’s the plan anyway!

~*~

In the meanwhile I have The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield ready and waiting for me.

Something else that I want to get to is a review of “The Chocolate Kiss” by Laura Florand, easily one of the better romances I have read in a long long while. It’s funny like hell, has delightful characters and really good writing, a Parisian hero and a Parisian pastry shop and to top it all oodles of hot chocolates and dozens of macarons! Ahh, I shall just have to sit down and write it out, n’est-ce pas? (and that’s the sum total of my French!) ((and I really hope I used that correctly!))

In thrall of Francis Crawford, Phillipa Somerville & Dorothy Dunnett

It feels like my life has been consumed by Dorothy Dunnett. Francis Crawford of Lymond and Phillipa Somerville have grabbed hold of me so forcefully that I do not even wish to enter a new world any more.

I am just about able to restrain myself from jumping a few pages ahead to see how it all ends. As I’d mentioned earlier this struggle between wanting to slow down and gallop ahead seems to mark this first round of reading. The sheer brilliance which is these books has just started to register with me – Rich character development: check; Layered and a thorough plot line: check; Prose: Ahh, what can I say about the prose… I have to stomp down the desire to break into hyperbole. I have this niggling feeling that I have just scratched the surface with this first reading and have yet to plumb the depths of delight offered by these books. I see now why Dunnett fans have read and re-read these works.

In fact I am contemplating purchasing the companion book which I suspect will deepen my appreciation of these books for my next round of reading. Indeed I have found myself wikipaedia-ing Mary Tudor, Richard Chancellor, Ivan the Terrible, Henry the IV, the Siege of Calais and the innumerable other characters and events from history that form the canvass for Miss Dunnett’s imagination. Reading up on these I am in awe at the way Miss Dunnett integrates these actual historical figures and events so adroitly and seamlessly into her narrative. I can only wonder at the sheer research which must have gone into the writing of these books. The fact that Miss Dunnett delivers so consistently with each one of them amazes me.

I am now on the sixth and the final installment of this phenomenal saga. I am both loath and impatient for it to end.

Francis Crawford of Lymmond

It’s been a long while since I’ve been so thoroughly captivated by a body of work. But that then is the power of Dorothy Dunnett, one of literature’s best kept secrets. I do not even remember any longer how I chanced upon Miss Dunnett; just glad that I did.

My introduction to Miss Dunnett has been via Francis Crawford of Lymmond, perhaps the greatest of all literary heroes (yes, he far surpasses the inestimable Mr. Darcy and can teach a thing or two to Rhett Butler). Francis Crawford, younger brother to Lord Culter, can break into poetry, philosophy and bawdry at the tip of a hat – and use English, Fresh, Gaellic, Scottish and most likely a few other languages while he’s doing it. He’s fiercely loyal to his country. He can inhabit and discard personas at ease (a skill which he uses to great comic results). Old or young, king or soldier, everyone wants him at their side (including the 8 year old Mary Queen of Scots). Conflate swordsmanship par excellence with a wild imagination (one that would be called thinking-out-of-the-box in today’s parlance) and you have at hand schemes and plots which not only spell doom for the English and the French but also make for some spectacularly funny episodes (the sheep scene in the Disorderly Kinghts or the episode with the Spanish Don in the Game of Kings). I can go on and on and use a few more superlatives while I’m at it.

Not only the hero whose 10 yrs of life we follow through the six-book series but also the secondary characters (more than half of whom are actual historical figures) are very well-etched and make one want to root for them. Or in the case of a few characters  make one hate them with a fervour. Yes, so completely does Miss Dunnett draw you into her world.

Be warned though that Miss Dunnett is unrelenting in her erudition. She demands absolute engagement with her story – slip up and you’ll find yourself scrambling to figure out what exactly happened. The setting is mid-16th century Europe and to someone with nary a clue about that period (like this reader) the series poses its own set of challenges (and quite frankly I found the intrigues and counter-intrigues of the Scottish, French and English courts exhausting at times).

Add to this a prose which cannot be breezed through; yet a prose which demonstrates again and again just how pliant words are in Miss Dunnett’s extremely capable hands. She wields them to reveal vividly and with great poetry the disposition of her characters, “Stewart’s coarse skin was moist with heat; the brows indented, line upon line, where the fretful pressures of his spirit squeezed into his flesh day and night”. She dumps into the reader’s head a complete and fully formed picture of her characters with phrases like an “awkward clod of an Irishman”. And then there are constructions that the reader just falls in love with: “It was the English, mauled and unregarded, of a person who spoke many languages and left them broken-hinged and crumbled like clams, solely attacked for the meat.”

Let’s move to the story. Richly layered with unexpected twists the plots across the books are complex and feed into each subsequent book as well. For the first two books I was at a loss as to what was going on till almost 100 pages into the book. And then as I caught onto the bigger story in the background I found myself breathless. And impatient to plunge deeper and deeper into the labyrinth which Miss Dunnett has built. This tension between my desire to steamroll ahead into the story and stop and assimilate the historical underpinnings being revealed (along with savouring the word-songs) characterizes my experience of the Lymmond Chronicles so far.

Quite easily, I have found one of those series which I know for sure I will be returning to. I think I will be able to adopt a more critical perspective and speak with some objectivity only on my re-reading of the entire series. In the meanwhile I have 3.7 more novels to devour and gush about!

P.S. I have an awful suspicion that the title ‘A Game of Thrones’ might have been very well ‘inspired’ by Miss Dunnett’s decade’s earlier ‘A Game of Kings’.

oh. my.

Francis of Lymond.

Polyglot. Tactician. Philosopher. Strategist. Orator. Musician. Brilliant Swordsman. Poet.

I just finished The Game of Kings – the first in the 6 part Francis of Lymond series by Dorothy Dunnett.

What an imagination. What a labor of love.

I have been rendered incoherent.