This is my second reading of second book in Dorothy Dunnett’s historical fiction series House of Niccolo- The Spring of Ram and yes, I missed loads the first time round. Here is my review.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Book 2 of the House of Niccolo series.
Source :My Own
In 1461, Nicholas is in Florence. Backed by none other than Cosimo de’ Medici, he will sail the Black Sea to Trebizond, last outpost of Byzantium, and the last jewel missing from the crown of the Ottoman Empire. But trouble lies ahead. Nicholas’s stepdaughter — at the tender age of thirteen — has eloped with his rival in trade: a Machiavellian Genoese who races ahead of Nicholas, sowing disaster at every port. And time is of the essence: Trebizond may fall to the Turks at any moment.
The Spring of the Ram picks up after the end of Niccolo rising( review here) in 1461 where we learn that Nicholas believes himself to be the son of Simon St Pol- the cause of their enmity. His friends and allies are wary of Nicholas’s clever manipulations and have him on a short leash but are equally happy to follow through on his plans to make the Charetty company rich. But of course, his path is full of obstacles and people he has to conquer to fulfil his plan. Nicholas sets sail to Trebizond to trade but Doria, a rival merchant elopes with Catherine-Nicholas’s 13-year-old step-daughter sabotaging Nicholas’s plans at every opportunity.
Dorothy Dunnett knows how to spin a complex tale- The Spring of Ram is densely plotted, with plenty of subtle twists, action, drama and angst. There is no final twist at the end of the book but there are twists thrown ever now again in the narrative keeping you on your toes. The action spreads across several countries including Bruges, Venice, and Trebizond just before its fall to the Turks. There are times this feels like an episode of Dynasty set in the 15th century!
Nicholas continues to be an intriguing lead always a few steps ahead but unlike The Lymond Chronicles, we get to read about Nicholas from his point of view. Nicholas is just as complicated as Lymond but to me, Nicholas is much warmer and relatable but more devious. Nicholas states throughout the book that he will not kill Doria. But we know that while Doria may not die by Nicholas’s hand, he will most certainly be ruined.
Tobie, Father Godsalc, Julius, Loppe and Captain Astorre join Nicholas in his journey and they eventually accept Nicholas’s nature and his leadership.
There are many more secondary characters either trying to help Nicholas ( with hidden motives) or hinder him ( again with hidden motives).
Doria is a complex villain- a seducer of a young girl but a naïve player in a complex game played between Nicholas and his enemies. Jordan de Riberac continues to be a despicable enemy to Nicholas and Simon continues to hurt him in any way he can.
Catherine’s arc in the story from a spoiled little girl who elopes with an older man when denied a dog to a savvy businesswoman with leads to unexpected consequences was interesting. But Dunnett’s women are strong in unexpected ways and The Spring of Ram has so many strong women to choose from including dependable Marian and the clever Violante.
And Marian, it was clear from the last chapter that his marriage to Marian was so much more than a business arrangement.
The family tree
Trying to figure out Lymond’s family tree is part of the fun of reading House of Niccolo.
So far we know that Nicholas believes himself to be the son of yellow-haired and blue-eyed Simon and is now the biological father of Kathleen’s Van Boreslan’s son. Simon is of course the son of Jordan De Riberac.
Underage sex, marriage below the age of 16
Perfect for Fans of
The Lymond Chronicles, The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse