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Gemini: The Eighth Book of the House of Niccolo    by Dorothy Dunnett order for
by Dorothy Dunnett
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Gemini is the eighth volume of the author's House of Niccolo series which follows its young protagonist, the merchant Nicholas de Fleury, and his friends and followers through fifteenth century Europe. Claes started as a dyeworks apprentice in Bruges and ends up moulding the Scottish nation. Dunnett has given her readers over seven hundred pages of enthralling plots and counter-plots, political and personal machinations, to bring the tale to a stunning (and surprising) conclusion, with a link forward in time to her other superb series, the Lymond Chronicles.

Having enjoyed both long-running epics, it was natural to compare their heroes while reading this second one. Francis Crawford and Nicholas de Fleury are both brilliant young leaders and visionaries, well-intentioned but frequently misunderstood and misjudged, even by their closest associates. One is an acknowledged child of his family, but suspected of illegitimacy, the other is only officially illegitimate. Both achieve true love, after long conflict with the object of their attraction - in the House of Niccolo, I appreciated the fact that Nicholas and Gelis got together well before the ending and that Nicol was able to get to know and enjoy his son. Both protagonists make mistakes and pay for them, judging their own acts more harshly than they are judged by others. They share a love of music. They are physically different, Nicholas being larger than the slight Francis, and Nicol more open. They are both travellers, finding scope for their talents in arenas all over the known world of their time. Given the similarities, it did not surprise me that the author managed to link the two series, though her technique was unusual.

Since it has been a long series, I appreciated the Introduction by Judith Wilt, which summarized the previous volumes (I wish this was more commonly done). Gemini begins soon after the death of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, at Nancy. Robin of Berecrofts was severely wounded in the battle and his fate is unknown. Nicholas returns to Scotland, to make amends for his previous activities there, and with the intent to make peace with the St. Pol's to clear the way for the return of Gelis and son Jodi, left behind in Bruges. Nicol is soon embroiled at Court in Edinburgh, attempting to assist in the management of the disturbed King James III and especially of the impulsive young prince Alexander, 'Sandy'. He slowly develops a relationship with his other son, the hostile Henry St. Pol, while trying to prevent the onset of war with England. There is the usual large cast of characters, detailed historical background, and subtle and complex plots, at which this author excels.

I especially enjoyed this last volume, which showed a strong and compassionate hero at his prime, surrounded by caring friends and family, and dealing reluctantly with old secrets and an old enemy. If you haven't tried this series yet, it will give many hours of reading pleasure. Its conclusion has made me want to go back to the Lymond Chronicles, starting with The Game of Kings, to look for the links between the families and enjoy the experience again.

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