Lewis Carroll once wrote “If you limit your actions in life to things that nobody can possibly find fault with, you will not do much.” This quote applies to Nicholas van der Poele (aka Niccolo, Nicholas, Claes), the main character in Lady Dunnett’s monumental saga of an 18-year-old bastard who has been raised by his dead mother’s family in Bruges, where he is an apprentice in the Charetty dye works. Claes, as he is known in the beginning, is a cheerful buffoon who is always causing disasters for himself and Felix, the heir to the Charetty fortune. However, Claes is really a genius at math and languages and business. The first novel of eight (the others being The Spring of the Ram, Race of Scorpions, Scales of Gold, The Unicorn, To Lie with Lions, Caprice and Rondo, and Gemini) finds Claes meeting diverse characters during the 15th century mostly in Flanders, Burgundy and Italy. He runs afoul early on with a Scottish lord who may or may not be his father. He expands the dye business to include a mercenary army and a messenger service. All of this proves too much for Marian de Charetty, an older woman and widow of the firm’s founder, and the two enter into a marriage of convenience for the sake of the business. Nicholas, as he is now known, has many friends but just as many enemies, some of whom seek to destroy him. He loves several ladies, impregnating one, although she hastily marries and does not tell him of his new son. And business goes on against wars religious and political. “From Venice to Cathay, from Seville to the Gold Coast of Africa, men anchored their ships and opened their ledgers and weighed one thing against another as if nothing would ever change.” But in the 1460′s things changed rapidly. The subsequent books take Niccolo and company to the Black Sea, Cyprus, Venice, Spain, Madeira, Africa, Scotland, Iceland, Italy, Egypt and the Sinai peninsula, Poland, the Crimea, Russia, and France. The novels are peopled with historical characters and fictional ones, all brought to life by English actor Gordon Griffin, narrator of over 500 audio books. He flawlessly creates characters of all ages, using a vast array of accents. Bedrooms and battlefields are equally dramatic, as clever Claes morphs into sophisticated Niccolo, avenging himself in secret on his enemies, at ease with kings and knaves. The series in highly recommended both for its array of history and characters and for Gordon Griffin’s masterful telling. (Janet Julian, SoundCommentary, March 2014 Issue)
Dorothy Dunnett was born in 1923 in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. From 1940-1955, she worked for the Civil Service as a press officer. Dunnett started writing in the late 1950s. Her first novel, The Game of Kings, was published in the United States in 1961, and in the United Kingdom the year after. She published 22 books in total, including the six-part Lymond Chronicles and the eight-part Niccolo Series, and co-authored another volume with her husband. Also an accomplished professional portrait painter, Dunnett exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy on many occasions and had portraits commissioned by a number of prominent public figures in Scotland. She was a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Scotland, a Trustee of the Scottish National War Memorial, and Director of the Edinburgh Book Festival. She served on numerous cultural committees, and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1992 she was awarded the Office of the British Empire for services to literature. She died on November 9, 2001.