Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Lymond Chronicles were among the very first reviews to be featured here on IGC Publishing, although my journey through the volumes began long before I created this site.  My wife discovered and devoured the series many years ago, and gifted me with a complete set with the thought that it was as much a gift for her as it was for me, but it took me several years to make my way through the whole series because they are not the sort of books that you can fully appreciate reading for twenty minutes a night before you fall asleep.  They demand time and concentration, but in the best of ways.  They are beautiful pieces of writing, rigorously historical, with compelling fictional characters.

When I discovered that Dunnett also wrote a prequel series that builds out how the Lymond Chronicles’ titular character’s family rose to prominence, I thought the first book would make a perfect gift for my wife, this time with the thought that I would be able to enjoy it in turn.  Instead, it took both of us a long time to get through Niccolò Rising, and when we were both finished, our conclusions were the same: it is not as good as the original series.

Precisely why is difficult to define.  The elements that I enjoyed about the Lymond Chronicles are all present: a brilliant protagonist, beautiful writing, fascinating historical context, and evocative descriptions.  Despite all of that, I found it difficult to engage with the story.  Precocious Niccolò is in many ways my ideal protagonist – hyper-competent, yet still challenged by the plot and his own flaws – yet I found him somewhat dull and unengaging until the last hundred pages or so of the book, and with him, the story as a whole.

The problem, I think, is that Dunnett’s mostly omniscient narrator, which I usually enjoy immensely, chooses to conceal anything more than hints of Niccolò’s full competence until halfway through the novel, and the other characters of whom we learn more are decidedly unengaging, or at least unsympathetic.  Which is not to say that they are poorly written – once Niccolo takes on a larger role, they make excellent and realistic side characters and supporting roles – but they do not stand well on their own, in my opinion.

For most of the novel, therefore, I thought I would have no interest in reading the rest of the prequel series, despite how much I enjoyed the original Lymond Chronicles.  That last hundred pages or so, however, proved almost enough to change that decision, and if the sequels happened to make their way into my vicinity, I would not be averse to reading them.  That being said, I do not think I will be actively seeking them out, which is rather a shame.  Even when the book was at its least engaging, I still loved the writing and the language Dunnett employs.  Some might call it too purple – probably the same people who think my own writing is too florid – but it might be my favorite part about Dunnett’s stories, even beyond the intricate plots, complex characters, and historical contexts.

In summary, I have a very mixed review for you of a book on which I have very mixed opinions.  I was fully prepared to write a mediocre review, but like I’ve said, the latter parts were excellent, and I went from being somewhat disengaged to not wanting to put it down (which was good, since I needed my mind occupied).  I wouldn’t start on Dunnett’s writing with Niccolò Rising, but if you read and enjoyed the Lymond Chronicles, I think the best idea might just be to try Niccolò Rising for yourself and see what you think.

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