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Review: Niccolò Rising by Dorothy Dunnett (The House of Niccolò #1)


I have wanted to start the series since 2017, but have always been put off by the length. Long, slow, heavy books and series are something I’m almost never in the mood for lately, so in a way, I’m surprised that I went for it now. But while it was, indeed, too long for my mood, the plot was good enough that I was able to both finish and enjoy it.

Come for the scheming merchants, stay for the chekhov’s ostrich.

There is, honestly, not too much to say about the plot. It’s the story of the titular Niccolò’s rise to power, a prologue to what’s obviously going to be a much longer epic series. The concerns of the characters are, on paper, fairly boring – finance, trading, and so on – and the pacing is slow, but I still found myself curious what crazy thing is waiting around the corner.

For one, there is the ostrich. This must be the only book with a chekhov’s ostrich (you know, the feathered biped version of a chekhov’s gun), and both the setup and the punchline when it finally goes off are magnificent. This must be the best example of an author playing the long game with a joke I’ve ever seen.

The worldbuilding is very detailed (so many descriptions of 15th century clothes and headwear) and, I suspect, very well researched. As this is the 15th and not the 18th century aka not my time period of choice, it wasn’t a huge draw for me and I didn’t get the references, but I could appreciate the intricacy. If you are into the 15th century, however, and somehow haven’t read it yet, you probably should.

Like many multi-POV epics, it’s also not very character-focused. We get very little insight into what are they thinking, and their motivations especially often remain a puzzle for us to guess. There are reasons for this, especially when it comes to Niccolò, I wouldn’t call it a fault, but it can make it a little hard to connect for those of us who prefer a more close-up approach.

However, at the end it came together magnificently. While it is a first book in a long series and it does have a sequel hook, but the ending itself is satisfying and the arc complete. A series I will definitely continue, but due to the length and slowness of the individual books, not immediately.

Enjoyment: 4/5
Execution: 5/5

Recommended to: those who like scheming, clever protagonists, epic fantasy fans who want to branch out into historical fiction
Not recommended to: those who don’t like long slow books or like more of a character focus

Content warnings: an almost-rape scene

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