The Summer BFB is done! I finished Niccolò Rising a couple of days ago. Thank you, Ros, for coordinating this one; it takes away the misery of having bailed on I Promessi Sposi in the spring, and it makes me feel less awful when I look at the list of books that I had planned to read in 2014 (I have read none of them at this point, but hey, the year is still middle-aged). When I started I wasn’t sure if the book really was a BFB, but at 224,000 words, I think it qualifies comfortably.
I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It was slow to get started, and Dunnett introduces a lot of characters and relationships without much background, so you have to just go with it. And not only is there no clear hero at the beginning, the male characters with whom we spend the most time seem quite immature and callow. There’s a possible heroine, but you don’t know who she’s supposed to be matched to. The most hero-like person (handsome, powerful, wealthy, talented) is a jerk from the get-go, which makes the whole thing even more confusing.
It’s not that I was expecting a romance, but the difference from the way The Game of Kings opens is striking. Lymond seizes the stage from the opening sentence. With this series, you don’t even know who Niccolò is until you’re well into the first book. Once you realize, however, things start to make sense and by the end of the book it’s very clear that Dunnett has created a character that is going to be at least as brilliant and talented and have at least as many adventures as Lymond did. He’s not nearly as handsome, though which partly explains why he is not the subject of endless fanfics the way Lymond is.
For me, the book really takes off when Niccolò makes the match that gives him the power to lead. Since I had tried to remain spoiler-free, I didn’t see that plot twist coming, but it was brilliant. It was an unusual match, and Dunnett doesn’t minimize the fallout that is created, but it really works to put him at the heart of everything he wants to do, in terms of financial capital, status, and network relationships.