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The Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett
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The Spring of the Ram

by Dorothy Dunnett

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My experience with this novel was like basically every other Dunnett novel I have read. That is I start to read it and get hopelessly bogged down in the details and all of the other setup work that she does. I plod along day after day after week after month unless something clicks. Usually about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the way through the book and there is a tipping point in the narrative and then I just consume the book until the very, very satisfying end. However, it does take me a while to get there each time.
This novel is a continuation of the story of the young dyer's apprentice Nicholas from Bruges who takes his merchantile company from Belgium to Italy and then to what would be today Turkey to the last remnant of the Byzantine Empire to set up a trade contract with the Empire there. In the mix is a rival Italian merchant who competes with him, tries to sabotage him and kill him. Needless to say Nicholas wins out in the end - but in a way that sets up the conflict for the next book as it ends with his wife and head of the company dead and Nicholas on the outs with her two daughters. ( )
  stuart10er | Nov 5, 2013 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1976169.html

Niccolò, the Flemish apprentice-turned-magnate of the first book, is sent on a mission of cut-throat mercantile competition to Trebizond, the only surviving point of the Byzantine Empire; but the year is 1461, and Trebizond's time is also running out. There's some very skeevy (though not at all explicit) underage sex in this book, though our hero nobly stands aside from it; there's also a lot of appropriately byzantine political conspiracy, with tendrils reaching from Georgia to Scotland in a beautifully drawn pattern of entanglement. It's all very lush and convincing, and just as I was wondering if Niccolò would ever actually lose any of the conflicts he gets involved with, I was blindsided by one of the several twists at the end. Good stuff. ( )
  nwhyte | Aug 25, 2012 |
Dunnett's novels are masterworks of historical fiction, but that doesn't make them glide down smoothly. She writes for readers of high intelligence who like a novel that offers a bit of a challenge. The Spring of the Ram is #2 in the House of Niccolo series about a young Flemish dyeworker as smart as Dunnett's ideal reader (well, a little more so, perhaps) and just as ambitious. But he has a streak of mischief in him, and more than a streak of passion. It's a mix that makes enemies, and Claes-Nicholas-Niccolo has made some that are truly dangerous. In this episode, he makes an alliance with the Medici family and sets off for Trebizond (now eastern Turkey, then a successor to the collapsed Byzantine Empire). The plot is wickedly twisty, full of unexpected developments and doublecrosses. I was about a quarter of the way through reading this when I fell in love, so my brain was pretty addled while I was reading the last three-quarters and not up to its usual powers of concentration. Still, I dare any reader to follow every single twist and turn in this novel. The characters, numerous as they are, are easier to keep track of, because they're so individual and so vividly portrayed. Definitely read the first book in the series, Niccolo Rising, before picking this up. Some series novels don't really have to be read in order to be enjoyed. These do.
  margad | Dec 16, 2011 |
As with most of Dunnett's books, the more involved details of the plot flew right over my head--I can tell you that there were political machinations involving the Emperor of Trebizond and the Turkish Sultan, but that's about it. Oh, and some rather amusing and engaging scenes involving the plague, bath houses, intimations of sodomy and camels (not all at once).

I think Dunnett is also somehow managing to tell this series much more from the point of view of her protagonist, while at the same time making him almost as opaque as Lymond ever was. That's some trick. Still, I do like Nicholas, because he's not quite the golden boy Lymond was, and yet is on the same road that Lymond trod when he was young--a refinement of self through incredible adversity.

The ending was perhaps a little flat, though; it felt like the events of the book proper had ended perhaps fifty pages before, leaving only a rather dreary and subdued coda. Engaging enough to keep me reading, though--I do want to see where Nicholas goes from here. ( )
  siriaeve | Apr 26, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375704787, Paperback)

With the bravura storytelling and pungent authenticity of detail she brought to her acclaimed Lymond Chronicles, Dorothy Dunnett, grande dame of the historical novel, presents The House of Niccolò series. The time is the 15th century, when intrepid merchants became the new knighthood of Europe. Among them, none is bolder or more cunning than Nicholas vander Poele of Bruges, the good-natured dyer's apprentice who schemes and swashbuckles his way to the helm of a mercantile empire.

In 1461, Nicholas is in Florence. Backed by none other than Cosimo de' Medici, he will sail the Black Sea to Trebizond, last outpost of Byzantium, and the last jewel missing from the crown of the Ottoman Empire. But trouble lies ahead. Nicholas's stepdaughter--at the tender age of thirteen--has eloped with his rival in trade: a Machiavellian Genoese who races ahead of Nicholas, sowing disaster at every port. And time is of the essence: Trebizond may fall to the Turks at any moment. Crackling with wit, breathtakingly paced, The Spring of the Ram is a pyrotechnic blend of scholarship and narrative shimmering with the scents, sounds, colors, and combustible emotions of the 15th century.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:38 -0400)

In fifteenth-century Europe, young Niccolo travels from Florence to Trevizond on the Black Sea, where the West and the Orient meet and where he finds both opportunity and danger.

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