The protagonist is a scamp, and often beaten for his tricks which he accepts as expected. He is also very intelligent, so his tricks are unusual and interesting.
This is the first of a series, seems historically correct and there are many intrigues.
By far, the Best historical fiction I have ever read in my life. I am lost in these books (reading the 8th one now)and don't want them to end. I feel stuffed now with knowledge of the Renaissance I never had before, but in a good way, a retentive way. Wish I'd had these in college when studying history. Dunnett's style is more alive than anything else of this genre (and yes, that includes the extremely popular Gabaldon series (i.e. Dragonfly in Amber). Incrediby well-researched, Ms. Dunnett was an artist and musician as well as a writer, a Renaissance woman in her own right. P.S. And the Lymond series are almost as good (much debate among Dunnett fans over who is more wonderful, Niccolo or Francis Lymond. I am on Team Niccolo, needless to say!) ENjoy. :)
The key character of the novel seems to be a buffoon who gets himself into all kinds of trouble. In the early pages of this novel the fictional characters of Felix, Claes, and Julius react together like slapstick comedy. Claes keeps finding himself in difficult situations from dousing a cannon for a king in a canal, to discover as he is bedding a young woman, to insulting a Scottish nobleman who takes it personally. His antics send him and Julius to join the army where Caes may learn to fight and protect himself. To this point, he has patiently and philosophically endured beating after beating.
The group travels over the mountains in midwinter, and face an avalanche. It is Claes who saves many by urging them to speed to an overhang where they are protected from falling snow, rocks and trees. The trip completed, Claes decides to start a courier service. His conflicts with others continues but again and again his warm personality saves him. His actual name is Niccolo.
Increasingly called Niccolo, Claes is developing many opportunities for Marian de Charetty's firm. All seem to be growing successfully. Meanwhile, he almost loses his life when he is placed inside a barrel on the boat that is traditionally burned during the festival. His capture is seen by a young girl who loves the attention he gives her. She and her older sister rescue him.
The lovely young Katelina van Borselen's experience with a masked suitor during the festival turns into a nightmare. When unmasked, the man is none other than the evil viscount de Riberac who arranged for Niccolo's near death by fire. He is determined to rape her and force marriage. He will find a way to dispense with his wife. Katelina escapes this fate and finds solace in the arms of the charismatic Claes whose child she soon finds she is carrying.
As the novel progresses, Marian de Charetty weds Miccolo so he can run the business. What the reader doesn't realize until late in the novel is that Niccolo puts many plans in place to protect himself and the business. His skill is such that even his friends begin to wonder if they are safe from his schemes.
This is a complex and intriguing read that keeps the reader moving slowly hoping to catch all the nuances. One should read it again to be certain. With such complex interwoven plots set against a Renaissance background with historical figures emerging everywhere this is not a simple or easy read. In a word, it is just fascinating! If one is looking for an easy read this is not it but it is remarkable and memorable.
Well written, well researched
The whole Niccoli series (House of Niccolo) are excellent, but oh my...not easy reads....and they keep on going! After a while you really really want it to end and despise a couple of the characters. But I don't regret having stuck with it.