This latest installment in Dunnett's House of Niccolo series finds her hero, Nicholas de Fleury, in exile in Poland, having given up his shares in his far-flung banking enterprise in the preceding book, To Lie with Lions
(1996), and alienated his friends and family in pursuit of a private vendetta. As his next step, he embarks on a journey to Caffa, the Genoese colony in the Crimea, in the company of Anna, the beautiful and mysterious wife of the notary Julius. The three years the novel covers take him to Persia and Russia. In Persia, he accompanies the papal envoy to Tabriz to persuade the ruler to take arms against the Turks. In Moscow, where he is forced to flee after the Turks take Caffa, he becomes a favorite of a grand duchess and assists with the designs for a great cathedral. His journeys are ostensibly missions of trade and diplomacy, but the real reasons behind his travels are more complicated, involving mysteries from his past that are only gradually and partly revealed. Meanwhile, his estranged wife works with Nicholas' former partners in Bruges to rebuild the bank. Some threads of the ongoing saga are tied up, but plenty of loose ends remain for the next installment. As always, Dunnett's plot twists and her command of the period are mesmerizing, though it definitely helps to have read the previous books to sort through all the people and events. Despite her dense prose style, Dunnett is a writer who should appeal even to those who find most historical fiction superficial and unconvincing. Mary Ellen Quinn
From Kirkus Reviews
The seventh volume (To Lie with Lions, 1996; The Unicorn Hunt, 1994, etc,) chronicling the extraordinary adventures of Nicholas de Fleury, a Machiavellian 15th-century merchant who is, as this hefty installment opens, still locked in battle with greedy, incompetent kings, a shadowy rival trading empire, and his estranged wife, Gelis, one of a very few figures who have been a match for him in terms of wit, passion, and cunning. Since Nicholass efforts to outwit those trying to destroy his influence have made much of Western Europe too hot for him, he turns eastward, toward Russia and the yet more mysterious lands beyond. Dunnett continues to demonstrate a distinctive ability to evoke not just the sights and sounds of the early Renaissance but, more importantly, its mindset; her characters are far more often moved by questions of respect, family (a particularly touchy subject for the mysterious Nicholas), and power than by more mundane emotional upheavals. By novels end, de Fleury, an engaging mix of ruthlessness and honor, seems closer to winning Gelis back, has helped preserve yet another kingdom, and has, for the time being, once more outflanked his foes. Those devoted to this unique series will be relieved to hear that it has not yet reached its conclusion. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.