The questions, discussion topics, historical background, and author biography are designed to enhance your group’s reading and discussion of Dorothy Dunnett’s eight bestselling novels in the House of Niccol?. We hope this guide will enrich your experience of these intriguing and adventuresome works of historical fiction.
The final volume in the spectacular House of Niccol?. Scotland, 1477. As Nicholas de Fleury and his clever wife Gelis move between the countries where his bank has made its mark (Burgundy, Flanders, Germany, France, and England), he finally unlocks the door to his past–but not before his physical strength, his willpower, and his humanity have been tested to the breaking point by royalty, the gentry, the clergy, and his own family. A dazzling conclusion to this vivid re-creation of the early Renaissance.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. For Discussion: Gemini
"They were more than halfway towards becoming friends," says Nicholas of his two sons. What had made them enemies? As Jordan and Henry stepped tentatively and poignantly towards friendship, which do you think made the greater effort? Which made the greater achievement?
2. What are the links between the story of the Duke of Gloucester, soon to become the infamous English King Richard III, and that of Alexander, Scottish Duke of Albany? Are theirs at some level the same story? How do they diverge?
3. At the climax of this novel, and this series, Nicholas de Fleury finally kills a member of his family. What are the elements that make up what Kathi now calls his "obsession" against doing this? What do you think enables him to do it at last?
4. In its final quarter the novel devotes considerable attention to Jordan de Rebeirac. What enlightenments about him invite our understanding, and even our pity? What does Bel mean by insisting that he and Nicholas are alike? What is his final tragedy?
5. In their final scene together, Anselme Adorne says to Nicholas, "I wish–" and is cut off. How would you finish that sentence? How is Adorne’s role in the Scotland of this section of the novel similar to his role in the Bruges of the early chapters? And different from it? What are some of the reasons he is "at home" in Scotland?
6. For Discussion: The House of Niccol?
Throughout the eight books of the House of Niccol? series a picture emerges of Sophie de Fleury, the mother of Nicholas, and of her centrality in the life of her son. Can you put this picture together now –the Sophie of rumor and gossip, the Sophie of Nicholas’s slowly revealed memories, of his maturer judgement, of Andro Wodman’s reporting? Are there still some mysteries and obscurities in this portrait?
7. The House of Niccol? series offers a sustained and in many ways highly sophisticated version of the changes in intellectual , political and psychological structures which mark the transition from the medieval to the modern world. But like any good set of historical novels it abounds too in individual scenes and characters of great emotional, dramatic, and visual power, or stylistic verve, "set pieces" which hang in the memory even longer, perhaps, than the plot or the author’s philosophy of history. What are some of your favorites here–scenes of comic impact or tragic illumination? Best-drawn villain or victim, most vexatious female adolescent? Most breathtaking fight or chase? Most engrossing moment of romance? Most stunning surprise?
8. At the opening of the second volume of the series, and at the closing of the last volume, the voice of an astrologer-character replaces that of the novelist-narrator. What do you make of this–some invitation to compare and contrast those two professions?
9. Some readers will have come to the Niccol? series after reading the Lymond Chronicles, to which they are a ‘prequel’; others have now finished the Niccol? series and will go on to the sequel, the Lymond Chronicles. What are some of the dividends of doing it the first way? The second way? How (after a reading of both) are these two heroes, these two worlds, these two intricate plots, alike and different?
About this Author
Dorothy Dunnett was born in 1923 in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. Her time at Gillespie’s High School for Girls overlapped with that of the novelist Muriel Spark. From 1940-1955, she worked for the Civil Service as a press officer. In 1946, she married Alastair Dunnett, later editor of The Scotsman
Dunnett started writing in the late 1950s. Her first novel, The Game of Kings
, was published in the United States in 1961, and in the United Kingdom the year after. She has published 20 books to date, including the six-part Lymond Chronicles and the ongoing Niccolo Series. Also an accomplished professional portrait painter, Dunnett has exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy on many occasions and has had portraits commissioned by a number of prominent public figures in Scotland.
She has also led a busy life in public service. In the past, she has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Scotland, a Trustee of the Scottish National War Memorial, and Director of the Edinburgh Book Festival. She has also served on numerous cultural committees, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1992 she was awarded the Office of the British Empire for services to literature. She lives in Scotland and has two sons and one grandson.