Feb. 17th, 2017

white_hart: (Matilda)
The fourth of Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolo books takes the eponymous hero to Africa after the security of his business is threatened by a run on his capital instigated partly by his long-standing enemy Simon and partly by the shadowy Vatachino company. In search of the legendary gold-mines of Guinea and an overland route to the perhaps equally legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John in Ethiopia, after a difficult and dangerous journey he comes instead to Timbuktu*, ancient capital of learning and trade in a prosperous, mainly peaceful pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa.

This was my favourite of the Niccolo books so far, and the first one I loved as much as I loved the Lymond series. Having recently read HMS Surprise, I really enjoyed the description of the voyage from Portugal to the Gambia in an age when Europeans had only recently discovered that Africa extended further south than Cape Bojador, slightly south of the latitude of the Canaries and for many years assumed to be the literal end of the world. I loved the depiction of fifteenth-century Africa as no less civilised than Europe, just different (and with surprisingly good communication links for the era), and Nicholas's perilous and uncertain journeys were utterly compelling reading. I found myself reading while walking down the street because I couldn't bear to put my Kindle down on more than one occasion.

Slightly spoilery for the end of the book. )

* I may have found myself at one point pondering whether it was possible to cast the party who make it to Timbuktu with the cast of Cabin Pressure, who of course never do get to Timbuktu. The description of Nicholas does make him sound rather like John Finnemore, and he certainly affects an Arthur Shappey-esque innocence on occasion.

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