Dorothy Dunnett's piéce de résistance is the richness and invention of her historical imagination, with every detail seamlessly incorporated, and Gemini has some claims to being her most visionary and distinctive piece yet. The sheer skill of Dunnett as a storyteller has marked her out as one of the most commanding practitioners of the historical novel, with such popular books as , Scales of Gold and To Lie With Lions.
Set in Scotland in 1477, in the international world of trade and commerce, fatal results are suffered by those who do not know the rules of the game. When Nicholas de Fleury returns to Edinburgh after four years' absence, curiosity about why he closed all his ventures in Scotland and deserted his friends is high. Struggling to fend off his enemies' attempts to kill him, Nicholas rejoins the fledgling court of young King James the Third, and finds that the dangerous internecine squabbles of James and his treacherous siblings is every bit as dangerous as the local intrigue he has left behind. Dunnett describes this with the kind of ornate and pungent prose that she has long been mistress of, with her customarily massive cast of characters all delineated with genuine brio.
Nicholas is a splendidly rounded creation, and by placing him at the centre of her sprawling narrative, you are always given the perfect lodestone to draw you inexorably through the convolutions of the plot. Dunnett's female characters are as distinctive as ever, with Kathi Sersanders remaining the most memorable, her relationship with de Fleury adroitly drawn. However, it is the sheer breadth of Dunnett's ambitions that takes the breath away and, as ever, the set pieces are exhilarating:
The sword point bit into his cloak and grated across the cuirass underneath, bringing the swordsman close for a moment, his face blank with surprise. Nicholas kicked him under the chin, so that he blundered back and hit someone else, while Nicholas dragged out his own sword. The horse wasn't his, but it was a powerful beast and alarmed enough to be ready to rear. Nicholas wrapped the reins around one wrist and hauled, using the bit to drag the horse threshing onto its haunches, and then allowing it to plunge forward again. Those who have followed the House of Niccolò series will find this a perfectly orchestrated finale. --Barry Forshaw