To Lie with Lions

by Dorothy Dunnett

Reviewed by David Maclaine

With To Lie with Lions, the vast saga of the House of Niccolo reaches volume six. This novel begins with a rare interlude of peace for its hero, who now goes by the name of Nicholas de Fleury. But once that first languid sea voyage is complete the story resumes its customary whirl of intrigue, vendetta, and fierce contests of will. Nicholas and his family are the focus of attacks by a familiar assortment of enemies, and this time often on an assortment of waterways made hazardous with sudden murderous assaults, from a lazy riverside in France, to a frozen lake in Scotland, to the shores of a Dutch canal. There are also life-or-death contests in Icelandic waters, and abduction from an alleyway on Cyprus. These repeated threats ratchet up the suspense, leaving the reader white-knuckled with fear that, this time, the last-minute rescues may not arrive and deep, scarring tragedy may ensue. As the book moves on the reader gradually begins to suspect that a greater tragedy is building behind the scenes, that the cost of the strange contest at the story's center may prove too high. By now, though, Dunnett's fans must be well aware how skillfully she can spin out multiple layers of misdirection, and will know to expect a final surprise, and also that the odds against a happy ending loom large.

Among the high points of To Lie with Lions are the production of a lavish miracle play, a series of deadly games with members of the Scottish royal family, and an astonishing display of nature's power in the volcanic landscape of Iceland. The human drama includes the further development of Nicholas' fascinating relationship with Kathi Sersanders, which poses the question of whether we might do well to add a new coinage to our language, for while a "soul-mate" may be a wistful ideal, a "mind-mate" may prove as rare and valuable as any precious cargo from a distant land. (1995, 626 pages)

More about To Lie with Lions at Powell's Books or

Other novels about travelers to Iceland:

The Falcons of Fire and Ice by Karen Maitland (2012), about a Portuguese falconer's daughter who must travel to Iceland to rescue her father from the Inquisition. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon (2012), , about an eleventh-century Frankish outlaw whose commission to ransom a Norman knight requires journeys that include Iceland. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Vinland by George MacKay Brown (2005), about a young Viking who voyages from Orkney to Norway, Iceland and Ireland during the shift from paganism to Christianity. More info

Nonfiction about Renaissance merchants:

The Rise of Merchant Empires: Long Distance Trade in the Early Modern World, 1350-1750 by James D. Tracy. More info

To Wake the Dead: A Renaissance Merchant and the Birth of Archaeology by Marina Belozerskaya (2009). More info

The Silk Road in World History by Xinru Liu (2010). More info


Iceland in January, at the "Around the World with a Two Year Old" blog

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