cover image Race of Scorpions

Race of Scorpions

Dorothy Dunnett. Alfred A. Knopf, $19.95 (534pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57107-2

The author of Niccol o Rising and The Spring of the Ram continues the bold adventures of Niccolo (Nicholas vanderok Poele) in this deftly drawn, complex novel of 15th-century intrigue. When Niccolo's wealthy older wife dies in Bruges, he finds himself--at age 21--in the dual role of prosperous merchant and sought-after military strategist. Niccolo's powerful private army is coveted by two warring rulers: steely Carlotta, Queen of Jerusalem, Cyprus and Armenia; and her lethally charming, illegitimate brother, James, who is determined to wrest the kingdom from his detested sister. Niccolo's suave demeanor and physical prowess, his ability to turn a profit as well as a battle, attracts dangerous lovers. The beautiful courtesan Primaflora and the vengeful Katerina--married to a nobleman but the mother of Niccolo's son (whose paternity is a secret)--both disguise their intentions. Through precisely rendered scenes, whether depicting a battle on the high seas, the operations of a dye works, a cleverly plotted ambush (using insects) or the gruesome tactics employed to destroy a proud city under siege, Dunnett furnishes fascinating images while spinning her admirable narrative web. (May)