To Lie with Lions

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This series opened with a consideration of the daily trials and tribulations of a young man of uncertain lineage named Claes. Claes is an artisan in a dyeworks factory located in Bruges, Belgium. Soon, however, all of Bruges is made aware that the young man in question possess talents and abilities far beyond the ordinary. By the end of the first volume, NICCOLO RISING (1986), Claes, now known as Nicholas vander Poele, merchant prince and banker extraordinary, is near the pinnacle of success.

Needless to say, those who rise from rags to riches invariable make a few enemies in their passage to the top. Nicholas vander Poele does not just make enemies, however; he infuriates powerful men and women to undertake crusades dedicated to his total destruction. Moreover, in the course of his rise to international prominence and prestige he managed to make his wife his most determined and dedicated enemy. It is this fierce rivalry that propels TO LIE WITH LIONS through its tense, fast-paced, and passionate story.

Dorothy Dunnett constructs a massive stage for her historical novels and peoples them with a cast of characters, real and imagined, that encompasses seven pages at the head of each volume. Moving deftly between the historical and the plausible she weaves a compelling web of circumstances that bespeaks an impressive degree of research of a conventional nature. TO LIE WITH LIONS is a literary tour d’force, but it is one best examined in its proper place. This series abounds with such intricate detail and such elegant subtlety that it must be approached one volume at a time from the beginning. Dunnett provides a capsule treatment of the preceding volumes in the series at the beginning of this novel, but said sketches are insufficient to the task.