How I met Lady Dunnett and fell in love with her novels
A few years ago I deeply fell in love with a historical novel set in the Middle Ages written by a German writer you won't know, Berling. (Just read on, please, our dear Lady Dunnett will appear soon.) Since then, I am obsessed with the Middle Ages and topics like the crusades in general, the Albigensian crusade, the Hohenstaufen family and the Knight Templars.
In order to not forget all those books I had read about these topics I started some kind of book diary. Just for the medieval books. So I thought. In Feb. 1999 I wanted to read something about the second great order, the Knights of St. John. I had a very interesting book by another German, Staehle. And I had a novel about them. And so it began. This are a few excerpts from my diary I have written over the years, translated from German into English.
"(...) I don't want to read Staehle right now. But I have another book, Im Zeichen des Kreuzes (DK). That's quite a good compromise. This book is written by Dunnett and takes place in the 16th century. It's about a Scottish knight who is called to help by the Knights of St. John on Malta to fight against the Turks. Another order and another century.(...)
(...) I like Dunnett quite a lot by now. The largest part of this book is set in Scotland, but also on Malta and in Tripolis in Tunis. The order of St. John is looked upon as a useless relic from the past, which is interesting because that is exactly the same as the knightly orders were seen in later medieval times.
(...) I'm now at the part which is set in Scotland where the hero -- a rather strange character -- is putting together a troop of mercenaries and gets entangled in a lot of intrigues.
It's a very gripping and also very funny book. My favourite character is a Hospitaller, which will be very favourable for my future dealings with this order. Even if she writes about the 'wrong' century I should bear in mind the name Dunnett.
(...) Yes, I will keep in mind this name. I liked this book very much. She has written a few more books about this strange character. I will try to find and get them.
She has also written another series -- about a merchant in Renaissance. I will try to find those, too. It's not a new perception that novels have to be set in the Middle Ages for me to like them.
(...) The Dunnett book I have read was the 3rd book out of 6. And I did not just like it -- it was one of those very special books. I have already consumed the 1st one. Just great. Like the 3rd one it is a book where everything is right, the action, the characters -- everything.
I found out that only the first three have been translated and that they are OOP now. What kind of publishers are those that do not edit such books? What's wrong with them?
From now on I will try to fall in love only with novels whose prequels and sequels have been translated into a language I speak. But I won't give up. Those books are too great for that.
(...) Looks like I have been convinced by Dunnett. I'm reading the 5th book -- in English! That's the second English novel of my life! And it's quite a long book. But it's going well.
(...) So I'm reading those Lymond books in a very eccentric order, first part 3 - which likely will stay my favourite, because of the Hospitaller Jerott --, then number 1 and now number 5. The 4th part will be next. There I hope to meet Jerott again. And afterwards I will read the 6th and 2nd. In English. Wow. I have also bought some of her other books, out of the second series House of Niccolò. It has to be good. And of course those books are OOP, too.
(...) Apart from a few problems I had in the beginning with the English Dunnett I could understand it quite well. I have two favourite characters in those books, the Hospitaller Jerott and the hero's brother. The hero himself is OK, too, but I prefer characters who are not that much in the forefront. What I especially like about those books are the characters and their relationships.
It's wonderful to see that I'm still able to take an interest in a new topic without forgetting the old ones.
(...) Now I'm reading the first book of the House of Niccolò series about a young Fleming who becomes a famous merchant in the 15th century. Even if until now it is not yet as great as the other books, it starts quite promising. And it is only the first out of 8 books, so let's see.
(...) And another Dunnett, the 2nd Niccolò. The first was not as great as the Lymonds, but still very good. It would be much wiser not to read all the Dunnetts I own and instead keep some of them for future reading. Like hell.
(...) Are Dunnett's novels really that great? I'm afraid they are. It's just that everything is right -- in both series. And both have great characters with fascinating favourite ones for me.
My favourite character in the Lymond series is the Hospitaller Jerott because he is exactly the kind of character I love in novels -- young, hot-tempered and bound to the hero through a very complicated friendship.
In the other series my favourite character is the lawyer Julius because he reminds me on another character from another novel I liked very much. Funny, how it works that a character becomes a favourite one for me.
(...) At last, I own the complete Lymond series in English and have celebrated this event by rereading the whole series. That's only the second time that I'm crazy enough to do this in just one breath.
I think I have been able now to understand those books better, from the language point of view and with regard to the action. And, funnily, those ones I did not like so much in the first run were able to convince me now, too. Just now I'm looking longingly at my Niccolòs -- no, that would not be just eccentric, that would be outright crazy.
I hope I also will be able to understand this series better when (when, not if) I will reread it, too. I very much enjoyed rereading the Lymond books -- in the correct order this time. (...)"
Grisel Grillmayr, Austria