I’m not going to bother to try and draw thin thematic parallels between Dorothy Dunnett’s Niccolò Rising and the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, except that they’re both media I consumed (or finished consuming, in the case of the Dunnett book) this past weekend and, I guess, are both prequels to series I’m reluctantly invested in. Or just invested in, to be honest. The reluctance phase has passed. I like Lymond and I like Star Wars, so I was predisposed to like both of these things. And I did! I did. Just… in different proportions.
Niccolò Rising: Like The Game of Kings, this is a somewhat labyrinthine adventure novel with a steep learning curve at the beginning. Unlike The Game of Kings, this is less a swashbuckler and more an intrigue-based endeavor–and yes, yes, I know there are many people who say that the Lymond Chronicles are based in intrigue too, but feh, they’re wrong. Nicholas vander Poele is our hero this time, a nineteenish-year-old dyer’s apprentice in Bruges with the demeanor of a wide-eyed innocent and “hidden” depths and talents–and by hidden I mean they unfold themselves very quickly and are noticed by the people around him. It’s sort of the opposite setup as with Francis Crawford, but I’ll stop compare-contrasting Nicholas with Lymond and talk about the book on its own merits!
It’s fun, it takes a bit of keeping-track-of with the various factions and interests at play–but then again, anyone used to epic fantasy and/or Dorothy Dunnett should be old hat at this. I like Nicholas/Claes a great deal, he’s genuinely (if sometimes unbelievably) earnest and decent while also being a massive schemer somewhat in over his head, but not quite, of course; I was also fond of Marian de Charetty and Katelina van Borselen, as characters, though they brought to mind one of my ongoing discomforts with Dorothy Dunnett–the James Bond-esque treatment of female characters. Dunnett certainly develops them a lot more than a Bond film would, but they tend to be just as endangered, disposable, and universally susceptible to the hero’s charms, and I don’t see any evidence of this changing in the Niccolò series. The book also overburdens itself a bit with characters and plotlines, but honestly I enjoy sprawling books more than I enjoy efficient ones, half the time–even if I end up eliding together a number of the people involved. Overall I expect a good chunk of 2017 will be dedicated to picking my way through Niccolò , and we’ll see how that goes.
Rogue One: Okay, I go into pretty much any Star Wars film hoping it will be good. And full disclosure, my favorite SW movie is Revenge of the Sith, so make of that what you will. Anyway: even so, the Rogue One hype was getting to me by the time I saw it. I was predisposed to like it, but I was also a teeensy bit predisposed to be skeptical. And it basically won me over anyway. I don’t know what there is to say about it, honestly: it’s a well-executed simple thing, a movie that manages to both be a fairly seamless prequel and sequel (not an easy thing) and a pretty compelling action movie centering on teamwork and sacrifice (probably not as easy as it looks, either). The first third drags a bit, but once it gets rolling it really gets rolling, and the final “caper” is very gripping. I’m not sure any of the performances really stuck out for me–aside from maybe Mads Mikkelsen’s, and that’s because I don’t ordinarily like Mads Mikkelsen that much, so I was pleased to be slightly won over. Anyway, the movie is a shiny toy that could wring a few Hollywood emotions out of you. I had fun playing with it.