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Scales of Gold (The House of Niccolò #4)

4.45  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,599 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
With the bravura storytelling and pungent authenticity of detail she brought to her acclaimed Lymond Chronicles, Dorothy Dunnett, grande dame of the historical novel, presents The House of Niccolò series. The time is the 15th century, when intrepid merchants became the new knighthood of Europe. Among them, none is bolder or more cunning than Nicholas vander Poele of Bruges ...more
Hardcover, 519 pages
Published May 12th 1992 by Knopf (first published 1991)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,287)
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Mar 21, 2010 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the fourth book in the House of Niccolo. Having left Cyprus, Nicholas embarks on an expedition to Africa, his two aims being trade and exploration. In the late 15th century, this journey is arduous and risky. Nicholas and his companions (on odd mix of people from his present and his past,a s well as some new faces) endure extreme hardships and experience exotic wonders. Their trip culminates in their arrival at Timbuktu, a great Muslim center of trade and learning. The story finishes wit ...more
My favorite of the Niccolo books so far - couldn't put it down!
Jan 05, 2008 Korynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This volume finds yet another hard-headed determined female in pursuit of Niccolo but Niccolo is definitely playing hard to get by embarking on a highly ambitious and secretive trip to Africa. Death appears to await him as he chooses to pursue his goal, but he survives and finds himself anew with a new-old friend. Returning home in a mix of relief and triumph...he is greeted with deserved happiness and an undeserved twist of a knife he thought had been sheathed with his surrender.
Ryan Groesbeck
Jul 20, 2015 Ryan Groesbeck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dorothy-dunnett
It is, as always, a crime to give Dunnett less than five stars, and I am not feeling in a criminal mind today.

This one has the starting hints of what I recall annoying me about the later stages of this series -- constant allusions to grand plans without ever revealing what those are. Perhaps they become clear in future novels (I would assume that they do), but I don't need multiple references to Nicholas' 25 close-written pages of instructions to infuriate me. She wouldn't keep talking about it
Feb 16, 2011 Diane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dorothy Dunnett never fails to take my breath away with her historical fiction. In this, the fourth book of the House of Niccolo series, our hero travels to Portugal, Madeira, and Timbuktu. He is accompanied by his friend (who is also his conscience), Father Godscalc. Godscalc is on a mission to find the Kingdom of the famous Prester John in Ethiopia.

Tagging along (and not entirely welcome) are his young cousin, Diniz Vasquez, and his ex's sister, Gelis van Borselen. Diniz now idolizes Nicholas
Jennifer (JC-S)
Jul 18, 2008 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
This is the fourth volume in the eight part House of Niccolo series. The House of Niccolo is definitely a series best read in order: the history, the intricate plotting and the characters develop throughout the series and the connections between the books can only be appreciated if read in sequence.
In this volume (covering 1464 to 1468), Nicholas returns to Venice from Cyprus and is met by a watchful reception and an attack. Nicholas’s company is threatened with bankruptcy and those for whom he
This feels like the turning point of the 'House of Niccolo' series, much as Checkmate was in the 'Lymond Chronicles.' There's the long, slow build-up of character development throughout the book—for all that much of it takes place in West Africa, in places where Europeans would so rarely have ventured in the fifteenth century, or even in the present day, there is relatively little description of the environment in which Nicholas and his group find themselves. It's much more introverted, about th ...more
Mar 27, 2012 Elena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this one really packs a punch! Nicholas experiences extreme physical suffering, comes to a place of wholeness on multiple levels and is finally able and willing to let go of his possible connection to Simon but then Dunnett socks it to him in the last few pages.


I knew it was coming but got sucked in and didn't remember how tough it was. He and Gelis seemed like they were real on both sides and yet she still double-crossed him. My theory is that if he had told her first about Um
The fourth book in the intriguing House of Niccolo series and to my mind the most bittersweet to date. Again rich in historical detail, intricacy and wonderful characterisation these books can not be rushed they have to be savoured. Masterful storytelling.
Jan 16, 2009 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Somehow not the most poetic of Dunnett's House of Niccolo volumes but still full of the author's characteristic plot intricacies and rich cast of characters.
An adjustment required in accepting this book being set primarily in Africa rather than Europe. So chunks of the narrative became more a physical adventure than the usual strategical minefield that a Dunnett novel entails.
The ending of the novel has reverberated throughout Dunnett fandom over the years.
This has never been my favourite Niccol
Nov 22, 2012 Miko rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Found the first 350 pages stretched on for way too long, but, from there, the rest of the book was really interesting. The insights into the characters and the setting were back to Dunnett's form and I couldn't put it down. I just think it's a shame that those first 350 pages weren't edited down to around a hundred. If I could rate the book in halves, I'd give one star to the first and five stars to the second.

One word to the wise, don't get to the end of this book without having book five, Unic
Jan 18, 2012 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Our tireless merchant adventurer seeks to salvage his bank's liquidity and hamper his rivals by going to Africa and cornering the Guinea gold trade. Nice character-building volume in the series, or at least it was until the last page (yes, the last page), which veered more than 90 degrees from what I'd been reading before that. Which left a very sour feeling in my mouth. hopefully it will be explained in the later volumes. Rated MA for violence, nudity, sexual references and moderate coarse lang ...more
Nicholas Whyte
May 30, 2015 Nicholas Whyte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Fourth in the series of the adventures of Niccolò, the smart young Flemish merchant who travels fifteenth century in search of wealth and its inevitable political entanglements. This time, a cunning plan to penetrate deep into Africa becomes complicated by a new wrinkle in a long-standing family feud, and extraordinary dynastic and legal manœuvres from Vanice to Madeira to Timbuktu. The ground has been well laid, as one of the supporting cast from the fi
Aug 15, 2012 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Second time through, it's a 5. It's only a 5, though, if you read it slow enough to pick up the dozen nuances on each page that let you know what is really going on. Fascinating how Dunnett conveys character motives and feelings.
Nov 14, 2010 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Onto Africa. Only Niccolo could get himself into so much trouble with so much charm.
Aug 13, 2010 Laurie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dorothy Dunnett really is the master of genetic angst.
Jennifer Sarha
Mar 02, 2015 Jennifer Sarha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh Nicholas. Oh Gelis.
Dec 30, 2015 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the 4th book in the series. I have read the House of Niccolo Series of eight books, and I have found her characters to be deep and rich. They are not without flaws and make mistakes and suffer from the consequences. They are, most of them “bigger than life” in the sense they are so intelligent, learn languages and foresee events and plan for all the possibilities. She visits several settings in each book, each with it’s own set of characters, and great attention to detail in describing w ...more
My rating for this book wavers between 1 and 4 stars and that is why I give it no rating. It deserves 4 stars because it made me ponder about my own choices, about the power of faith, about ambiguity of altruism, it reminded me of my own time spent in the wilderness and how cathartic it can be. It also clarified one major flaw I saw in these books, the walking breathing Adonis (Nicholas) irresistible to women, men, young and old. If he was not served to us as master of seduction then the end of ...more
Loved it, devoured it, being an expat at heart the places, the history, the curtain drawn back, how Niccoló Loppe/Lopez/Umar and assorted companions took it, and the continuing intrigue and besting the treacherous enemy--all delicious and rich and detailed and hard to put down. Was happy it was only #4.....Until -- SPOILER ALERT: The Ending: though shocked, I wasn't nearly as horrified as I was at the ending of Gone Girl, its twin. Gelis is a twisted piece of evil, and her Rosemary's Baby surpri ...more
Aug 02, 2014 Nicole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Painful, beautiful, exciting, intimate and easily my favourite book in the 'House of Niccolò' series so far.

The thing to keep in mind with Dunnett novels, is that though her beautiful prose disguises it well, they are ridiculous. Gloriously, unabashedly ridiculous. They are James Bond style action and glamour, they are melodrama, they are Dumas-style adventure and wit, and they are absoultely addictive. Do not start reading Scales of Gold unless you have Unicorn Hunt at hand, because you're goi
Penelope Green
Dec 23, 2015 Penelope Green rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was briefly on the fence about this re-read - 8 dense books while I have another 30 items on the To Read shelf... but then the novel unfolded and I once again got swept up. The development of Gelis and partner or opponent, the stretching of the scene to Africa and Nicholas' finding of wisdom... I now desperately want to remember what happens next.

The writing remains fabulous (even though it takes a little longer to read) and the moving of the scene to Africa adds real breadth - the acknowledge
James Spencer
Jan 08, 2015 James Spencer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Dunnett's historical fiction partly because the mystery of the machivellian plotting but also because of her descriptions of places and times usually overlooked. As such, one of favorites is the second book in the Niccolo series set in 15th century Trebizond. Scales of Gold is equally wonderful for the same reason; her descriptions of the difficulties of travel in 15th century Africa are simply fascinating and her version of life in Timbuktu is very convincing. Dunnett can be hard to read ...more
Jul 12, 2011 Joy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Nicholas leads a band of allies and enemies into Africa hoping to find an easier way into the rich interior. He also hopes to avoid all the enemies he has accumulated in Europe, to return the many favors of a friend, and as usual has other reasons no one knows about. This story begins among the many complications of Venice and smooths out into the simplicity of the desert - but Nicholas is a magnet for emotional complexities.

I had great difficulty getting through the African jungle section, beca
Stuart Lutzenhiser
Mar 04, 2015 Stuart Lutzenhiser rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Like many of Dunnett's novels, this one starts well into the something so it seems to take a bit for me to really get hooked into the narrative flow. But by the mid-point, I can clearly see where we are going and am locked in until the end.
This unfolding of the life and loves of Nicholas deals with his expedition on behalf of his bank and the King of Portugal to sub-Saharan Africa in search of gold and a way to Ethiopia via western Africa. There are a few surprises along the way and like much o
Aug 11, 2011 Keeley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dunnett addicts
Shelves: cheapthrills
Ok, Dunnett needs to stop it with the cliffhanger endings so I can read something else. My predictions for the series as it goes on are as follows (these are so speculative they don't even count as spoilers): Jordan de Riberac is Nicholas' real father, and Julius stole the gold.
To actually review the volume at hand, I feel that Dunnett did the narrative a real disservice by never really giving an account of what happened on the trip from Timbuktu to Ethiopia. I'm sure it would have been rough, b
Gill Chesney-green
The more I read in this series the more I want to continue to read... as ever Nicholas is a fascinating character but the end of THIS book took my breath away!!

I still find that Dunnett's writing is rather opaque at times... but overall, I'm getting used to her style and in any case... I MUST know what happens next!
Jun 28, 2012 Ruth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
c1991. FWFTB: 1464, Timbuktu, One of the better ones in the series, I think. All I can say, is poor old Nicholas. Still a bit enigmatic though with an unexpected ending. FCN: Niccolò "The King killed him. I cut off his arm. He had no further need of his bow as a consequence,' said Nicholas helpfully." "Standing at Sagres, or on the single Cape that lay westward, one looked down sheer sandstone cliffs twenty times the height of man with the white of dashed foam at their feet; and abroad at the fl ...more
Aug 27, 2013 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very satisfying 4th book of the series. I found myself checking the map in the front of the book regularly, amazed at the in-depth research that the author clearly carried out to write of West Africa in the 1400s

Dunnett's references to Mali, the Tuaregs, and Azawad suddenly brought this history forward 500+ years as today we are still reading of the region once again in turmoil. Then, to be able to look in google earth at the rivers intertwined in the main character Niccolo's travels, with mod
Jan 23, 2015 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, historical
Well! I liked this one better, but then I absolutely HATED the ending. Don't know if I'll continue or not.
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Dorothy Dunnett OBE was a Scottish historical novelist. She is best known for her six-part series about Francis Crawford of Lymond, The Lymond Chronicles, which she followed with the eight-part prequel The House of Niccolò. She also wrote a novel about the real Macbeth called King Hereafter (1982), and a series of mystery novels centred around Johnson Johnson, a portrait painter/spy.

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Other Books in the Series

The House of Niccolò (8 books)
  • Niccolò Rising (The House of Niccolò, #1)
  • The Spring of the Ram (The House of Niccolo, #2)
  • Race of Scorpions (The House of Niccolo, #3)
  • The Unicorn Hunt (The House of Niccolo, #5)
  • To Lie with Lions (The House of Niccolo, #6)
  • Caprice and Rondo (The House of Niccolo, #7)
  • Gemini (The House of Niccolo, #8)

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“Self-knowledge is not sold on the Rialto. And if it were, few people would buy.” 3 likes
“He said, 'I take your for granted as much as it is prudent for any person to do so. I trust you as far as is sensible. I enjoy your company as far as it is allowable. I will banter with you and expect you to banter with me just so far and no further. I have confided in you, by accident, more than was wise but probably not enough to make any difference. I shall not do it again.” 0 likes
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