Scales of Gold (The House of Niccolò #4) by Dorothy Dunnett

‘To those who remembered him, it was typical that Nicholas should sail into Venice just as the latest news reached the Rialto, causing the ducat to fall below fifty groats and dip against the écu.’

In 1464, Nicholas vander Poele returns from Cyprus to Venice. His stay is brief: he has financial concerns and is under threat by several powerful business rivals. He sets sail for Africa:

‘The country where there is gold in such abundance that men prefer to barter in shells.’

 Nicholas is intent on trade and exploration, and Africa offers possibilities. Africa: the legendary home of the Fountain of Youth, the myth of Prester John, descendant of Sheba and Solomon. It will prove to be an arduous journey, full of danger and hardship for Nicholas and his companions. They will make it (some of them) to Timbuktu, a great Muslim centre of learning and trading. Not all aspects of the mission will be successful, suffering will accompany discovery for some.

This, the fourth instalment of the House of Niccolò, will end in Europe with a cliff-hanger which had me tearing my hair and gnashing my teeth. And so, I moved straight onto book five, ‘The Unicorn Hunt’.

I loved this book, with its journey of self-discovery (for some) and exploration. Nicholas continues to develop, as do the intrigues around him. Another complex, intricately plotted novel in a series which is best read in order. I have read this series at least three times, and each time I discover new possibilities.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith