Sunday, September 12, 2010

Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett

After reading the final pages of Scales of Gold, if it hadn't been from the library I'd have thrown it across the room, beaten it with a fireplace poker, and buried it in the cat box.

Not about animals this time. No, Dunnett has moved on from that, and achieved cruelty to readers. Her specialty is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, over and over, in more and more finely honed ways, taking care to lull the reader into a false sense of security, the better to deliver the biggest most hobnailed-boot kick in the gut she can possibly manage. She achieves a tour de force, cleverly arranging the two biggest gut kicks in the very last pages.

And she does this by making people behave in ways they never do: holding petty grudges for years and years despite, through those years, working together with the grudged person in harmony to achieve common goals, performed with great courage, fortitude, and strength of character--all abandoned in a moment just for scorekeeping.

That would be enough to cross her off my list, but this book also suffers from longeurs of "I'm coming with you." "No, you're not." "Yes, I am." "No, you're--OK, I guess you can." "I will NEVER come with you!" and many, many, many variations of same.

I'm done with Dunnett. Never again. No amount of colorful adventure is worth that.


  1. With Dunnett, the reader is never fully aware of all the factors underlying the characters' actions. I felt like you did with the revelations at the end of this book, but by the end of the series I was more understanding of why these things happened. There was a psychological coherence to their behaviour which seemed merely authorial caprice when I first read Scales of Gold.

    If you do venture to read Unicorn Hunt, the next book in the series, be prepared for a lot of anger and alienation between characters that once seemed best friends.

  2. I think you are suffering from what is commonly can the WNS - the Wedding Night Surprise.

    Have you read the Lymond Books?