The less said about Niccolo Rising, the better. It consisted of unengaging characters with unbelievable and suddenly developed abilities bouncing around parts of the the world that I don't care about for far too many pages. To add insult to injury, it's the first book in a series. I cannot imagine circumstances in which I would read more books about this Niccolo guy. He is a secret genius spy who is irresistable to ladies and has the Medici on a string, but somehow Dunnett makes him boring. She is a better writer than Colleen McCullough, but that's not saying much. I took this book with me on a trip and the only reason I kept reading it was because I forgot I had also brought my Latin book.
I had lower expectations for Small Island than I did for Niccolo Rising, since I normally like historical fiction more than conventional lit-fic. It didn't help that the author had admitted in an interview with Salon that she had never read a book before she started writing one. Levy plays it safe by focusing on the psychological experience of being a Jamaican immigrant, with some ventriloquist exercises into the perspective of the native English. As I read the sections taking place in Jamaica, I couldn't help but compare it to what my Peace Corps veteran friend told me about her recent time there and think that it sounded like not much has changed for the better. Small Island is worth reading but not worth buying; all of its virtues are apparent on the surface and it will probably not yield much on repeated readings.