Diana Gabaldon has done it again. Another epic saga of love, despair, sex, violence, history, family and bucket-loads of Scottish charm. The second novel in the outlander series takes a much more in depth look at the history of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 from its genesis to it’s tragic end. Although this causes the novel to be a lot more slower in pace then its predecessor, it is essential as it provides the backdrop, crisis and a cliffhanger for the next novel.
The beginning of the book is entirely different in it’s opening chapter compared to that of it’s prequel. Something is already amiss as the reader discovers that the year is 1968 in Scotland, and our beloved heroine Claire Randall is not only alive in 1968 but is in her late forties and has a 20 year old bonny red haired daughter! (cue gasps of shock). Sacre bleu!! What has happened?? Where is the dashing, charming Jamie Fraser??? and why has Claire aged?? And who is this so called Brianna???
Once one takes a few deep breaths and allows the torrent of foul language to exit the body, one understands what exactly has occurred in the novel. Claire Randall has returned to Scotland after living Twenty years with a huge gigantic secret. In quest of the truth of what exactly came to pass at the battle of Culloden, in particular what happened to Jamie and his men, who the reader now discovers, must have taken part in the battle. With the assistance of an historian called Roger Wakefield (who was actually a child in the first novel in World War 2 Scotland and is the nephew of Frank’s late friend Reverend Wakefield). Claire hopes that Roger can help her quest for answers and complete his Uncle’s research on the subject. Paramount to all of this is the fact that Claire has brought her daughter, Brianna along for the trip, in hopes of finally confessing her past to her daughter which will inevitably cause her daughter to question everything she has known up to this point of her life.
Now the biggest questions any reader would be having after reading the opening chapters is obviously what occurred that forced Claire to go back to her own time and why in God’s name has she left it this long to discover what exactly happened to Jamie and his men at the battle of Culloden. Well unfortunately I cannot go into too much detail as that will spoil the suspense for future readers. However I can say there is a valid reason for this and beg future readers to have the patience (which is quite trying at times I will admit) and persevere with the novel. When Claire finally begins to shed light on her story to Roger and Brianna we are quite effectively sent back through time and so begins part two of the novel.
Once again we meet our star crossed lovers, Jamie and Claire, as they begin their journey and paramount plan of preventing the inevitable attempt of Prince Charles Stuart of regaining the English throne. Our beloved characters have gone through hell and back and now seem to be residing quite happily (which is shocking considering how the previous novel ended so dramatically) in an inn in France. Jamie has begun working with yet another Fraser cousin by the name of Jared, who owns a wine making business. Through Jared, Jamie and Claire are able to rub shoulders with the crème de la crème of French society and aristocracy, in hopes of rubbing shoulders with Bonny Prince Charles himself. In doing so they could try persuade the Prince against the ill fated rebellion and therefore ensure the safety and survival of their friends.
For the most part, this section of the novel is quite slow in taking off, but it is important to note that this seems to be the purpose of the author as she sets a scene for the exciting events that will follow. It also gives the reader the luxury of witnessing married life for Jamie and Claire. Although I must admit Jamie is absent from their home way too often in search of some means of thwarting Prince Charles’ rebellion. However their married bliss is short lived, due to the dramatic arrival of Black Jack Randall on the scene, whom may I point out was supposed to have been killed in the previous novel. However much to Claire’s shock and dismay, Black Jack strikes again and brings forth his misery and depression onto poor Jamie, who cannot handle the fact that this awful man still exists in the world. Once more I can’t go into specific facts but needless to say Black Jack’s arrival puts a strain on Claire and Jamie’s relationship. Claire after all is pregnant with Jamie’s child, and wishes to do no more than keep her husband from harms way while also protecting her future husbands, Frank Randall’s existence.
Alas, here lies my main criticism with this novel. There was a part of me when reading about these issues Jamie has with Black Jack and how far he is willing to go in order to seek revenge, practically sacrificing the welfare of his family, has made the character of Jamie almost unlikeable. In fact I will go so far as to say that I despised him in the Paris section of the novel. In the previous novel I had adored the character of Jamie, and had instead, issues with the character of Claire. However in this story, there is a complete role reversal in my opinions of the characters. Jamie does somewhat redeem himself in the latter part of the novel, but I cannot forgive the author for allowing me to hate Jamie with such passion. I blamed him for most of the conflict in this stage of the novel. I understand the level of his hatred and abhorrence of Jack Randall, and it definitely is natural for one to want to seek revenge in his position. But I cannot understand why he could risk so much to try and achieve this. One wholeheartedly sides with Claire and her plight and it is utterly devastating, believe me.
This leads me to also congratulate the author in her ability of creating such emotive writing. I can positively assure you that you will transition through a string of emotions whilst reading this novel. From disbelief to absolute rage to devastating anguish and sorrow. It is honestly as if one was aboard a roller-coaster. In fact I felt a need to put this book down more often than the first due to this tsunami of emotions that would come over me. I often had to go away and ponder what occurred and reason with myself as to what my thoughts were. It is this that is the mark of a great writer. The ability to provide her readers with the ability of becoming the characters, to such an extent that they feel as if they are part of this world. They feel every hurt done to these characters. They feel the joy, the love, the hope and the devastation of it all.
The third part of the novel brings us back to Scotland and the rebellion has become an actuality. Here Claire and Jamie begin to mend again following their tumultuous time in Paris. Once again the characters are the ones the reader fell in love with in the first novel. There is a brief reunion with Jamie’s family and an altogether comedic account of the planting of potatoes (which as an Irish person who considers potatoes very important in one’s diet, its quite entertaining). Alas once more their bliss is shattered and war is on the horizon. Despite all of Claire and Jamie’s hard work to prevent the Jacobite rebellion, it is not only taking place but Jamie and his men are forced to be a part of it.
The novel concludes with an awful cliffhanger that you want to despise but secretly admire the author’s balls for pulling it out of the bag. For it is clear towards the end of the novel, the author knew from the start that this was going to end this way. I may curse the ending all I like but it is brilliant, I cannot deny it. The reader comes to realise now what has occurred for Claire to be alive in 1968 and how tragic the circumstances were to allow all this to take place.
I honestly loved this book. I cannot love it more than ‘Outlander’ but by God it was bloody brilliant. There are such amazing new characters that come into play (Fergus, Prince Charles, Mary Hawkins, Alex Randell, Jamie’s grandfather Simon Fraser, Jared Fraser, King Louis XV, Master Raymond and many more that would take forever to list) that each play such an integral role in the story and are the backbone of these novels in my opinion. A character is never introduced in order to be a filler in the background, they will always have a higher purpose and tie the plot together in a nice pretty bow that allows the major events to take place quite effectively. There is also the return of much loved characters such as Murtagh, Jamie’s right hand man, Dougal MacKenzie (for wherever there’s drama, Dougal is always close behind), Colum MacKenzie, Jenny and Ian, Hugh Monro, the Lallybroch men and so on, also create the link with the previous novel and also provide a means for cementing the richness of the story at hand.
I personally prefer the first novel ‘Outlander’ but trying to compare these two novels beside each other isn’t exactly fair. The first novel had the paranormal aspect of time travelling, which was mentioned quite a lot and it was evident that Claire was out of her depth in an old fashioned world as an outspoken independent woman. In this novel however, Claire has settled in to the 1700s lifestyle, she is the loving wife, the care giver, Jamie’s rock. She is more wary of what she says and does, for the most part and although throughout the novel, she is fighting alongside Jamie to prevent the rebellion and can provide the knowledge of events that will occur, from her own study of history in the future, one forgets the time travelling aspect quite easily until the end of the novel. In fact even the accusations that she may be a witch become almost normal and you forget that this novel might have a supernatural element to it at all. It is so enriched with history, that it is by right a true historical fiction novel rather than a supernatural one.This novel also answers many silly non important questions I had whilst reading the first novel, such as, what do they use to brush their teeth? , and how does a girl remain hairless in such times? (ridiculous observations I know, but I needed to know).
Is this book perfect? no it’s not, but it’s damn close! I had issues with it as I do with any other novel, but I must admit this author is very clever is her ability to mask these issues so that you soon forget them on further reading. My biggest issue as mentioned before, was the issue with the character of Jamie, particularly in the Parisian scenes of the novel. I hated his character quite a lot and I’m fuming that his character has been slightly tarnished for me. He does redeem himself once back in Scotland and becomes the loving, playful character he was once in the first novel. However it is important to note that these characters have gone through so much so it is evident that Jamie himself has grown up somewhat and the harsh and horrific incidents of his past have tainted him somewhat. I did dislike how Jamie went from wanting to murder Jack Randall to an almost indifference towards him at the end of the book. After all he put Claire through, I was raging when reading this indifference!
I apologise most sincerely if this review is somewhat long winded. It has taken me hours to compose, but I am trying to convey to you avid readers, just how astounding this novel is. It is a read that is charged with emotions and should be approached as a soldier would approach a battle. It packs a punch and leaves you begging for more. It combines a love story with a real historical rebellion so dramatically it’s magnificent. It’s harsh, violent scenes are both shocking and acceptable. Its love scenes are passionate and playful. Yes the novel has issues, and indeed upon reading others reviews on it I am scolding those who nit pick at such ridiculous issues in the book, such as opinions that it was too boring in parts. Yes it is slow paced at times, but it is pivotal that the author does this in order to set the scene and create the atmosphere for the events of such magnitude that will follow and for other novels to follow too I might add. I must thereby finish by begging future readers to approach this novel with an open mind, do not expect ‘Dragonfly in Amber’ to be just as ‘Outlander’ was. It is an entirely different kind of story that should be given it’s own respect and should not be compared to the first of the series.
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The Avid Reader 🙂