Book: The Fiery Cross.
Author: Diana Gabaldon.
Hello my lovely avid readers. Let me begin by saying that the ‘Outlander’ series by Diana Gabaldon, is quite possibly the best book series I have ever read. High praise coming from me, but it is the truth. Mrs. Gabaldon is most definitely a force to be reckoned with. Her writing style is quite unlike anything I have read before and her love for her wonderful, well rounded characters, really makes this series such a success in my opinion. I really can not recommend these books more. Each one provides an epic tale of love, family, war, tragedy, a touch of supernatural and also one of the things I love most about the series-plenty of history. So without further delay, I would love to share my latest review of ‘The Fiery Cross’. (ALSO PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE NOVEL, SPOILERS ARE INCLUDED IN REVIEW)
I simply adored this instalment of the series. This book follows our much beloved character, Jamie and Claire Fraser, once more as they settle in their newly acquired land in ‘Fraser’s Ridge’ (somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina), with their daughter Brianna, her husband Roger MacKenzie/Wakefield and child, Jemmy in tow. Jamie is now laird to this land, and with this position comes great responsibility, as Jamie now must protect not only his own family, but all the families of the ‘Ridge’. At the beginning of the novel, the ‘Frasers’ are attending the gathering of Scottish highlanders, and paramount to this gathering is the weddings of Brianna and Roger and also Jocasta Cameron (Jamie’s aunt and wealthy plantation owner) and Duncan Innes (Jamie’s friend from his days spent in jail following the rising). It becomes apparent however that all is not what it seems at this gathering, as it appears someone is trying to sabotage the wedding ceremonies as the Catholic priest is arrested.
More drama unfolds as Jamie receives a summons from Governor William Tryon of her Majesty’s army, to form a militia to counteract the violence of the Regulators (who were colonists in America who opposed British rule and were plotting rebellion). Jamie aware of Claire’s warning that the regulators/colonists will eventually gain their freedom through the American Revolution, is torn between his wanting to support the regulators against their British enemy, and also having to play his part for the British Crown, as is expected, since it was Tryon who gifted Jamie with ‘Fraser’s ridge’ to begin with. Therefore Jamie is literally stuck between following his heart and following his head. An interesting note, the novel is named after a tradition of highlanders, calling upon their brethren to join arms by burning a large wooden cross, which is what Jamie does to call his clansmen to join the militia. However, the only major battle we witness in the novel, in relation to the clamping down of the regulators, is the battle at Alamance, (a thoroughly riveting chapter that changed my opinion of the novel completely, which I will explain further down). Throughout the above events also, is Jamie’s determined mission to search for Stephen Bonnet, the man responsible for raping Brianna in the previous novel, and possibly the biological father of little Jemmy, in order to enact his revenge and together he and Roger attempt to carry out this plan, much to Claire and Brianna’s dismay.
I found the theme of mystery to be so prevalent in the novel. Particular the murder mystery section of the novel, as Jamie and Claire try to solve the case of the murdered slave to determine who is trying to hinder the marriage of Jocasta and Duncan. It’s almost like an Agatha Christie scene, I loved the suspense and detective work within this chapter. Jamie has become quite the detective in this story, through trying to track down the whereabouts of Bonnet, on top of everything else he has to do. It is quite admirable, if not ridiculously stupid. Who on earth would one want to track down a psychotic murdering pirate??? Typical Jamie, always seeking out trouble and trying to get himself killed in the process.
What I really found so refreshing about this novel also, is the author’s apt description of the grittiness of everyday life in the 1770s. It is not the romantic world I had been imagining in the previous novel, and quite frankly, I now begrudgingly admit I would not like to be transported to ‘Fraser’s Ridge’ any more. Issues such as changing nappies, sanitary needs for menstruation, lack of proper surgical tools, lack of sterilisation methods and clean food are described by the author brilliantly. I applaud her for this, as it demonstrates that even in a world of wonderful characters such as these, daily life is not attractive. Through Claire, we see the dire need for hygiene. even the simplest surgeries for her are a challenge, as with no means of antibiotics, it is simply by chance if the patient survives. This is also refreshing, as one could simply save all the characters from death, but with this novel, we see how difficult Claire is finding practising twentieth century medicine in the 1770s. My heart broke for Claire, when despite all her best efforts, she loses patients.
This brings me to my next point and how much research the author must have done to discover all these unique issues. I am literally in awe of the amount of time and effort that was spent on every historical detail and I congratulate the author most sincerely. I know in other reviews, people have noted that Claire wouldn’t have known about microbiology and how to create penicillin, having been trained as a doctor, but I don’t see why one would complain about this, I think it aided the story brilliantly and it shouldn’t be made into such an issue. Also the issue of genealogy is frequently mentioned in the novel, with Claire’s interest in discovering blood types and who is Jemmy’s biological father. It is also mentioned in relation to time travelling and how genes can determine if one can travel through the stones or not. Such a clever combination of science and the supernatural, in my opinion. I also would like to draw attention to how the author’s background in Zoology can really be seen in this novel, as the reader witnesses a new variety of animal characters introduced, from bears to snakes to species of wild birds, I was so impressed by all the new information regarding these animals and how creative the author was in tying all this into the storyline. This is the beauty of the author’s talent as a writer in my opinion. She is not only an author in my mind but a doctor, a zoologist, a herbalist and an historian. Her knowledge is utterly riveting.
In terms of characters, the novel is told from the point of views of Claire, Jamie, Roger and Brianna. I found however it was mostly from Claire and Roger’s perspectives and while this was interesting in terms of growing more accustomed to the Brianna/Roger storyline, I did miss Jamie’s side of things and wished there were more chapters for him. Brianna didn’t annoy me as much in this novel as in ‘Drums of Autumn’, I think her new role as a mother has somewhat softened her, and although she still has that fiery temper of hers, it is not hindering my enjoyment of her character this time. Roger’s character definitely played a larger role, although I must say my sympathies lie so much with this character. Since arriving to North Carolina, Roger has been beaten up countless times, made a slave to Native Americans, treated badly by Jamie, and now in this novel, he nearly gets killed countless times including being hanged and losing that wonderful singing voice of his as a result. My heart broke for Roger and I really don’t understand why it’s always his character that unfortunate things must occur to all the time? All the same kissing another married woman was a tad on the risky side. I did love how his friendship with Jamie has improved and how they’ve become partners in seeking out Bonnet. They had some of the best moments in the book for me, especially when Jamie teaches Roger how to fight with a sword. On the topic of Brianna, I understand she is breast feeding, but dear lord the descriptions of her needing to feed Jemmy all time were a bit over the top. I did love the Amazonian aspect of Brianna’s character, here is a girl who represents girl power, she hunts, she shoots, and no one dares question her ability. Although I must say when comparing her to Roger, he often comes out the more insipid character but I feel he is given more redeeming moments towards the end of the book where he proves his manliness.
Claire and Jamie, my two favourite characters of all time and in this book provided me with so many wonderful moments and I literally basked in their love for one another. Such a powerful and passionate love, that isn’t perfect, but their love for one another is so strong that it will conquer all. Diana Gabaldon had some amazing dialogue moments between the two, and some quotes just speak volumes to the reader, such as:
“When the day shall come, when we do part, if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didn’t have time.” or a personal favourite of mine:
““D’ye ken that the only time I am without pain is in your bed, Sassenach? When I take ye, when I lie in your arms-my wounds are healed, then, my scars forgotten.” Sigh.
Now having said all that, I do also notice that although Claire and Jamie have such a beautiful love, it is an all encompassing one, where at times, no one else will get a look in. For example when it comes to Brianna and choosing between her and Jamie, most often or not Claire will always go with Jamie. For example not informing Brianna that she had known about Jamie’s plan to seek revenge on Stephen Bonnet. Or her following Jamie to battle, which I know she is needed to provide medical attention to those who are injured, but at the same time, she still is abandoning her child. I do realise that Brianna is an adult but still, I find myself at odds with my reaction to these things, as I want her to always be with Jamie but at the same time I feel sorry for Brianna. I really would like if there were more mother/daughter bonding moments for these two, as I feel there aren’t nearly as many Brianna/Claire scenes as others. Also, Claire FINALLY informs Jamie of Laoghaire’s role in the witch hunt from the first book. I thought I would be delighted about this, but when she eventually does tell Jamie, it is so anti-climatic and apart from Jamie calling her a few choice words, the matter is soon forgotten about. Nonetheless Claire is an amazing woman, it has to be said. Her need to solve every ailment is admirable and I love her chapters as they are so full of medical and herbal medicinal knowledge, it is like the reader feels as though they are in training to be a doctor. I adore learning about the various healing properties of plants Claire comes across.
Jamie, sigh, is there anything this man cannot do. He is what every man needs to compare themselves to in my opinion, which is tough on men, I must say. Jamie is a hero, he is the best kind of father and he is an excellent laird. However, once again it bothers me that his constant need to help others comes first, when the reader just wants him to be happy, living a simple life with Claire and his family. One moment that really infuriated me, was Jamie jumping to the conclusion that Claire was cheating on him with Philip Wylie! For the love of God, why would anyone cheat on Jamie! What a ninny. Also then to try to seek retribution by challenging Wylie to a game of cards, in which he demands Claire’s gold wedding ring from Frank to play with, is utterly insulting. Ugh MEN!!! For such a smart man, he is a dimwit at times. Another example being his reaction to hearing that Laoghaire is engaging in amorous relations with an unknown man, and being upset that she enjoyed it with this man but not with Jamie. If I were Claire, I would have found the nearest object and bashed Jamie over the head with it. Honestly she was too understanding in this circumstance, I felt her reaction was a bit unrealistic .
The background characters in this novel were amazing. The character of Philip Wylie both intrigued and annoyed me. His persistent attention to Claire was unnerving at times, but he had a part to play in the story that was quite interesting, although I am still unsure if he is a good guy or not. Jocasta Cameron’s role in this story was so fascinating and I loved the storyline about the gold from the failed uprising in Scotland. I really feel that it tied the plots of the last few books together on the score of the lost treasure. I never could have guessed where the author was going with that storyline. So for me, it was excellent. I also loved how Claire’s little medical diary from Dr. Rawlings, actually became something of import and it was a nice ending to that story. The sudden re-entry of Geilis and Dougal’s son in the midst of the battle of Alamance, was an excellent move by the author. The scene in which William MacKenzie attempts to get Roger killed for kissing his wife Morag, provided such tension and an edge of your seat moment to the story, I felt as if I had gone asleep and reawakened when reading this scene and the rest of the book from this moment onwards. That is how powerful it was. I also loved the colourful collection of characters in ‘Fraser’s Ridge’, the housekeeper Mrs Bug reminds me so much of Mrs Fitz and it was nice to have a maternal character like this in the books once more.
Once again I will say there wasn’t enough story lines given to characters such as Fergus and Marsali. I really would love if there was a spin off series about Fergus’ adventures, as I think he is such an intriguing character. He goes on all these expeditions for Jamie, that I feel his story hasn’t been properly told yet. Although there was more mentioned of Marsali in this book, I really wish the author had delved deeper into the character of Marsali and how she overcame her hatred of Claire, as this isn’t really explained in the story, save a sentence which basically said all was forgiven.
What really worked well in this novel for me was the insertion of humour in random scenes. For example when Claire is teaching Jamie about sperm and looking at it under the microscope, this was such a hilarious scene and it allowed the reader to see Jamie almost as an innocent, his disbelief that this is what causes pregnancy was so adorable.
“I just didna ken that….er….that all this daffery was going on. I thought….well, I thought a man plants his seed into a woman’s belly, and it….well…grows…you know-like a seed. Neeps, corns, melons, and the like. I dinna ken they swim like tadpoles” (Pgs 564-565)
Another scene which I found hilarious was Brianna and Claire taking down the huge buffalo. It reminded me of Xena the warrior princess for some reason. Who needs men to do the dirty work! The description of Jamie observing this killing of the Buffalo with his mouth agape was so entertaining. Another entertaining scene was in the midst of Jamie and Claire’s detective work in discovering whether the slave was murdered and by whom, Claire was performing the autopsy of the slave and Jamie is so skittish, proving that even heroes can be scared. Also the involvement of the offspring of the Fraser clan. Jemmy and Germain regularly provided much needed light hearted moments in scenes of seriousness.
Overall I love this instalment of the series. I was fascinated by the history and the events that are leading up to the American Revolution. As I have mentioned in a previous review, I find American history most intriguing and having studied it in university, it’s so interesting to observe how the author creatively ties this period of history into her story lines so effectively. Having read other reviews of this novel, I do understand others confusion as to what is going on in the novel at times, some events are quite stagnated and it is difficult to remember what id going on at times. I myself found the first half of the novel quite slow moving, there were so many chapters on the gathering that I felt probably could have been shortened.
However, I have a theory that the author does this on purpose, she is creatively building the suspense to lead up to a major event. Sometimes details that are not clear in one of her books, become clear in the next. For example, the skull found in ‘Drums of Autumn’ now has a story to tell in this novel. Random events that occur in this book are there to portray a moral argument or an inner battle a character is having. For example the storyline with the Beardsleys, when reading this chapter, I was so confused as to what this had to do with any part of the plot so far, but it was important, as it provided the reader with the heart wrenching moment when Jamie asks Claire if she wants to keep the child, due to his wanting to give Claire another child without endangering her life through a pregnancy. Claire herself is tempted by the offer but realises that the role of mother has been completed for her already, and that she now must play a different role. This scene deeply affected me and the inner struggle faced by the two characters is so emotive, it was as if I was going through this decision process myself, which is odd, I know. The second half of the novel was superb and I literally couldn’t put the book down. I was so enthralled by all the events that occurred. I also loved how the supernatural element of time travelling was revisited, with the reappearance of wee Ian, (yay, he is one of my favourite characters and I’m so delighted he is back, but also confused as to what has happened to bring him back) who has a diary in his possession that details the story of a time traveller like Claire, Brianna and Roger.
I therefore beseech all avid readers out there to read this book. Yes it is slow moving but it does pick up pace and it provides such an exhilarating read that one almost feels shell shocked when completing it. Diana Gabaldon succeeds in making any reader crave more and more of her books. I particularly enjoyed the supernatural element is this book and how it was tied into genealogy so effectively that one does not even question it. So please avid readers, be patient with this book, it is fascinating and so worth a read. I look forward to beginning the next instalment of this awe worthy series with great excitement.
As always, I would love to hear your feedback and opinions on my blog or twitter page.
The Avid Reader 🙂