Book: An Echo In The Bone
Author: Diana Gabaldon
What a read! I think I am quite shell shocked upon finishing ‘An Echo in The Bone’. There is really no other way to put it. I literally sat in my reading chair with my mouth agape for at least fifteen minutes following completion of the seventh novel in the series. My mind could not believe what it had just read. I must have looked quite bewildered, as even my partner asked if I was alright, to which I responded by prattling on about my perplexed experience with the ending of this book. My partner’s eyebrows were raised higher and higher, as I mentioned one or two of the novel’s outrageous happenings towards the end of the novel. A week has now passed and I am still unsure as to how I should write this review. In truth I wanted to give this book a 9/10 in rating, however having read back over my notes that I have taken whilst in the depths of reading the novel, I was obliged to lower the score in line with some of it’s negative aspects, which I simply cannot overlook. Needless to say Mrs. Gabaldon has left this novel with quite a cliffhanger, so much so that I am fighting the urge to pick up the next book straight away. However the rational side of me does realise it might be quite some time before the next installment will be released, so as a result I do not want to rush through the series. So without further delay I shall begin the review of this fantastical novel.
NOTE: IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THIS BOOK PLEASE DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER AS THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
This novel begins as the War of Independence finally breaks out, and with that new pathways are forged for the beloved characters of this wonderful book series. ‘An Echo In The Bone’ is told through four different plot perspectives: Claire and Jamie, Lord John Grey and William, Brianna and Roger and Young Ian Murray. The story starts off with a bang, literally,as Claire and Jamie decide what is next for them following the burning down of their home on Fraser’s Ridge, at the end of the last book. Jamie and Claire discover the hiding place of Arch Bugg’s Gold and bury it in a safer location. After the untimely shocking death of Mrs. Bugg, and with a vengeful Arch Bugg on Ian’s tail, as well as a need to escape the impending war and bloodshed, Claire and Jamie decide it is time to return to Scotland and bring young Ian back to his family, while also picking up Jamie’s printing press to bring back to America. However knowing these two characters, their path to Scotland isn’t an easy one as they find themselves dragged into a war they wanted no part of.
The reader then sees the perspective of Brianna and Roger, who having returned to modern day Scotland so little Amanda can have a life saving operation, are struggling to settle into modern day life. They have chosen Lallybroch to settle with their children- Jem and Amanda, which was a nice touch by the author in my opinion. Both Brianna and Roger are struggling with what roles they need to play, Brianna returning to work as an engineer and Roger unsure of whether or not he should return to his training as a reverend. The reader witnesses the daily battle these two characters have within themselves and also with each other as their expectations of each other cause some major tensions e.g. Roger expected Brianna to stay at home with the children, and Brianna expected Roger to have made a decision regarding what career path he wants to take. Frustration is evident in these chapters of the book, however the one saving grace for Brianna and Roger, are the letters from Claire and Jamie that they found when moving into Lallybroch, as it appears Claire and Jamie purposefully hid them away for Brianna and Roger to find. Through these letters, they hold a link to the past and the events that befall Brianna’s parents. I had many issues with the story line of Brianna and Roger, but I will explain further down in the review.
We also have the perspective of Ian Murray, who has returned to Claire and Jamie’s side in the last novel. Ian is still at battle with himself, he is somewhat of a loner, not feeling that he belongs with the ‘Mohawks’ or his own people. Ian also has the added complication of Arch Bugg following him, intent on seeking revenge on Ian for the accidental murder of his wife. Arch has promised Ian that when he has something/someone worth losing, he will see him again. Indeed the stalkings of Arch Bugg do add a sinister theme to the background of the novel. Ian Murray is also torn between his desire to be reunited with his family in Lallybroch, and his fear that they will not accept him, for the old Ian is gone and will never return. Also added into Ian’s story line, is the somewhat odd addition of a love story between himself and the Quaker, Rachel Hunter. Although an interesting love affair, I must admit that it felt almost as if the author added this in an attempt to tie in the whole Arch Bugg storyline, again I will explain my issues with each perspective further down.
The last perspective through which the tale of the novel is told, is through Lord John Grey and his son (or Jamie’s biological son) William. William is intent to gain military advancement in the War of Independence, to make his father proud but also to further himself and to get ‘a piece of the action’ so to speak. William is your typical young man, who begins the story, quite the innocent soldier, eager for adventure and freedom, but by the end of the book, his character is now weathered by the evils of war, and has become slightly disillusioned about the war in general. His path quite often crosses with that of the Fraser’s, and I found it quite interesting how William is quite slow on picking up on what is going on, and the connection he has with Jamie Fraser. I found it odd that he didn’t remember meeting Ian Murray at Fraser’s Ridge, for example. William also finds himself having romantic notions regarding Rachel Hunter, the Quaker to whom Ian Murray has also developed feelings for. I predict quite the love triangle occurring in the next novel, although I think Rachel’s heart, unfortunately for William, lies with Ian.
Lord John himself, whilst trying to keep an eye out for William’s safety, finds himself in the middle of a mystery or two involving a character called Percival Beauchamp, and his mission to seek out Fergus Fraser, as it seems he could be an heir to a fortune instead of a child of a prostitute. Lord John also has the task of searching for his nephew, who has been injured in battle, with the help of his niece ‘Dottie’ who has a mission of her own to attend to also. A rift has developed between Lord John and Jamie, since Jamie has taken the side of the rebels in the War Of Independence, and Lord John is finding Jamie’s lack of contact quite difficult.
So now that I have dealt with the plot thus far, I need to begin with all the nitty and gritty stuff, of what worked and what didn’t work with this novel. I will begin with the negative, as I find it is much better to air the many issues I have with these books first and foremost. Many of my twitter followers have expressed to me that this book was their favourite in the series, and for the most part I do indeed understand why, for it is not as unsavoury as it’s predecessor. ‘A Breath Of Snow and Ashes’ was so full of drama, that made me want to fling the book against the wall so many times. This book, although it has its fair share of dramatic moments, it is much more low key.
However….it was almost too low key, in fact the first 500 odd pages were perhaps the most boring first 500 pages in any of the books thus far. I must take issue with the story line of Lord John and William first, as I really felt as a reader I was missing out on something major. As I haven’t read the Lord John series of books, I felt for the first time that I must have skipped a book in between this and the last in the series that explained the background of Lord John’s, in particular, perspective. Numerous times, I found myself scratching my head, trying to recall if Lord John had mentioned a wide range of characters before in previous books, at a loss I continued with no avail. I found his and William’s perspectives to be quite dull as a result, and found myself wishing I could skip ahead to the next chapters. How many times does William need to find himself lost with no idea where his men are?? Why do we need to know about ‘Percy Beauchamp’?? I’m sure these issues may be answered in the next book, but I really must take umbrage with the lack of clarity in which the author has set up certain plots in this book. I do understand the need to give William a perspective, as being the biological son of Jamie, it would make sense that he would be given a bigger role in the books, but Lord John Grey already has his own series in which to have his own perspectives, so I really, really feel that his chapters in the book could have been scrapped altogether, for they had little import and could have been told through the other characters quite easily. It is clear that the author loves the character of Lord John, but really there was no need to give him so much of a centre stage in this book. However it could be a clever way of trying to get more people to read the Lord John series, which is quite a clever tactic to use, I must say. William’s story does eventually, become more interesting but only due to the fact his path crosses with the other major characters and his continuous near bumping into Jamie moments, leaves the reader at the edge of their seat. However I did expect more of William as a character, he isn’t as well rounded as Jamie, or as likeable as Ian, and so I did not find myself rooting for him as much as I should have. I’m hoping that in the next book this opinion will change, but as of yet it remains the same.
There were just too many characters to follow in this book. This series should always put the perspectives of Jamie and Claire to the foreground, as they are supposed to be the most important characters after all. Their love story is paramount to everything else in the books, yet in this novel I didn’t feel like the focus was on Jamie and Claire, it was on all the other characters. This bothers me to no end, I’ve read this whole series for Jamie and Claire moments, and there were very few in this novel. In fact there was probably more moments between Ian and Rollo, than Claire and Jamie. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to cut it. If I wanted to read about Lord John, I would read his book series, I want to read about Jamie and Claire, with the odd dash of Ian/Brianna and Roger, its should not be the other way around. The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to view this book as a filler, a foundation to which all the major Claire and Jamie moments will be developed in the next book perhaps.
As well as issues of perspectives, there were issues of disjointedness. Due to the huge number of old and new characters in this book, I found myself getting lost at certain stages trying to remember what happened last in each character’s respective story lines and what import was a certain character to the main character etc. Also in other reviews, I have read that some readers found it frustrating, when just getting into a particular character’s story line and finally becoming interested (for example Williams point of view) the story would change back to another character’s perspective. I can honestly say I agree with this, it was one of the most frustrating moments I had with book.
Another issue I had was repetition and forced coincidences. Let me explain this properly. When I say repetition, I mean repeating of events from some of the previous novels. For example we have returned to the Pirates of the Caribbean scenes from book #3 (Voyager), where we see Claire and Jamie once again, battle the evils of the open water to reach land, come across pirates and survive to tell the tale. We saw this story line already in ‘Voyager’, I understand the need to create drama to entertain a reader, but I literally felt as if I was rereading ‘Voyager’. Even the battle scenes were reminiscent of scenes we have already read in past novels. I may be the only one who has this opinion but the feeling of Déjà vu crept up on me numerous times throughout the reading of this novel. In terms of forced coincidences, I felt the author threw in a number of events/characters to neatly tie up where she wanted to go with certain plot lines, which is fine in the larger scheme of things, but when it is overtly obvious to the reader, it can lead the story becoming too predictable, for example as I’ve already mentioned, the love affair between Rachel and Ian, seemed to be only put in as an after thought to tie up the story of Arch Bugg’s need for revenge. Why not kill Rollo, if Arch wanted to kill someone that Ian loved, Rollo surely would have done the job? There was a scene in which Jamie’s murder of Dougal comes back to haunt him by a completely random new character, an event that really didn’t add to the story in my opinion, and I felt it was just thrown in for dramatic effect. Plus it would have been Jamie’s word against this random Scottish man who claims Willie Culter told him all about the murder, hardly enough evidence to deserve such a reaction. The whole issue of Fergus Fraser’s lineage seemed to just crop up out of the blue as if the author suddenly wanted (after all the times I’ve wished for a bigger plot line for this character) to make Fergus more important and more interesting, which I’ve found is too late an addition to the books. In fact I think a better way of introducing this plot line would have been by giving Fergus a perspective, instead of Lord John perhaps??? Also even though I enjoyed the moments where William came within inches of meeting his biological father, it did feel as if the characters were being forced to appear in the same scenes together. I almost forgot to mention the newest admission of Claire regarding Roger’s father and her suddenly remembering that she had heard Roger’s father’s plane had crashed near standing stones, how coincidental!!! Why this admission now? why does Claire only just remember this is book seven of this series? Although I admit it is quite a clever addition to the story, once again though it is a bit late in the game to be discovering this major part of Roger’s past.
In regards to issues with characters, where does one start? The first that comes to mind is the issue of Laoghaire. I am still getting so very frustrated over Jamie’s need to know why Laoghaire can be happy with someone else! Who cares! The woman is a psychotic, sadistic, hellbent on revenge, idiot who shot Jamie the last time he was in Lallybroch. And yet here is Jamie once more, seeking out Laoghaire to try to make amends with the deranged woman and to try understand why she can enjoy sex with other men but not with him?? The mind boggles. How Claire is so easy breezy about this issue also is making me even more bewildered. Why any woman would be fine with their husband spending so much time and energy wondering why their ex wife can be happy with other men but not with them, is beyond perplexing. I have to say I was waiting for the moment when Claire would finally have a huge confrontation with Laoghaire and do something interesting, like have a war of words, a little bit of shouting, maybe some slapping perhaps? but no, instead we have a rather anti climatic scene in which Claire successfully manages to get Laoghaire off Jamie’s back, financially speaking, by agreeing to help Marsali’s son, which she would have done anyways, but manages to bring a close to the whole Laoghaire issue quite tidily, and unfortunately without much drama. Yet again, I think I maybe the only reader who wishes Claire was more aggressive when it comes to Laoghaire?
On the subject of Lallybroch, we come to another character I have issues with. The character of Jenny Murray. The last time the reader met Jenny, she had decided to dislike Claire and to call Laoghaire and announce that Jamie had turned up with his first wife in tow, and long have I wondered why Jenny felt the need to do this. The answer the reader is given, is that she knew Jamie would not be gallant enough to inform Laoghaire of his first wife’s return and so decided to take matters into her own hands. Hmmm. Any other readers out there find this explanation a bit silly? I also do not understand why she is so caustic towards Claire. Instead of asking for the truth it seems like she makes up her mind very quickly about people and as a Fraser by blood, is stubborn in her opinions to no end. Her aggressiveness towards Claire is quite shocking, particularly the scene in which she demands that Claire fix Ian Senior, who is dying from consumption. When Claire tries to explain that she cannot help and that she would if she could, Jenny decides to verbally abuse her. No one should treat Claire this way! Ian Senior has been ill for years it would seem, and why Jenny decided after one failed letter that she would give up contacting Jamie and Claire to inform them is beyond me. Surely if she had kept trying to contact them, Claire might have been able to do something to help Ian. So if there is fault or blame anywhere, it lies with Jenny. I feel sad that the friendship that Jenny and Claire once had is so very far in the past and I can’t see it improving much anytime soon. Although I must admit that the idea of Jenny joining the American story line and going with Jamie back to the colonies is bloody brilliant and I look forward to what is in store for her there.
In relation to the characters of Fergus and Marsali, I have gone on at length in past reviews how they should get more bigger plot lines. It is still the case in this book and I am awfully tired of seeing Fergus portrayed in a negative light all the time. In this novel it takes the form of him teaching Germain how to pick pocket, and again abandoning his family to go on the run due to his publishing of political opinions in his newspaper. When it is revealed that Fergus may have been an heir to a fortune and actually have an interesting story line for a change, it is revealed to late in the novel to actually get going. Also as mentioned already, had Fergus been given his own perspective to witness all these events, such as his near abduction and run ins with Percy Beauchamp, this story line might have been more interesting and given Fergus a means through which he could redeem himself.
I must also admit I had issues with Brianna and Roger once again. It seems modern day life has made them quite boring. Roger was more of a man when living in the past. In the future he has become quite the whinge, perhaps this is quite harsh but I feel as if I was just starting to like his and Brianna’s character when they were in the past, and now they’re suddenly reverting back to their previous annoying selves. A lot of the time I wanted to skip over their chapters, but for the little charming ways of Jem, whose little roguish charm kept me reading. The whole issue of Rob Cameron, though a great end to their story line, it seemed quite far fetched and out of the blue, and would have been better and more believable had it been Wiiliam MacKenzie, Dougal and Geilis’ son who committed the kidnapping in search of the gold. Rob Cameron although I didn’t trust him and knew he was going to commit some kind of horrible act, this ending didn’t really sit well with me.
The last issue I must address is the ending of the book. Others have mentioned it to be rushed and all over the place, they would be correct, although I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was perhaps one of the best endings to any of her books. It actually made me want to get the next installment immediately and begin reading it. The one issue, which is quite a major one to be sure, is regarding Claire. You would be correct in assuming it is in regards to the last few scenes between her and Lord John, I literally feel so outraged, that Claire on hearing Jamie is supposedly dead, instead of going into an absolute depression with suicidal tendencies as I am sure every reader presumed would happen. She instead acts so nonchalant, and ends up sleeping with Lord John. I really did scream with outrage when reading this scene. What on earth possessed the author to write this scene I’ll never know. I presumed Lord John just wanted to sleep BESIDE Claire and share in her grief over their love for Jamie, but noooooo, it went down a completely different route that no one could have predicted! I’m still quite shocked over a week later. I didn’t think it was possible that it could occur to begin with so that is why is isn’t sitting right for me. It feels awkward and uncomfortable to have read it and then when the alarming moment comes when Jamie does show up alive, his reaction to hearing that Lord John has had ‘carnal knowledge’ or his wife, Jamie appears not to be bothered at all! What the hell is happening??? If i had known this would occur at the end of the book, I probably would have just skipped on to the next one to be quite honest, as I’m disgusted that our beloved Claire Fraser would do this? Even if Jamie had truly died, he wouldn’t have been dead that long before she jumped into bed with another man! I am truly outraged and do not understand where the author is hoping to go with this storyline, and is goes against everything we’ve learned about the characters thus far.
It is now time to talk about the positives of this novel, as there are many despite what I have written thus far. Mrs. Gabaldon, as I’ve constantly mentioned is one of the greatest historians I have ever read. This novel yielded so much knowledge and information regarding the War of Independence that as an Irish person, I found quite interesting. The information in this book however took the form of more action through bloody battles, which I absolutely loved. The character of Claire comes into her own when facing battles, we see her as Claire the medic, the trauma doctor who keeps her head and is calm under pressure. The numerous battle scenes provided plentiful historic information such as how soldiers lived at the time, how they went weeks without washing, how they were regularly starving and slept in the harshest environments. I was thoroughly riveted by the political battles that occur within the army itself and was thoroughly entertained as Claire asserted herself among the male doctors. Yes other reviewers have mentioned that this was a tad unrealistic but I loved her daily battles to heal the soldiers. The funniest moment was on page 627 when Claire decided to amputate a limb and the other doctors are up in arms about a woman performing such a surgery.
This brings me again to congratulate Mrs. Gabaldon on her genius ability to weave her knowledge of medicine into her stories. Through Claire we see complicated surgeries, herbal remedies and the constant need for sterilisation methods, unknown at the time. Sometimes I feel as though I am reading a medical journal, such is her knowledge. Particular in the scene where she performs surgery on Jamie’s finger, although horribly vivid and ghastly, I was quite riveted to the spot when reading it. Her addition of new characters such as another Dr. Rawlings (the brother of the man who’s journal Claire had kept for years) and the Quaker Denny Hunter, allows the reader to see what medical practices were in place and being used outside of Claire’s medical knowledge. Even the removal of teeth and tonsils, amazed me to no end. Yes they are so descriptive, one feels slightly nauseous when reading about them, but I think I have grown used to the goriness, as it didn’t bother me in this book as it would have in the others. However the issue of General Fraser’s decomposing body and the solution of using maggots to fix the problem was a bit too much even for me.
I know I mentioned that there were way too many characters to follow, however there were quite a few new characters that did make the story a success and I therefore must mention them. Denny and Rachel Hunter are the first to come to mind. It was so interesting to see their story as Quakers develop, and how issues of morals came into play when crisscrossed with the story lines of other characters. For example to be with Ian, Rachel must give up being a Quaker, for Ian would never take to the ways of her people as he does have a taste for blood so to speak. Rachel is a strong character who I really look forward to seeing develop in the next book. It is interesting the love triangle between her, William and Ian and I look forward to seeing it come to fruition. Denny is a lovable character, his dealings with Claire have left me with a batman/robin sidekick image. I really enjoyed his scenes, and although I though it somewhat predictable that Dottie was the woman he loved and that she was going to convert to become a Quaker was a bit obvious, I still loved their story line and thought it added extra charm to the novel. I loved the addition of Hamish MacKenzie (Colum’s son) into the mix, the feeling of kinship was quite apparent in this novel for example the duty Jamie had to return his kin General Fraser, back to his people in Scotland, though a bit coincidental that they were trying to get back to Scotland quickly, it still gave Jamie that extra character development that was needed. Also the mysterious Captain Randall-Issacs has added another twist to the story line and I hope there will be more development into his character in the next book as he is an ancestor of Frank and Black Jack Randall.
There were many moments in this book that were epic but also brought out the emotional side in me. The death of Mrs. Bugg for example, quite early on in the book was very sad. The biggest loss would have to be that of Ian Murray Senior, I will readily admit I went through a box of kleenex during the scenes of his death and how his loss was felt most deeply by Jamie, who not only lost his brother in law, but his best friend and left wing man. The scene in which Jamie asks Ian Senior if he could bury his amputated finger with Ian, was although slightly odd, very moving. Ian was the steadfast character that saw reason and could calm a storm. Even though he wasn’t a major character in the book series, knowing that he was always there in the background was always reassuring, and any reader would feel his loss deeply. Although it sounds odd to follow up on the death of Ian, with that of the near death of Rollo, it is one I must admit struck me to the core. Rollo has been a constant companion to wee Ian, a loyal friend who has been there with Ian through thick and thin, and I am not ashamed to say that when Ian left him on the ship and feared the worst for his dog, I wept like a baby. Of course I was over joyed when discovering Rollo was very much alive, it still was quite a sad part of the book. This is what makes the author such a brilliant writer, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you go through a roller-coaster of emotions when reading these books.
The supernatural element was played very well by the author through the appearance of William MacKenzie in Brianna and Roger’s time. Although somewhat a background theme in this book compared to its importance in others, it was alluded to in such an excellent way in this book. Perhaps the addition of Claire’s admission regarding Roger’s father was a little late in the story, it still added an extra element of supernatural mystery and a possible future plot line that one simply cannot ignore. Jamie’s dreams and premonitions regarding the future were still as eerie as ever in this book and it would seem like Amanda has inherited this ability, as in the end of the book she dreamed of Jem’s kidnapping. Although the supernatural element can hinder other historical fiction series, I really feel that it is the backbone of this series and adds that extra bit of entertainment value that makes this book work.
Jamie and Claire moments, although few and far between in this book, when they did happen, it reminded me once more of why I love this book series. It’s not just the love scenes that makes their story work so much, its the humour and understanding that lies between these two characters. They know each other probably better than they know themselves, and that is a love that anyone would want to aspire to. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Claire berates Jamie once again for getting himself into a near death experience and her having to patch him together once more. Another scene which was very powerful, was the scene in which Claire battles with scavengers over Jamie’s body, it showed what a tough cookie Claire is, and how when it comes to Jamie, she will take no prisoners. It is unfortunate that there was not enough moments for these two lovebirds, but I’m hoping the next book will make amends towards this.
Finally in regards to the ending of this book, other reviewers have for the most part hated it, as mentioned previously though, I thought it was bloody brilliant! There are not one but many cliffhangers at the end of this novel, which has made it possibly one of the most exciting endings to any book I have ever read. I think other reviewers were upset due to the fact, usually in her books Mrs. Gabaldon ties things up neatly at the end of her books, so this ending was totally out of the ordinary. We have William finding out who his real father is, Roger and William Buccleigh MacKenzie gone back to the past to search for Jem whilst Rob Cameron turns up and forces Brianna to come with him if Jem is to live, we have Jamie turning up quite alive and the awkward admission of what just happened between Lord John and Claire (which I for one would love to know how this is going to go down), Jenny Murray now in America, Fergus as a possible heir to a fortune and last but not least, where Claire stands now as wife to both Lord John and Jamie. I am practically squealing with excitement as to where the story could possibly go next and although I do not agree with the whole Claire/Lord John incident, I am looking forward to reading the next novel as soon as I possibly can, without wanting to rush through the last book in the series of course as the next one after won’t be released for another couple of years. This is definitely a book to remember, and though it has its negative aspects, it kept me reading and contained the most exciting moments towards the end that I will never forget. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and hope that all my unanswered issues will be solved in the next book.
All these opinions are my own and I would be more than happy to hear any comments/opinions other readers have had, regarding this review. So please leave a comment here or on my twitter page.
The Avid Reader 🙂