Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon coverDear Ms. Gabaldon,

Though the classification of your first book, Outlander, as a romance has apparently been a bone of contention for you, I have to say that it was Outlander that started me on romance reading 15 years ago. I had joined a mail-order book club, one of those where you get nine books for a penny and then have to commit to buying a certain number of books over a certain period of time. Leafing through their catalog one day, I came upon an offer for the first three books in your Outlander series: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager at a special price. I don’t remember what hooked me – the description of the plot or the possibility of knocking three books off of my commitment at once. In any case, I ordered them, and my life as a reader changed.

I was hooked on Outlander from page 1; I cried buckets at the end of Dragonfly in Amber when Jamie and Claire parted, and was incredibly grateful that I had Voyager at the ready to start immediately after finishing the second book. In fact, I had to flip to Jamie and Claire’s reunion in Voyager, and then go back and read the first 300 or so pages; yes, I knew I was “ruining” it for myself but I would not have been able to function otherwise.

These books got me started on romance; I began to try to recreate the incredible reading experience I had with them. Easier said than done, I soon found, but I did end up, through much trial and error (The Flame and the Flower…shudder) finding other books in the genre that I loved. So even if Outlander is not a romance, I have it to thank for that.

Meanwhile, after finishing Voyager, I had three long years to wait for Drums of Autumn to come out (and I remember the day I bought that book; strange, when I can’t remember what happened last week!), and another four years for each successive book in the series. Which brings me to 2009, and the release of An Echo in the Bone.

My experience of this series has changed as the series itself has evolved – I no longer devour each book the minute it comes out. The books have gotten longer, and the storylines more complex. I bought An Echo in the Bone within a week of its release, but it took me until January 1 to finish (it’s a bit over 800 pages). This wasn’t a reflection on the quality of the book; some of it was merely logistical (the book was too heavy to tote everywhere, especially after I broke my wrist at the end of November). I think there’s also often a psychological factor related to how long it takes me to finish long, complex books; when I want to read in bed for 10 minutes before turning the light out, picking up a tome like An Echo in the Bone and trying to get back into the complicated story and (seeming) cast of thousands just feels like too much work.

A word about that complicated story and huge cast of characters: I have very little memory retention for what I read any more. I used to have an excellent memory, but that all changed around age 30, and I’m 10 years past that now. I have trouble remembering the plots of books I read and loved in 2009. So it goes without saying that there are huge holes in my memory where important plot points of previous books in this series should be. Since it took me so long to read, I actually forgot plot points from earlier in An Echo in the Bone by the time I was halfway through reading it. It’s sad, I know. I would actually love to find decent synopses of the entire series somewhere. I should check out The Outlandish Companion to see which books it synopsizes. It’s actually the later books I have more of a problem with; I remember the first two pretty well.

Okay, to end this digression and get back to An Echo in the Bone – I liked it a lot. I wasn’t sure I would, because honestly, the previous two books in the series, The Fiery Cross and A Breath of Snow and Ashes were uneven for me. I particularly recall A Breath of Snow and Ashes as feeling like it was comprised of bits of thrilling action interspersed with hundreds of pages of boring minutiae about colonial rural life. I still gave the book a B+, but it’s my least favorite of the series, so I did approach An Echo in the Bone with some apprehension.

I needn’t have worried – the quotient of thrilling action in this book is quite high. I’m very impressed with that; it seems like quite a feat to write 800 pages and not have, in my opinion, any notable stretches where the story lags. I think it helps enormously that the story follows quite a few different characters. Outlander was told in the first person from Claire’s point of view; I want to say that all the subsequent books have added other perspectives, but my sense (I’d have to look back at the books themselves to be sure) is that each book has had a wider scope in terms of the number of characters that are given voice and the time spent in their POVs (although only Claire’s is first-person; the others are third-person). In An Echo in the Bone, in addition to Claire, we get inside the heads of Jamie, Brianna, Roger, Jamie’s nephew Ian, Lord John Grey, his stepson (and Jamie’s secret illegitimate son) William, a young Quaker named Rachel Hunter, and perhaps a few others I’m forgetting.

I appreciate this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that after seven books, I have a bit of Claire-fatigue. I don’t dislike Claire, exactly…but I don’t like her a lot either, at this point. She’s hard for me to warm up to as a reader, because she doesn’t show very much vulnerability and at times she seems a little too pleased with herself. I feel bad saying this, in part because it feels vaguely anti-feminist (I think to some degree I am indicting her for not being feminine enough, for being so darn capable and in charge) and in part because it just feels wrong to say that I don’t really like the heroine of what is one of my favorite series of all time. But there you have it.

(For what it’s worth, Brianna has the same effect on me; she’s definitely her mother’s daughter.)

So, the plot. The modern part of An Echo in the Bone takes place Scotland in 1980; Roger and Brianna have returned from the past, a return necessitated by their daughter’s heart condition. Amanda is fine now, having had surgery in Boston, and the family settles into Lallybroch, the ancient family homestead that was Jamie Fraser’s childhood home. The children, Mandy and Jem, adjust to modern life well, but Brianna misses her parents, and Roger feels at loose ends back in the 20th century. Their lives are eventually disrupted by a very unexpected visitor, and their family is threatened by an enemy whose motives remain unclear even by the end of the book.

The 18th century part (which cover from about 1776 to 1778) chiefly follows Jamie and Claire as they leave their home at Fraser’s Ridge, preparing to travel back to Scotland to deal with unfinished business, both personal and professional (Jamie wants to retrieve a printing press he has in Edinburgh; he intends to use it to print seditious pamphlets back in America). The trip is delayed and beset by so many of the usual sorts of calamities that Jamie and Claire regularly seem to confront in these books (their ship is fired upon and then commandeered, for one), I began to think they wouldn’t reach Scotland at all in this book (eventually, they do).

Lord John Grey’s stepson William, who is of course Jamie’s secret illegitimate son, is featured extensively for the first time, and he’s a very appealing character. He’s young and raw, but he has the strong sense of honor that both Jamie and John share, and a strong desire to acquit himself well in the British military as the conflict in America deepens. He’s attracted to Rachel Hunter, a young Quaker whom he encounters when injured. He reminded me of a younger (English) Jamie crossed with a younger (straight) John, and that’s a good thing.

Ian, Jamie’s nephew, continues to mature in this book; he’s involved in an unavoidable tragedy early in the book that haunts him for the rest of the story. He also becomes enamored of Rachel (as is typical in this series, Rachel, Ian and William’s paths cross so often you’d swear they were confined to small village they shared with only a couple of dozen other people, rather than roaming all over the colonies peopled by a couple of million). But Ian also has to reconcile his feelings for his first wife, an Mohawk Indian whom he encounters along with her new husband. I’ve had a soft spot for young Ian since he first appeared in Voyager, and really want to see him happy – he’s been put through the wringer over the past few books.

We also get to visit familiar and well-loved characters such as Jamie’s adopted son Fergus and his wife Marsali (who herself is Jamie’s stepdaughter from his marriage to Laoghaire); a subplot involving a medical emergency for Fergus and Marsali’s son Henri-Christian, who suffers from a form of dwarfism, is pretty engrossing. (I do like the medical facts you include in these books; they are generally described in layman’s terms so I feel like I’m learning something while being just lurid enough to entertain.)

As I mentioned above, I had trouble keeping track of some of events in the book simply because the story is so long and byzantine. There were some characters whose purpose in the story was unclear to me, even at book’s end. These characters were chiefly related to an espionage (I guess?) subplot which I assume will play out in future books. But their appearances were so few and far between and the scenes involving them were so murky, the existence of the subplot felt pointless, at least for me. I won’t remember any of this in the next book because I hardly understood it in this one. (This is causing me to muse that you aren’t much given to the sort of awkward info-dump exposition that some other authors who write series indulge in. I’m mostly quite glad about that, because awkward info-dumps are well, awkward and break up the flow of the narrative. On the other hand, a few more reminders in the text refreshing my memory about characters and events long forgotten wouldn’t be amiss.)

I mentioned the characters running into each other; that and other improbable coincidences are hallmarks of your books, and I can see why some readers might roll their eyes occasionally at them. On the other hand, there is, of course, a pretty strong paranormal element that forms the bedrock of this series; somehow that makes story elements that aren’t exactly realistic more palatable to me as a reader. I rather enjoy all the opportunities various characters have to exclaim, “You!” in surprise when encountering each other unexpectedly in the course of the story.

My chief criticism of An Echo in the Bone has to do with a development late in the book that I thoroughly disapproved of. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that it did not feel true to the characters, and instead felt as if it were a cheap manipulation of those characters for the purpose of creating conflict. Though it did not change my opinion of the book that much over all, I kind of dread having to deal with the consequences of this development in the next book.

Still and all, An Echo in the Bone is an excellent addition to the series. My grade is an A-.

Best regards,

Jennie

This book can be purchased at Amazon (affiliate link), Kindle (non affiliate link), Books on Board (non affiliate link) or other etailers.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

20 Comments

  1. Ros
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 16:28:51

    Oh, I’ve been waiting to find a proper review of Echo for ages. I bought it in November, intending it for a long plane journey, but ended up reading something else then and still haven’t got round to reading more than the first few pages. Which, given the speed at which I devoured her earlier books, is strange to me. I love the sound of William and I’m glad to hear that there’s plenty of Young Ian in the book. I think maybe I’ll save it up for my next holiday and treat myself to some long, uninterrupted days of reading.

  2. Julie L.
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 17:31:43

    This was a wonderful review, and not easy to do with no spoilers! You went over all the plot points perfectly and I agree with you on so many of them, particularly about the (as I call it) jumping the shark moment near the end. Claire is losing her lustre for me too, though I still love her dearly and always will. I thought the the way you described William was right on the spot as well, as a younger Jamie and a straight Lord John. Thank you for posting this! I didn’t know how to review this myself (so I didn’t!) because I’m so emotionally attached to the series, but if I had posted a full review, this is how I would have liked it to look! :)

  3. Missy Ann
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 17:39:40

    Psst… I don’t like Claire that much either. But love the series to death.

    I forget exactly where it happened, but her homophobia is really bugging me. I try to get past it with “nobody’s perfect”. I was even getting upset with Gabaldon; then I read the Lord John books and saw that it is Claire not Diana. Ok, I can live with this.

  4. SonomaLass
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 18:29:09

    I’m glad you liked this book; almost every review I’ve read has been negative. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about too many other characters and time passing too slowly. I don’t see how readers can expect the series to go on and both move fast and stay focused on the central characters. Eight books of straight Jamie and Claire?? No.

    Gabaldon is one of the few authors whom I really trust. I can kick back and let her take me on whatever journey she has planned — she often goes where I didn’t expect, but I always enjoy the ride. The inherent romance in the books, the forging of life-long emotional commitments that defy internal and external obstacles, is something I find very satisfying. That and I love how she does characterization — her characters are so human to me, and I love how they both change and don’t change over time. Even the ones I don’t like very much fascinate me.

    I wasn’t anywhere near as bothered as (apparently) everyone else by what happened. It was a shock, but it also made sense in a weird way, and I think it will be very interesting to see how it plays out. In another four years, sigh.

  5. katiebabs
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 18:35:19

    Echo is the reason I have broken up with Gabaldon. So disappointed. The spark that was there in the first 5 books or so of this series is now gone.

    But, I’m glad you found something special in it I couldn’t. The next book in this series is going to be published in Fall of 2013.

  6. jmc
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 19:14:55

    Spoilerish question: Lord John is married? To whom?

    I’ve only read Outlander and the Lord John mysteries. Didn’t like Jamie or Claire enough to read their continuing adventures. But I’m curious about Lord John having a stepson.

  7. Shannon Stacey
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 19:49:21

    I enjoyed Echo more than the previous two books.

    As to the late development, my disappointment was more toward how it was handled rather than what happened. (Though I wasn’t thrilled by the development either.)

    Earlier in the book we get a 20 page blow-by-blow description of cutting off a finger, but the “development” is entirely handled in a dozen or so?

    It wasn’t developed at all (especially in comparison to the rest of the book). For instance, the development took place to protect a family member. What was the family member’s reaction? How did he feel about it? Did he try to stop it? The emotional fallout for all parties would have been enormous.

    Such a huge development to be such a tiny blip in the book.

    I’ve never liked Claire. Or Brianna. I’m in it for Jamie. And Fergus. And Young Ian. Not a William fan.

    I’m more eager to read the next book than I was to read this one, so she sucked me back in. But when the next one comes out I won’t read it until I’ve read the entire series again. I lost a lot reading Echo because I remembered so little of the previous books. I couldn’t even remember who some of the people were.

  8. Lori
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 20:00:28

    I guess I’m in the minority because I adore Claire. She’s far from perfect, but I think that’s what I like about her. (never found her to be homophobic either, but maybe that’s just me)

    Overall, I enjoyed Echo, though I must admit it wasn’t one of my favorites.

  9. Fiction Vixen
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 22:03:18

    I’ve been putting this one off with sense of dread. I’ve so loved this series and have not read overly favorable reviews for Echo. I guess I just didn’t want it to be the book that ended it all for me. Sounds silly I know. Thanks for the great review!

  10. April
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 01:11:19

    I’m actually pretty surprised by the high grade you gave this book. I’m such an Outlander fan that I would’ve given every book in the series an “A.”

    And yet, this book I give a “C.” I’m extremely disappointed, and don’t know if my attention to the series will last until 2013. The ending was horribly rushed. The events were unreal. The cliffhangers were manipulative. And the pacing of the rest of the book was mind-numbing.

    Also, the espionage subplot? What the…? Am I supposed to read the Lord John books to figure it out?

    AND…that last event involving Jamie, Claire, and John? That is such a betrayal of the characters and what they would do, I feel as if someone else wrote those scenes. Claire would be smart enough to know that people miss their ship sometimes…ARGH!!! I really dislike this book, even with months of retrospect.

  11. Kaetrin
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 01:58:12

    I’m with SonomaLass I think.

    I’m a fairly recent Outlander convert. I’ve listened to the first 4 books on audio, read The Fiery Cross and A Breath of Snow & Ashes and went straight to An Echo in the Bone (again on audio) so I had everything pretty fresh in my memory.

    I’ll probably have to read/listen to everything again before the next one to refresh my memory though.

    The Outlandish Companion only covers the first 4 books but I was at a book signing where DG said she was going to do a second volume for the later books.

    Also, she is apparently working on another Lord John book which will be called Lord John & The Scottish Prisoner – it will be set in Ardsmuir Prison and the Prisoner is of course, Jamie Fraser. The book will have POV’s from John and Jamie. I’m looking forward to that too!

    As for the “development”. I felt there were two. Development one (the, er legal development) I felt was quite understandable and in fact Jamie thanked John for it. It was development two (the, um, physical development) that he’ll no doubt have problems with. I expect we will get a lot more about that in the next book. I didn’t think it was a betrayal of the characters. In fact, there was a sort of (IMO) poetry about it – oh how can I say this without totally giving it away! – Jamie is the connection and I read it as a desperate attempt to reconnect with Jamie.

    I felt more unhappy about the Brianna/Roger storyline to be honest – when I first finished the book I’d forgotten all about it and suddenly realised there’s this massive cliffhanger. I don’t want Roger and Brianna to be apart from each other!!

    I do like Claire. She doesn’t do what I would do if I were DG but she’s consistent even if I want to slap her sometimes! And, of course, I’m totally in love with Jamie (swoon!!).

    Again, I’m with SonomaLass, DG can take me whereever and I’ll happily go along for the ride so long as Jamie’s there!

    When I finished EitB I felt sad – but only because I’d have to wait so long for the next installment. I guess I’ll just have to start listening to Outlander again….

  12. Jennie
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 02:03:53

    Thank you for posting this! I didn't know how to review this myself (so I didn't!) because I'm so emotionally attached to the series, but if I had posted a full review, this is how I would have liked it to look! :)

    Thanks for saying this! I found it a little hard to review, myself. This review was about twice as long as mine usually are, partly because I felt the need to go into the whole backstory of my relationship with the series. I’m totally emotionally attached to it, too; it makes it hard to look at the individual books clearly sometimes, because on the one hand your hopes are so high that there’s bound to be some letdown, and on the other hand it almost hurts to criticize the books. I was grateful that I liked AEITB as much as I did.

    I forget exactly where it happened, but her homophobia is really bugging me. I try to get past it with “nobody's perfect”. I was even getting upset with Gabaldon; then I read the Lord John books and saw that it is Claire not Diana. Ok, I can live with this.

    Did it have to do with her portrayal of Black Jack Randall? He was a pretty lurid villain; not just gay and sadistic, but, IIRC, secretly harboring some unwholesome feelings for his own brother as per Dragonfly in Amber. Yuck. I haven’t read all the Lord John books, but he is a much more appealing gay protagonist, I agree.

    Eight books of straight Jamie and Claire?? No.

    Yeah, ITA. I mean, I love them as a couple (better than I like Claire on her own), but even this book probably had one or two more love scenes between them than I needed. I love seeing what Gabaldon is doing with new characters, and getting more in depth characterizations of existing characters. I don’t mind the slow pace at all (though I was gonna be pissed if they never got to Scotland in this book).

    Echo is the reason I have broken up with Gabaldon. So disappointed. The spark that was there in the first 5 books or so of this series is now gone.

    That’s too bad. Did you like it less than ABOSAA? Or was it just sort of the cumulative effect of these last two books that has turned you off?

    Spoilerish question: Lord John is married? To whom?

    It’s not really a spoiler because he’s long been a widower. He was married to the sister of Geneva (I forget the sister’s name – Isabel, maybe?); Geneva was the spoiled young woman who basically forced Jamie to sleep with her when he was a groom (after he was released from prison after Culloden). Because Geneva died in childbirth, the child (supposedly the issue of Geneva’s elderly husband but really Jamie’s) was raised by Isobel, and then by Isobel and John when they married.

    It wasn't developed at all (especially in comparison to the rest of the book). For instance, the development took place to protect a family member. What was the family member's reaction? How did he feel about it? Did he try to stop it? The emotional fallout for all parties would have been enormous.

    Wait. I’m not sure we’re talking about the same development. How does the spoiler function work, again?

    Lori, I am fine with Claire being imperfect. I just don’t find her hugely relatable. I’m trying to think of a first person heroine that I really like and the first that comes to mind is Sookie Stackhouse. Maybe it’s unfair to compare them – apples and oranges, and all that – but Sookie just has some level of vulnerability that makes her more relatable to me. She’s not perfect, either, but she has a warmth that Claire lacks, at least for me.

    April, I don’t mind manipulative cliffhangers, at least if I’m caught up enough in the book that I don’t think of them as manipulative cliffhangers. I didn’t have the pacing problems with that you did; I really did think the story moved along remarkably energetically for such a long book.

    I’m glad to see that it’s not just me re the espionage subplot. I thought maybe I was missing something! It did occur to me that it related to business in the Lord John books, and I just don’t think it’s fair to throw it in this book without context or explanation.

    I have to agree with you that the event was a betrayal of the characters. It just didn’t make sense. Even if Claire really, really thought…no, I just don’t see that. I think I would’ve like it better and found it more believable if Jamie and Claire’s roles were switched. (I’m trying to be circumspect and am probably being either way to obvious or just completely damn incoherent.)

  13. Kaetrin
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 02:39:46

    @ Jennie. Oh, I don’t think I could have coped if Jamie and Claire’s roles were switched if what you mean is what I’m thinking! Oh noes!!

  14. Ros
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 04:27:02

    Okay, now I have to just get on and read it! All these not-spoilers are killing me!!!

  15. Shannon Stacey
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 06:57:04

    @Jennie: This is rather awkward, but I’ll try to be as spoiler-free as possible.

    When news is received and the development develops, the arrangement is put forth as benefitting Fergus. He’s aroused suspicion and an arrangement will keep him safe. We don’t see Fergus’s reaction to the development. I think he’d rather have thrown himself on the sword.

    I just felt that after hundreds and hundreds of pages of detail, whether enriching or excruciating (the finger scene being an example of the latter), the development felt almost as though it was a synopsis of the situation, robbed of any emotional depth.

    Then, of course, I must ask myself if I would have wanted to read four hundred pages of the development and the answer is probably no. The characters involved with the development aren’t the reason I read the series.

    I just feel that, after so many books, that turn of events was a little underdeveloped emotionally.

  16. katiebabs
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 09:53:39

    I admit I was also disappointed in the lack of love making scenes between Claire and Jamie. I know they are close to retirement age but Gabaldon used to write the best love scenes with these two. She proves that being near 60 is only a number!

  17. Randi
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 11:36:05

    Jennie,

    That was a superb review. Rock on with your bad self.

    And now…you’ve got me all hot and bothered to read the series again (the last one I read was the third one).

    Off I go!!

  18. Kate Pearce
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 17:07:28

    I totally agree with your review. Thank you:) It was better than the last two, but the ending felt contrived, rushed and under developed. I am looking forward to the next one though!

  19. Kaetrin
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 18:41:23

    @ Shannon Stacey
    I agree with you – the “development” was light on detail and emotion. Knowing that the, er, belief causing the development was untrue, I could have happily enjoyed many angsty moments etc.

    I thought the development was presented as a way to protect Claire and as a side benefit, Fergus and his family. I think Claire accepted because of Fergus and the family (especially the children) because at that point she didn’t really care about herself or what happened to her but the prime motivator was her safety (at least, that’s the way I read it, anyway).

    I thought that it was precisely because everything happened so quickly and was so rushed that the legal development occurred – Claire was in no state to do otherwise and that’s probably why it worked for me (I didn’t LIKE it, but, for me, it worked)

    I would have liked more of how Claire was feeling about the, er, belief, which led to the development, but you never know, it might be revisited in the next book.

    Sorry for the coded language, but I’m trying to preserve our non-spoiler efforts!

  20. Tweets that mention REVIEW: An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary -- Topsy.com
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 05:46:47

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Erotic Romance, Robin Bradford and dearauthor, Preeti-RomanticSFBks. Preeti-RomanticSFBks said: Love that title. Do you know if it's original or sourced from a poem or something? RT @dearauthor: An Echo in the Bone http://bit.ly/cFZ3Yx [...]

%d bloggers like this: