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REVIEW: Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana...

Dear Mrs Gabaldon,

Book CoverI put pen to paper to tell you how much I have enjoyed the latest batch of short stories about Lord John Gray. I think he is, by far, my favorite character you’ve invented and I dare to hope that you have several more stories in mind for him beyond the one you’ve already promised us. As always your writing is filled with great period feel and historical details which are so nicely fitted into the storytelling that there’s no awkward “take note of this class” feel to them. The information flows and the story flows with it. I feel that I am in the house of a celebrated London hostess as dark undercurrents of the Hellfire Club ebb and swirl. Or in a dank German graveyard with a tipsy band of soldiers trying to discover in which grave a succubus is lying. And finally waiting in the Arsenal, trying to stifle my startled jumps as cannon are fired mere yards away.

Each story starts with Lord John being presented with a mystery to be solved, none of which he can ignore. Who killed a young man John met once in the Lavender House and how does this tie into the infamous group known for their black masses, drugged whores and depravity? What was the cause of death for a soldier in wartime Germany and how can their commanders keep their other troops from being too scared to fight? And what caused the explosion of the cannon manned by John during one German battle and how does this tie into a missing young woman and his half brother’s powder factory? By the end of all three stories, the disparate elements all come together with Occam’s Razor-like quality. Everything fits together no matter how unrelated it all appears at the story’s beginning and makes perfect sense.

As Lord John says, fighting (being a soldier) is hard but nothing on politics. You don’t just tell us how complicated the political scene was then (but then when have politics ever been clear cut?) but show us the murky depths in which these sharks swam. We see how good a soldier John is by the way he deals with the not only his superiors but also the men under his command. Superstitions ruled the day and shaped the lives of the enlisted men and any officer who ignored or was unaware of them would pay for his absentmindedness. Add to that the fact that John has to liaison between the English and their German allies, fend off an amorous widow and deal with a potential Gypsy curse and we see that he has to tread very carefully no matter if he’s on duty or not.

I love the character of Tom Byrd, John’s valet. You just can’t get good servants like him anymore. I laughed at John’s description of his handsome but amazingly intelligence-spared half brother Edgar. I felt John’s caution in expressing his true inclinations to a potential lover and his regret that those feelings would not be acted upon. But oh Lord, there’s more Jamie Fraser worship. Will John ever be over his attachment to the Scot? Thankfully, Jamie doesn’t intrude too much into these stories. Did seeing the artillery ghost at the Arsenal mean that John had luck in solving the mystery of the exploding cannons? I also debated with myself about who was worse to poor abandoned Anne Thackery, the one who left her pregnant or the one who took such horrible advantage of her plight? John’s compassion in this matter, even if initially only grudgingly given, shows him to be a man of honor.

Thank you for including an order in which these stories can be read. Since I’m reading them all out of order, it shows that readers don’t have to be anal about that. I think people should know that the last story comes about from an incident in previous book (Brotherhood of the Blade). It’s not necessary to have read it first though as there is ample explanation without it turning into a book synopsis. Previous Lord John fans will find much to enjoy here yet I think it is also welcoming to newbies. Good job. B

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in hardcover or ebook format ($9.75 from BooksonBoard).

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

20 Comments

  1. veinglory
    Nov 27, 2007 @ 15:18:54

    This one looks good! Thanks for the review :)

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  2. Chicklet
    Nov 27, 2007 @ 15:41:10

    I find it most interesting that Gabaldon can keep her logorrhea in check for the Lord John books, but not so much for the Jamie/Claire ones. Either way, I’m trying to figure out if I can read the John books without picking up the J/C series (I gave up 200 pages into The Fiery Cross).

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  3. veinglory
    Nov 27, 2007 @ 16:29:04

    I will give it a go — and I bailed on feiry cross at the non-consensual scene and swore of that author.

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  4. Jayne
    Nov 27, 2007 @ 16:49:34

    There’s no reason to slog through any J/C books in order to read any of the Lord John ones. I bailed halfway through “Dragonfly in Amber” and have never picked up another one.

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  5. Jorrie Spencer
    Nov 27, 2007 @ 16:56:45

    I’m looking forward to this one! Like others, I bailed early in the Jamie/Claire books, despite loving Outlander. In fact, I just get a little irritated by the too-prominent role Jamie seems to play in the Lord John series. (Though it’s not enough to put me off the books because I adore Lord John. I just don’t find his attraction to Jamie convincing.)

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  6. Jayne
    Nov 27, 2007 @ 17:14:26

    Oh Jorrie, you and me both sister. Enuff of Jamie! But, sigh, I’ve come to expect that Gabaldon is going to haul his ass into everything she writes.

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  7. vanessa jaye
    Nov 27, 2007 @ 20:02:41

    I read Outlander, loved it, and bailed on the rest of the series. I have this aversion to long-assed books. No matter how good they are, somewhere around page 400 I start resenting the fact that the damn book isn’t over yet. I have the first Lord John book in the tbr pile, this review makes me want to go hunt for it.

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  8. DS
    Nov 27, 2007 @ 21:13:57

    I love long historical novels but never could get into the Outlander series. However, in the two Lord John books I’ve read (except when Jamie is on stage) Gabaldon does a great job of making the 18th century come alive. She has a great ability in these books to come up with the telling detail that helps define a scene. I’m looking forward to reading this collection as well.

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  9. Ann Bruce
    Nov 28, 2007 @ 00:55:23

    I gave up 200 pages into The Fiery Cross

    Ladies, two words: audio books!

    And I can’t wait to get my hands on this LJ book. I think I like the LJ series more than the Outlander series. Or maybe that’s because LJ is my Gabaldon fix until the next Outlander book due in 2009? 2010? 2011?

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  10. Marg
    Nov 28, 2007 @ 04:30:29

    I am very much looking forward to getting hold of this, although to be fair I would read just about anything Gabaldon wrote!

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  11. Jayne
    Nov 28, 2007 @ 05:38:52

    Vanessa, I haven’t read the first Lord John book either. I will go back and pick it up at some point but since I knew I had the arc to this anthology to read and review before the end of the year, I put it off for now. Perhaps this character and these books work better for me because, like you, I really have to lurve me a book that goes on past 450+ pages.

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  12. Jayne
    Nov 28, 2007 @ 05:44:37

    “Gabaldon does a great job of making the 18th century come alive. She has a great ability in these books to come up with the telling detail that helps define a scene.”

    Precisely DS! When I read these books, I don’t just feel like I’m sitting in the audience watching a play. I feel like I’m there, in on the action.

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  13. Jayne
    Nov 28, 2007 @ 05:47:20

    Marg, I wonder what Gabaldon will do if, and when, she finally finishes with the “Outlander” series? Of course since that will probably be in the late 2020s we might never know….[grin]

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  14. Marg
    Nov 28, 2007 @ 06:03:31

    Isn’t that every die hard Gabaldon’s greatest fear….that either she or we will not be around to finish the series!!!!

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  15. Jayne
    Nov 28, 2007 @ 06:27:46

    Seems like I recall hearing that she plots her books as she goes along. Or is it that she writes scenes then constructs the plot so as to connect them into a book? Something different than the norm. I only hope (especially for her Outlander fans) that if she feels she’s flagging, healthwise, that she writes some kind of outline and plot synopsis so at least people will know how she wanted the series to end!

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  16. Marianne McA
    Nov 28, 2007 @ 09:16:49

    Great, another book for the Christmas list. I’d forgotten this was coming out. I’m another reader who didn’t like Outlander (and so many people whose taste I trust loved it, that I reread it some time later – but no, not for me.)

    I’d have thought I just didn’t like Gabaldon’s writing – but I did enjoy Lord John and the Private Matter. Gabaldon says somewhere that she thought, when she was writing the first Lord John, that she was writing a short story, and I wondered if that was what made the difference. Perhaps there’s something different about her writing when she’s trying to write in a shorter format.

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  17. Chicklet
    Nov 28, 2007 @ 11:33:42

    Ladies, two words: audio books!

    Oh, I have no aversion to long books, I have an aversion to authors spending 200 pages covering eight hours of action in the story. *g*

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  18. bluenote
    Dec 08, 2007 @ 16:42:40

    I don’t know if this is true or not, but it seems from the comments that the people who don’t buy Lord John’s love for Jamie have not read all of the Outlander books. I have done so, and while I admit that doing so was a bit of a slog (especially The Fiery Cross and A Breath of Snow and Ashes — she really, truly needs to cut down on the writing and finish the story), I nonetheless loved them overall. More to the point, though, John’s feelings for Jamie might have read differently if you had been introduced to them in the Outlander series. The manner in which he fell for Jamie is beautifully described in Voyager, and there are some lovely passages in Drums of Autumn that reconfirm the depth of his affection. I have no problem with the way she handles his feelings for Jamie in the mysteries, for two reasons: (1) I have background knowledge which makes his feelings ring true, and (2) He doesn’t simply sit around and pine for Jamie — he actually has relationships with other men. Obviously, readers of the entire Outlander series might disagree with me, but that is my own take.

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  19. Jayne
    Dec 09, 2007 @ 08:51:44

    Bluenote, you’re correct that I haven’t read past the middle of book two in the Outlander series but even with that one, I got tired of everyone falling in love with Jamie. I guess I just hoped that Gabaldon would have one series without Jamie in it and one character who didn’t fall in love with Jamie. I’m sure the scenes you describe are moving but I’m just tired of Jamie, Jamie, Jamie.

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  20. Jorrie Spencer
    Dec 09, 2007 @ 09:04:29

    I read part of Voyager before I stopped the series. I wasn’t particularly interested in Lord John from that book. In fact, I had a hard time remembering him when his books started being released. Of course, I was obviously disengaging from the series at that point, so that played a role.

    Anyway, every reader takes something differently away from a book. But in what I’ve read, Lord John’s attraction to Jamie feels forced and I feel uncomfortable for the character-’and takes me out of the story, so I have to rush through those scenes with Jamie. Gabaldon convinces me of Lord John’s attraction to other men, so it’s not that she can’t write manlust in a way that convinces me. (And, being a romance reader, I’m still hoping for someone to come back into Lord John’s life. Not sure how likely that is though.)

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