REVIEW: Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon
Dear Mrs Gabaldon,
I 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