Dear 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-.
Diana Gabaldon will write an “original story” to be set in the world of the Outlander series including favorite characters such as Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser. The illustrator is Hoang Nguyen and will be 192 pages in length. The publication date is 2009. Gabaldon apparently wrote several comic book scripts for Walt Disney in her early days.
I can hardly wait to see the fetishized version of Jamie and Claire. Hopefully, this will be super successful so that we get action dolls and be able to make dioramas.
Seriously, the Outlander story in manga form? I think its only successful if the love story is between Lord John and Jamie and not Claire and Jamie.
Via ICv2 News.
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
Dear Mrs. Gabaldon,
A few years ago when the first Lord John book (Lord John and the Private Matter) was released I made a mental note to myself that I ought to try this one out. After all I had enjoyed Outlander (though got bogged down in the next one and never finished it). Alas, a mental note made was all I did and it wasn’t until Jane mentioned all the goodies she picked up at RWA and hadn’t I read the first book because she had an ARC of the second and did I want it? that I decided to get off my arse and give it a go. What followed was an intense four days of me fitting in snatches of reading time whenever I could despite having to work 10 hour days at work and sleep sometimes. I read. I devoured. I inhaled. I had to know what happened next. I cursed when it was the last second I could leave for work and not be late. In other words, I liked the book.
Lord John’s widowed mother is getting ready to remarry and he and Hal are meeting with the groom-to-be and his stepson. John realizes he’s met the stepson and where he met him — at a London male brothel. The stepson, Percy Wainwright, acknowledges John and the two begin, or try to begin, a flirtation. Percy is looking to join the Army and is persuaded to buy into John and Hal’s regiment. John takes him under his wing and the two begin a love affair – one which must remain secret as homosexuality is a capital crime in 1750s England. The regiment is due to set out for Germany (the fighting is part of the global Seven Years War of which the American “French and Indian War” is a part) where disaster strikes. John is injured and returns to England where he begins to wonder if a series of what he thought were random street attacks might have something to do with his father’s long ago suicide. Or was it suicide? And if not, who were the men responsible? And did it have anything to do with the Uprising in 1745? And yes, Jamie shows up a few times. John must try to discover what happened so many years ago while keeping his true nature hidden from family, friends and his enemies. There, I managed to condense 490 (493 if you count the notes) into a short paragraph. Go me.
There are so many things to mention that I like. The book and characters are very realistic. If anyone can make a reader feel s/he is in the midst of mid 18 C Europe, you can. Okay, I mostly like this though Kitty O’Donnell’s wake makes me glad to have air conditioning. Your characters aren’t faux PC — thank you. These people have never heard of being Politically Correct (unless it’s not supporting the Stuart cause) so they’re not!
They’re also not chummy with servants yet you can see that they held them in great affection and trust. It was a mark of the upperclasses- treat servants with respect yet they’re servants, not friends. I like how you show how John and his class were raised and used to moving in Society (as shown in Lady Jonas’s salon scene) and contrast that to John worrying about how Percy will handle these social settings since John knows Percy wasn’t born and bred to them.
I like that the Seven Year’s War is seen through John’s experience – as you mentioned in postscript, this isn’t an overview of the war, just one man’s experience in it. I thought the violence was in context and appropriate for the story being told (hangings, the war scenes, confrontation with a murderer). As for the homosexual aspects –readers have to remember that this was punishable by death in the 18th C. The sex scenes aren’t that explicit (those looking for more modern erotica/romantica style won’t find it here) yet didn’t make me uncomfortable — however, I didn’t need more either.
I like how John refers to his brother in public as “Melton.” First names were for private moments and only for intimates (the Graf, who is good friends with John, only finally uses John’s first name after knowing him for years and even then is hesitant about it). As I said, I haven’t read first book in the series and it took me a little while to come up to speed with Earl of Melton vs Duke of Pardloe — thanks for including information about this and very nicely by using Percy as someone to explain it to.
Olivia’s “giving birth scene” was hysterical. I do wonder what her absent husband will think of the name given to his firstborn son. Also the post-battle scene in the field hospital when Hal warns John “it’s going to hurt a lot” before the regimental surgeon begins picking lead fragments out of John’s chest. “Are…you under th-the im…pression that this is…news to me?” John retorts.
Even though she’s only in a few scenes, the Dowager Duchess/Countess impressed me — she’s a strong character, very reserved publicly — as I would expect an upper-class woman of the day to be — but you can tell she has strong emotions. Don’t get her mad cause she’ll wait decades for her revenge if need be. Though it’s mainly a story about men – men at war, men preparing for war, men at clubs, men getting revenge — Minnie, Olivia and Dowager Benedicta are shown being 18 C women — not running around at night through the streets of London (I imagine they’d sniff and turn their noses up at the thought). The men felt they must protect them (Hal not showing Minnie newspapers that could upset her during her pregnancy) but underneath these ladies were made of steel.
I had to take a few points off because Everybody Loves Jamie — I thought this in reading Outlander and still think it now. John is much more obsessed with Jamie than Jamie is with John. Jamie always takes center stage in every scene. I’m perversely glad that he’s only in a few scenes. Huzzah.
So, you see, I only had to take off a little bit from the grade and since the Outlander series is so popular, I’m sure my perverse reason will not bother most of your fans. A- for “Brotherhood of the Blade” and I am, I swear it, going to make a concerted effort to go back and read what I’ve missed with John.
or at Fictionwise where it’s starting off at 30% off retail price.
Someone needs some attention. Let’s, as Sybil would say, give her some. You see, Rosina Lippi, in an attempt to keep things on the downlow, posts on her blog an explanation of an online kerfluffle that happened at the Gabaldon yahoo group. Thanks to my reader tip, I moseyed over to see what the drama was about that Ms. Lippi was trying to keep from blowing all out of proportion.
There’s another (yet again) clash in one very small, limited corner of the internet, but as it happens to be the corner I inhabit, and as I would prefer this not blow out of all proportion, I am going public right here and now.
Lippi tries to be careful not to reveal the parties involved by using their initials. Very sneaky, I will never figure out who those people are. Someone at the DG group didn’t like Lippi’s latest book. A fan of Diana Gabaldon posted her opinions that Sara Donati was a DG wannabe who “tapped into a HUGE fan-base by dangling ‘an appearance of Jamie and Claire’ into her story.” The DG fan was specific in her complaints and cited passages and characters that she felt were copied from other authors.
The ‘insignificant’ *background characters* are all names taken from other works of literature (ie. a happy friend, Jane Bingsley in England *cough* ‘Pride and Prejudice’…a Mr. MCTAVISH in Montreal…HELLO!! Remember JAMIE MACTAVISH?!?! The original/accidental name of Jamie Fraser!!). . . .
If you LOVE LOVE LOVE the movie ‘The Last of the Mohicans’….you might be able to stomach it. Nathaniel is none other than the son (and physical carbon copy) of Daniel Day-Lewis’ character from the movie. Elizabeth bears an EERY resemblance to her mother-in-law Cora….Chingachgook is the same..only a little older…naturally. Duncan has been reincarnated and is currently inhabitting the body of Richard Todd.
The reader also stated that
I think Sara Donati DOES have a talent for putting words together and painting a decent enough picture, so as to place me into the scene,…..but she CERTAINLY lacks creativity with regards to situations and characters.
A reader’s comment about a book on a message board is termed a review and up for criticism by Lippi. Lippi finds the “review” to not be “professional, balanced or respectful.”
The most interesting thing I found in the whole deal is that Lippi states for public consumption on her blog about how it is fine for the poster to have her own opinion (while calling her unprofessional, etc). but on her public forum states the following:
And yes, there are a couple of people over there who are getting their jollies by bashing my books.. . There’s a small class of Gabaldon fans who are simply rabid. They are not satisfied to love and adore every word she writes, they can’t be happy until they’ve torn down everything ever printed that isn’t hers. And they pursue this goal with single minded glee and giggling.. . .Their lives are so limited and narrow that the best time they can imagine is to sit around and snicker about the Not Diana books. . . .
Ms. Lippi, I have a friend for you to meet. This is Kettle. Kettle, this is Pot. Is it professional, balanced, and respectful to define the fans lives as “limited and narrow” and to refer to their actions as attacking you with “single minded glee and giggling”? Sounds like an ad hominem attack to me. The reader actually stated that Lippi had skill in putting together and painting a decent picture but that reader felt the characters lacked originality. That doesn’t sound like someone who is going around with “single minded glee and giggling” and whose life is just devoted to knocking you down a notch.
My favorite line of all is Ms. Lippi’s claims that she is a better writer than DG.
I am as good a writer as Diana. Sometimes I am better. I will point out to them, if they approach me directly, that I have won major literary prizes. She has spent a lot more time on the best seller list, but then so has Dan Brown.
I haven’t read either authors (listened to DG on tape and know that Maili hates the DG books with a passion) so I guess I’ll just have to take Ms. Lippi’s word for it. After all, she does have those awards. (I googled and found one, but not the multiples which she references). I would guess that would make her a better writer than Nora Roberts, Jennifer Cruise, Loretta Chase, Judith McNaught, Julia Quinn, Laura Kinsale, Jo Goodman, Diana Norman, Stephen King, Lisa Kleypas, Connie Brockway, Eloisa James, Suzanne Brockmann, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and so on because those authors are not winners of any literary awards that I know of (unless we refer to the Ritas as literary awards, but somehow I don’t think that is the kind of “literary award” to which Lippi refers). Plus, some of them are commercially successful like Dan Brown.
Lippi ends with the statement:
“I suppose I could email authors who have written books that didn’t work for me. I could get in touch with John Updike or Nora Roberts or Jodi Picoult or Stephen King or Toni Morrison and offer them the opportunity to pitch their books to me, but then that would be presumptuous and less than respectful.”
I am not sure what this statement means. I think it means that readers who don’t like an author’s work should just . . . not email the author an offer to pitch their work to the reader?
I hope I helped keep this from blowing all out of proportion like Lippi wanted when she went public with a little known controversy.