Five stars (of five)
Gabaldon returns to the OUTLANDER series with another stellar piece of historical fiction. The story open in modern day, 1968, much to the confusion and chagrin of the reader. Claire finds herself in the Scottish Highlands, but is not alone. Alongside her is the copper-haired Brianna Randall, her twenty-year old daughter. Working with Oxford historian, Roger Wakefield (the attentive reader will remember him from the opening section of Outlander), Claire and Brianna continue the research of the recently deceased Frank Randall who sought to flesh out his family tree.To lessen the time segue awkwardness, Gabaldon briefly addresses some of the commentary related to Claire’s ‘disappearance’ from 1945-48, but does not delve into too much detail at this point. Both Roger and Brianna notice Claire’s significant interest in the second Jacobite uprising, more than any amateur historian might logically possess. An internal debate raging, Claire confides in them both and reveals much of what she did during her ‘time away’ and how it relates to the Scottish Highlands. Gabaldon allows Claire to drop some bombs and leave Brianna staggering. Gabaldon takes this dramatic pause to shift the story back to the 1740s, where Outlander ended and the reader is ready to continue the tale. Claire is alive and well with Jamie, the Scottish sentiment growing in support of the Jacobite cause. Hidden away in France, Claire and Jamie gather support for the cause, communicating in cipher whenever possible with fellow supporters of Bonnie Prince Charles. Claire’s medical knowledge is pushed to its limits, as she works with what she has on hand to help those in need especially when the battles begin and the casualties mount. Claire also grapples with carrying Jamie’s child, an excitement for them both as they connect on deeper levels. New characters emerge and friendships are forged, some of whom will play key roles in the story’s many twists. Jamie and Claire cross paths with ‘Black Jack’ Randall repeatedly, well known to the reader. These encounters play a pivotal role in how Claire wrestles with her ‘modern life’ and love for Frank. History may be set, but Claire and Jamie discover that it is pliable in the moment. The foreknowledge of what is to come guides them both, while immediate circumstances open new and time-altering possible solutions. With the outcome of the Jacobite uprising a foregone conclusion, Claire and Jamie might face difficult choices related to their love and how to protect Claire from the coming danger. Gabaldon addresses these tough choices and offers the reader a final glimpse into modern-day Scotland, where new and heart-stopping revelations shake Roger and Claire to their cores. Another great work by Gabaldon that leaves the reader begging for more (thankfully we know how much awaits), as Jamie and Claire continue to create a life together.
Gabaldon’s attention to detail adds another layer of wonder to this novel. Juxtaposing 1968 goings-on with the denouement of activities in 1745-48, the reader sees how these two worlds feed off one another. Documented fact plays an interesting role as history acts as narrator, but it pales in comparison to the daily development of life, perhaps too minuscule or mundane to address in academic tomes. Gabaldon effectively argues these points and more as she illustrates a detailed account of Claire and Jamie’s lives together and individually. Bending history’s one rule, that it accounts for the master narrative, plays a stronger role in his novel than the last, though hints of more to come leaves the reader to wonder how far from the mainstream path Gabaldon intends to take the reader. Let the series expand from here in whatever way suits the larger story.
Kudos, Madam Gabaldon for another wonderful novel, rich with detail and filled with character development. I look forward to the rest of the story, as long as it might take to reveal itself.