Five stars (of five)
Gabaldon invests much time and descriptive effort in this novel, which ties off many threads left dangling in DRUMS and introduces the reader to a plethora of new characters. The novel continues where DRUMS ended, at a a gathering of some of the Scottish colonial settlers. Brianna and Roger are set to marry and have their son, Jemmy, baptised. When a proclamation arrives from the Governor of North Carolina, everyone is put on notice that rebellion will not be tolerated against the British King. While local sheriffs wreak havoc on the matrimonial plans, those within the group are able to make some alternate arrangements, just as a missive arrives for Jamie. The Governor has tasked him to create a militia to quell dissent in the Colony, less a request than a directive. As everyone returns to Fraser’s Ridge, Jamie begins making the necessary arrangements. An eventual battle ensues, pitting the militia against a group of Regulators, bound to fight against Britain’s continued rule in the area. Roger becomes embroiled in events and suffers greatly for it, which draws the Frasers in closer to him, showing their familial strength. Brianna and Roger must also struggle with everything that relates to Jemmy and their larger relationship. Gabaldon shifts the romantic and relationship focus to the next generation of characters, putting Brianna, Roger, and Stephen Bonnet into a veritable parental triangle, as Roger struggles with Jemmy’s potential parentage, going so far as to learn a little genetics from Claire to understand implications. Roger and Brianna must wrestle with much of the same issues Claire and Frank did years ago. Where Gabaldon left much of the awkwardness of the Claire-Frank-Jamie triangle to small crumbs in VOYAGER, a thorough exploration takes place herein, with some interesting insight to enlighten the reader. Claire’s knowledge of history can be both a blessing and curse, as she watches Jamie prepare for the early stages of the War of Independence, sure to divide the colony and keep everyone on their toes. As old enemies return to tie off their storylines from novels past and new foes begin to lay roots for long-standing hatred, Jamie and his family grow closer through peril and tragedy, exemplifying that the family fabric can withstand much strain. With ghost bears and wild boars, snake bites and attempted executions, war drums and Scottish folk songs, the novel offers many a vignette to educate and entertain. Told in a way only Gabaldon could, the reader is in for a long and twisted story, but never left to drift too far off the beaten path.
Some have commented that this book was a turning point in the Outlander series, as it dragged on and began to derail the built momentum. To those readers, I would acknowledge the freedom of expression, but also remind this posse that this is not a series for the feint of heart or easily bored. Much of Gabaldon’s content does play a key role in later missives, as the reader will have discovered in this novel. While seemingly minor topics appear in the narrative, they become central with the reemergence of characters, or new spins on their placement in the larger narrative. There were sections of the book that did take up much space and might have been trimmed or edited out, but something tells me there is a reason for their inclusion and the reader can skim all they like, hoping a re-read is not necessary at a later point. That said, this being a re-read for me, I took away so much more than I had the first time around. The story’s underlying history begins its necessary heating up and will only get stronger and more interesting as the series progresses. Gabaldon, like perhaps George RR Martin, can see the mighty forest for the acorns currently scattered on the ground, and for that we owe her the true benefit of the doubt. She’s shown that she is in control and trust has long-since been earned.
Kudos, Madam Gabaldon, for pressing on with your longest novel to date. Its content, though dense for some, proves highly attractive for the Outlander obsessed.