Five stars (of five)
In the final full-length novel to date, Gabaldon has to deal with some of the most exciting cliffhanging to date, left for the reader to stew upon at the end of Echo in the Bone. Series readers will recollect that Jamie was presumed dead in a nautical accident, which led Claire to wed Lord John Grey to protect herself. With Jamie’s re-emergence, everything is turned topsy-turvy, sentiments included. Claire seeks to justify her decision to an angry Jamie and Lord John flees the wrath of a close friend. Gabaldon deals with the fallout and the emotional baggage for the entire first part of the novel, while peppering the narrative with the revelations on William’s discovery of his true father. If that were not enough to keep the reader hooked, in 1980 Scotland, Jem has been kidnapped by a ruthless murderer intent on finding the gold Jamie alluded to in one of his time-travel letters. Brie must battle a murderous gang alone as she tries to keep her family safe. Once Jem appears, Brie makes the hard choice to travel back with her children to seek the protection of her parents, but does not know if she will again see Roger, who’s overshot on his trip through the Stones, landing in 1739. There, he discovers distant relations on both the Fraser and MacKenzie side, including one that proves highly awkward and rewarding at the same time. As the War of Independence continues, Jamie gets a plum position in Washington’s army and uses it to his advantage, but soon tires of the fighting and is faced with a momentous medical emergency that solidifies his desire to keep his family safe. When a fire obliterates the Fraser abode (second time, hope they have insurance!), a great deal is lost, including one of their own. With sad hearts, the Clan heads south, first to Savannah for Jamie’s printing press, where the attentive reader will remember Jamie and Claire first landed when they arrived in the New World, and eventually back to Fraser’s Ridge. One cannot ignore the Lord John or William additions to the story, as they weave their way through battles and serve on the British side. Gabaldon uses portions throughout the novel to further discuss the Stone’s power and how time travel may work, keeping the reader begging for more, but getting only a few grains of information. With a focus on the Quaker situation; ‘cameos’ by Washington and Benedict Arnold; as well as further details surrounding the War effort, this novel is perhaps one of the best novels in the series. Gabaldon treats the reader to an explosive amount of information as she opens new pathways of curiosity and leaves her usual collection of threads dangling for future reference.
I have undertaken the massive task of reading the entire series consecutively, to which I owe myself much thanks. The characters continue to come to life in the novels and the storylines flow effortlessly from book to book. However, Gabaldon’s ability to leave a reader guessing must be a horrible tease as they wait from one publication to the next. Gabaldon’s research efforts cannot be discounted in this novel, not only the historical necessities surrounding the War of Independence, but medical and religious issues and perceptions of the time, to keep the story as true as possible. The vignettes are not as plentiful, but larger storylines weave their way throughout the divided parts of the novel. Using three timelines (1739, 1778, and 1980), Gabaldon need juggle not only her characters, but storylines that see individuals at different points of maturity within the larger story arc (if that makes any sense). Gabaldon’s rich writing style and entrenched story makes picking up a novel part way into the ‘journey’ a wasted effort. When one peruses the length and size of these missives, this may be a blessing and a curse simultaneously.
Kudos, Madam Gabaldon, for you sensational story-writing abilities. I cannot believe we’re nearly done, with one short story to flesh out a side tale hinted at within this tome.