Friday 6 January 2023

Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon

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Please note, this review contains some spoilers. The book is the second in a series so will also contain some spoilers for the first book.

Outlander ended with Jamie and Claire about to embark on a new life in Paris. It is a surprise, therefore, to find Claire at the beginning of the following book in Inverness in 1968. She is there with her grown-up daughter Brianna, Frank is dead, and she is struggling with the emotions of being back in a land that holds so many memories for her. We are not told what has happened in the intervening years, just that Claire believes Jamie to have died at Culloden and that Brianna knows nothing of him. When Brianna and Roger take Claire to the grave of Jack Randall, thinking it will be a nice surprise to see the final resting place of one of Frank’s more famous ancestors, her control unravels and the truth comes out.

We then jump back to 1744 and Claire and Jamie’s attempts to stop the uprising and save so many lives. Jamie becomes a trusted confidante of Charles Stuart and he struggles with the deception required, going against a cause he himself believes in and betraying those who trust him. Their cause may be noble but it is dangerous. Their guilt is not helped by the fact they don’t know if it’s even possible for them to change the course of events, and there are times when their actions seem as though they might make defeat more likely.

The other aspect of the future they’re concerned with is Frank’s existence. Claire still feels desperately that they can’t do anything that will risk his line of descent. Jamie struggles with her obvious care for another man, especially as it means denying himself revenge on his torturer. There are questions over what responsibility there is to protect an innocent man at the cost of allowing a villain to go unpunished. Later in the book Jamie admits that it wasn’t a sense of obligation which encouraged him to follow Claire’s request, but a desire for her to have someone who loves her to return to should the need arise. This offers a sense of their relationship and the deep love they have which surpasses their own individual needs.

Their relationship isn’t perfect however. There are moments of jealousy - they both receive unwanted attention at the Palace which makes the other uncomfortable, and have both been forced into sexual relations with others for different ends. They fight and they make up, both headstrong and fiery. The different times they were born in naturally throws up some differences in outlook but perhaps not as much as you might expect.

The toughest challenge, however, comes with the loss of their baby. Claire miscarries while Jamie is engaged in a dual with Jack Randall, causing a double blow to their relationship. She blames him for the loss, but she also blames herself. They have a period of separation during the aftermath but when they finally find themselves face to face Claire realises that part of the reason she doesn’t want to be near him is because it will force her to feel all the difficult emotions she has tried to hide from. Their shared grief is realistically written and painful to read. We know from the opening chapters that there is another child but that they won’t raise it together, making this loss all the more painful. 

The breadth of this book is quite remarkable. The structure, although disorienting to begin with, leaves you with many questions you’re eager for answers to. The final revelation will leave you desperate for more, even as someone who has watched the TV series and knows what’s coming next. Brianna naturally struggles to believe Claire’s story and there is much about their life with Frank which is left unsaid. New characters have been introduced, old ones reappear, while others bow out permanently. Gabaldon writes interesting characters designed to tug at your heartstrings. There are clear lines between the heroes and the villains with only the occasional concession to a softer side to otherwise despicable characters. I look forward to getting to know many of them better over the series. There is so much to get stuck into in this novel that it’s difficult to write a concise review, but needless to say it is an emotional read, and one which provides much anticipation for the next book.

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