Dragonfly in Amber — Diana Gabaldon; Bantam Books, July 1992

First, I have to ask: how the hell did Diana Gabaldon crank out these books so quickly? Outlander was well over 600 pages, Dragonfly in Amber is roughly 740, and Voyager, the third installment, is 870 pages. This woman has a gift.1 Meanwhile, I can’t even finish NaNoWriMo.

Second, let’s address my questions from the previous post:

Geillis DuncanOr should I say Gillian Edgars?! I was hoping to see more of her, really, not knowing how the frame narrative would work. But it is a pretty traditional frame narrative, sort of like the “I bumped my head/my house got hit by a tornado and I went to a magical land and then I woke up, and you were there, and you, and you…”2 Except it’s all PAINFULLY, AWFULLY REAL. I knew she was ruthless, but I did not expect 100% organic free-range locally grown sociopathy. It must be awful to roll up to a celebration of Beltane and find out that your host has barbecued her husband for shits and giggles and time travel. Still, even though our wee Highland detective crew (Claire, Roger, and Bree, that is) were unable to catch her, I feel that this is not the end of Mistress Duncan/Mrs. Edgars. Also, I am still wildly perplexed by time travel, since Roger brings up a good point: if they had been able to stop Gillian from entering the cracked stone at Craigh na Dun, would he just have evaporated into nothingness? And on a related note, Frank Randall is not a descendant of Jonathan Randall but rather his brother Alexander. Which means Jamie could have killed his stupid psychotic ass early on and saved us all the trouble. Except then Claire would never have received the military intelligence that kept them all alive as long as it did, so… #timetravelproblems

Captain Randall, bane of my existence: Obviously Randall was not really dead. I have some questions about this creepy piece of human garbage. First, what the hell is up with him and Jamie? Their encounter at the Duke of Sandringham’s lodgings in Paris was described very strangely:

“Jamie,” he said. The voice was hoarse with shock, and held a note halfway between disbelief and pleading.
Jamie stopped then, and turned to look at him. Randall’s face was a ghastly white, with a small red patch livid on on each cheekbone. He had taken off his wig, clenched in his hands, and sweat pasted the fine dark hair to his temples.

Like, is he really in love with Jamie or something? This seems at odds with DG’s description of the character as an equal opportunity sadist. Also, is there an incest thing going on? Jamie describes Randall talking about Alex in what I thought was a less than platonic/filial manner during his time in Wentworth. But then, maybe it was the Alex MacDonald he assaulted prior to his attack on Jamie? I don’t know. I have such conflicting feelings about the Captain. I felt really sorry when his brother was dying, but on the other hand he fucking raped itty bitty Fergus!3 No wonder Jamie tried to kill him on sight. I still think there’s more to his betrayal of the Crown than his altruistic desire to save his brother, too.

YA GIRL JENNY: YASSSSSSS MORE JENNY. She’s so smart and funny and sassy and knows exactly how to put Jamie in his place when he starts getting a liiiiittle too caught up in his masculinity. Plus, I’m glad Claire has a friend in this world besides Jamie. Having girlfriends is important! Let us hope we continue to see her in the books to follow.

In Which Claire Attempts to Foil the Jacobites: As if Claire was able to speak to anybody in the court of Prince Charles—which wasn’t so much a court as people hanging out in fancy mansions drinking way too much port and arguing about money.4 I did love her and Jamie’s wily attempts to divert money from the Jacobite cause, though. Charles was a little shit; it’s a pity they weren’t able to, er, dispose of him before Culloden. (Thanks a lot, Dougal.)

The Pregnancy: Decoy pregnancy!!! When she lost it I was like “WAIT NO” but then I realized the timing wasn’t right, because she would have had the baby before going back to 1948, and we know that Brianna was born after her return. I felt sad for her, though. And what the hell did Master Raymond do to keep her from dying? I know this is a book about time travel, but magic, too? That was a bit much for me.

Was Claire sassy enough for my tastes? The answer to that is “always.” Oh god, the Duke of Sandringham. I can just see Claire in my mind’s eyes, trying to flay the skin from his bones with the power of her laser eyebeams of hatred.

That’s out of the way, so let’s talk about the frame narrative, since I didn’t actually expect it—I thought the book would just pick up where we left off in Outlander, but it makes sense that Gabaldon went with this structure. If we were thrown back into 1948 and then into 1968 at the very end of the story, that would be jarring and ultimately confusing. This way, it’s a bit similar to the set-up from the first book (Inverness 1948 in Part One, to Inverness 1743 from Part Two onward). I just want to shake her hand because the pacing in this series is so good. There’s a lot happening at any given time, but rarely do I find myself bored; probably because Claire is such a smart, compelling character. We do get a new POV character in Dragonfly in Amber in5 the form of Roger Wakefield, who was a little boy the last time we saw him in Outlander. Roger is important in that he’s the one who makes Brianna believe her mother’s story6, and this narrative device also sets up the sort of detective story angle which will probably drive the plot in Voyager: Did Jamie survive Culloden Moor, and if so, how do we find out?

Oh, Jamie. Cultured French-speaking merchant Jamie7 vs. rough-and-tumble Highlander Jamie? I can’t pick which one I love better. He really comes into his own in this book as the laird of Broch Tuarach, and I was really amazed and touched by the fact that he told Ian what transpired in Wentworth Prison.8 I think that’s what I like most about Jamie, that he’s so open with his feelings and thoughts. It’s probably just wishful thinking on Gabaldon’s part, since living in a patriarchal society often makes it more difficult for men to express themselves, but I admire it all the same. Yet in spite of his powerful emotions, Jamie somehow manages to keep himself from killing Jack Randall right in the middle of Sandringham’s sitting room.

Honestly, I felt that Claire was being really unfair in forbidding Jamie to kill Randall until after he’d fathered Frank’s ancestor. Like, girl, you made your choice! I totally agree that it’s a shitty Sophie’s Choice kind of choice, but you don’t forswear your husband for another man and then tell that man he can’t duel his rapist because then your former husband won’t be born! And then go on to blame him for your miscarriage, when it was already a tenuous pregnancy and you probably should have stayed in bed in the first place. Get yourself together, Beauchamp!9 That said, I did tear up a bit at their reunion and the description of their collective grief. When Claire says she can hardly bear to look at him because she knows it’s going to take away her numbness to the pain… man, I just thought that was a beautifully written scene.

And the ending. Jesus. I was trapped in Philadelphia airport yesterday for seven hours10, so I finished the last couple hundred pages of the book while my flight was delayed. Imagine the tears pouring down my face while my lip trembles as I attempt not to lose my shit while surrounded by a hundred other passengers at the gate. It was so embarrassing. But I couldn’t help it. Goodbye scenes are my kryptonite, and that one was so bittersweet and heartrending. And then Claire named the baby after Jamie’s father, which caused me to weep more. And then Brianna was thinking about him while she was doing her research, and I started shaking and crying again! It was a tough day, but man, I love when a book moves me like that.

There are still soooooo many questions I have for the next book, which we will address in the next review:

  • Did Murtagh manage to survive Culloden? Because if he didn’t, I’m gonna cry. I love that little old grumpface. When he took the severed head of Sandringham out of his saddlebag, I laughed my ass off.11 Classic Murtagh. I just adore his laconic manner, and how all of the servants in Paris are utterly terrified of him.
  • Did Fergus make it back to Lallybroch? MY SWEET FERGUS. I would have adopted the poor thing, too. I love his devotion to Jamie. When they were both really ill and Claire came home to find him snuggled up in bed next to Jamie, my icy heart grew three sizes. SO CUTE. Please don’t be dead.
  • My sweet, precious angel Mary Hawkins! I don’t have any hope that we’ll see her again, but I would love it if she showed up in future books. She really couldn’t catch a break in this one, but at least Murtagh avenged her honor. Fucking life-ruiner, that Sandringham. I just felt so awful that prevailing social attitudes turned her into a pariah, when she was an innocent victim of a horrible assault. I’m glad she had Claire to turn to, and Alex, for a short time.
  • Is this the last of Gillian Edgars/Geillis Duncan?
  • Is Randall dead for real this time, and will we find out anything else about his motives?
  • Brianna knows about and believes the tale of her parentage. This is great. But how are they going to ensure Jamie’s survival? Is Bree going to go back in time at any point? Will Roger go with her? Will Roger ever be able to control his thirst for her?
  • Is Claire going to go back in time again? She’s 50 years old now. Would she run into her younger self or Jamie at any point?
  • Will Jamie ever end up being brought into the present day, or into the 1940s? There’s that one scene from the beginning of Outlander, where Frank sees a “ghost” of a Highlander staring up at Claire’s window. It has to be Jamie, right?
  1. Maybe we should send her to George R.R. Martin to light a fire under his ass. How long have we been waiting for The Winds of Winter???
  2. The “it was just a dream” frame narrative is my least favorite literary device outside of biblical allegory.
  3. Fergus is my secret fave. I love that sassy li’l French street urchin and his complete and utter devotion to Jamie. SO CUTE.
  4. Well, I guess that is probably what Court was like back then.
  5. I cannot find a way to structure this sentence that doesn’t overuse the word “in.” I’m so sorry.
  6. Man, that was a rough conversation. I probably would have blown a gasket if my mother said, “Yeah, I hated you a little when you were born because you reminded me of your father, whom I’ll never see again,” too.
  7. Here’s a scan of his new French court clothes from this week’s Entertainment Weekly. Claire’s dress is so gorgeous! I can’t wait for season two.
  8. Side note: I friggin’ love Ian. Every dude should have a bro as loyal and compassionate as Ian Murray.
  9. The fact that the English pronounce this name as “Beech-um” will never not be weird to me.
  10. Every time my flight is routed through PHL, something awful happens. My flight was delayed three hours because of a mechanical problem, and for some reason no one thought to find us another plane until two hours had gone by.
  11. I don’t think this was the intended response.

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