My Outlander series re-read continued with the second book in the series, Dragonfly in Amber. It took me nearly three full weeks to finish this, because I set it aside twice in order to read a couple of review copies. (The review for one of those books can be found here.) The events in Dragonfly were never far from my mind, however, and I was able to get back into the story easily, despite the interruption.
At the end of my review for Outlander, I mentioned how delighted I was—when I first read the book years ago—to realize the book was the beginning of a series. That, since Dragonfly in Amber was already long-published by then, all I had to was go back to the book store, buy a copy, and immediately start reading it. Sounds simple, right?
The only book store in town was a used book store, and it wasn’t a certainty they’d even have a copy of the book I so desperately wanted to read. In my excitement, I never paused for a moment to consider that a copy of the book wasn’t guaranteed to be there. I wish I had, because it might have spared me the crushing disappointment I felt when, indeed, the book was nowhere to be found. Of course, I could have gone to the library… but I wanted my own copy of the book, and knew I was unlikely to get one if I’d already borrowed it from the library. Since I didn’t order books online in those days due to a frugal book budget, there was no choice but to wait until the used book store had a copy.
I went in regularly, but after four months I was ready to admit defeat. I wasn’t the only customer trying to find this book. The owner informed me that a copy would barely hit the shelf (if, indeed, it got that far) before it was purchased by someone—so the odds of just walking in and seeing an available copy definitely weren’t in my favor. So I settled for having a future copy put on hold for me, and waited for her to call with the good news. The call came two months later. I rushed over right away, and came home with my very own copy of Dragonfly in Amber… at last.
And that’s the story of how long I had to wait before I was finally able to read Dragonfly in Amber—although, once I knew a four or five year wait between books isn’t unusual, waiting a mere six months really isn’t a big deal at all!
And now… on to my review.
The beginning of Dragonfly in Amber will likely be confusing to first-time readers, as it isn’t told from the perspective of Claire (or even Jamie, for that matter) but Roger Wakefield. I remember very clearly, during my first read of the book, wondering, ‘who hell is Roger Wakefield?!’ Luckily, that answer came by the third paragraph, though I continued to feel completely disoriented (the first time around) throughout the first five chapters of the books, which comprise Part One, “Through A Looking Glass, Darkly”—which takes place in Inverness in 1968. When Outlander ended, the year was 1744. So why was this book starting in the year 1968? And wait… Claire has a tall, red-headed, 20-year-old daughter named Brianna? Well, obviously Jamie is her father, but… it’s 1968. Why aren’t Claire and Brianna in the eighteenth century with Jamie?! So the reader knows immediately that Claire went back to her own time through the stones. The question is… why?
That question lingers in the mind of the first-time reader for a long time—throughout the bulk of the book, in fact.
Instead, the reader is taken to 1744 France, where the second installment of Jamie and Claire’s story, together, begins. Their mission: to do everything in their power to derail the plans of Charles Stuart to restore the throne to the House of Stuart, thus preventing the Jacobite Rising of 1745. If they are successful, lives will be saved. If they are not, the doomed restoration attempt would proceed, ending with the Battle of Culloden and the subsequent devastation of the clans and their way of life.
Given that the book was published 28 years ago, and the television series is about to air its fifth season, I think it’s hardly a spoiler at this point to say that Jamie and Claire’s mission to change history failed. In fact, I don’t think any of the major events in this story are unknown by now, so I’m not going to worry about including spoilers in this review. The remainder of their story takes place in Scotland.
(Besides which, anyone who loves to watch or read time travel stories knows that major historical events can never be changed, unless those events are altered for the sake of the story. A perfect example of this is shown in the second episode of the fifth season of Quantum Leap. In “Lee Harvey Oswald, Part II” Dr. Sam Beckett (the main scientist behind the Quantum Leap Project) has been ‘leaping’ into various points of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life, in episodes one and two of the season. Near the end of the second episode, Sam ‘leaps’ into Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, who climbed onto the back of the limousine after President Kennedy was shot. In the final scene, Sam is devastated that he was unable to save JFK and accomplish his mission. But Al (the Quantum Leap Project observer who appears (only) to Sam in the form of a hologram) tells him that maybe he did. “Your swiss-cheesed mind probably doesn’t remember this,” Al says, “but the first time, Oswald killed Jackie too.”)
By the time readers near the end of Jamie and Claire’s portion of the story, the Battle of Culloden is about to take place—and they know why Claire returned to her own time.
“Claire,” he said quietly. “Tomorrow I will die. This child…is all that will be left of me–ever. I ask ye, Claire–I beg you–see it safe.” ―
The final three chapters are set in 1968 Inverness, and Claire is (still) trying to convince Brianna that everything she told her about time traveling to the eighteenth century, and everything that happened to her before and after she married to a Scottish Highlander named James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser—Brianna’s real father—was the truth. Claire has a shocking truth to share with Roger, as well, and any doubts he and Brianna have about anything Claire told them disappears the night they visit Craigh na Dun. The same night, Claire receives her own piece of shocking news—about Jamie.
The bulk of this novels spans about two years of time, but don’t let that lull you into thinking it’s light in historical facts and details. There are ample amounts of both throughout the book, which is sure to delight readers (like me) who enjoy the factual parts of the story as much as the fictional portions. There is no such thing as historical fiction lite when it comes to the Outlander series—and thank goodness for that, or I wouldn’t love it as much as I do.
Re-reading this novel was like paying a visit to an old friend, and I enjoying rediscovering the little things I’d forgotten about since I last spent some time with it. I’m looking forward to rediscovering all the little things I’ve forgotten about in Voyager (the third book in the series)!
Books in the series:
About the Book
From the author of Outlander… a magnificent epic that once again sweeps us back in time to the drama and passion of 18th-century Scotland…
For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones …about a love that transcends the boundaries of time …and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his ….
Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart …in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising …and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves…
About the Author
DIANA GABALDON is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the wildly popular Outlander novels—Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes (for which she won a Quill Award and the Corine International Book Prize), An Echo in the Bone, and Written in My Own Heart’s Blood—as well as a collection of Outlander fiction, Seven Stones to Stand or Fall; the related Lord John Grey books Lord John and the Private Matter, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, Lord John and the Hand of Devils, and The Scottish Prisoner; two works of nonfiction, The Outlandish Companion, Volumes 1 and 2; the Outlander graphic novel, The Exile; and The Official Outlander Coloring Book. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband.