I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas holiday! I will be posting pics from my beautiful trip to East Tennessee very soon, but for now, here is my review of Echo (copied and pasted from Word, since I was forced to suffer the anguish of no internet or blog access during the height of my post-book delirium).
I just finished An Echo in the Bone and I’m here in the mountains without internet. *fists waving in the air* Oh, Diana Gabaldon! Diana, Diana, Diana. My mind has sufficiently been blown, yet again. I shall try verra hard to harness my bottled excitement and control my trembling fingertips enough to write a coherent review of my thoughts.
Remember my review of A Breath of Snow and Ashes in which I said that upon finishing any Outlander book, the only adjective that seems to come to mind is “amazing?” Well, expect a lot of that. And there will be spoilers, because I simply don’t see how I can talk about this book without them.
The book starts out as a slow read. Not slow as in there is no action or slow as in boring, but slow as in there is a lot of information being disseminated and lots of groundwork being laid. The first half of the book felt like I was reading a Lord John novel. Not only because several threads are told from Lord John’s perspective, but also because there is a lot of military talk and battle discussion that wasn’t prominent in the prior books. In the beginning, we are mainly getting to know William, who is headstrong and eager to fight, but who also has a softer side and quickly realizes that he has a lot to learn about the art of war. I was somewhat indifferent towards him in the beginning. I very much enjoyed his storyline, but wasn’t fully invested in him as a character. It didn’t take long, however, for it to dawn on me that William could very well be a looking glass into Jamie’s young adulthood. Since they are so similar in personality, temperament, and of course, physical appearance, is this what Jamie was like when he was coming of age and finding his footing as a natural leader? I like to think there is a lot of similitude there. I began to worry about his eagerness to fight and naiveté regarding who to trust in such tumultuous times; but, for all intents and purposes, he is Lord John Grey’s son, and he has Jamie Fraser’s genes, so he’s going to be a good man. How could he not? At that point I sort of stopping worrying about him and was ready to get to the meat of the story, a.k.a., Jamie and Claire.
There wasn’t nearly enough Jamie for me. The only solace I found was that what little bit we got, was really, really good. I think Diana G realized that she was depriving us in the Jamie department and thus resolved to give us quality over quantity. Is it just me, or was every single scene with Jamie nothing short of amazing? We got back to the introspective, sweet, heart-breakingly poetic Jamie of yore, and for that reason alone I can forgive Diana for giving us so little. After Saratoga when Claire has just rescued him from the battlefield, given him laudanum and is preparing to do surgery on his hand? That was perhaps one of my favorite scenes in the book because Jamie is so incredibly open and vulnerable. He is dazedly explaining his rationale for risking his life to save those of complete strangers and all walls are down and we see his complete trust in Claire to pick him up, fix him and see him through it. The scene was just overflowing with love and emotion and trust and sincerity and while I was grieving for him and the loss of his finger, I was drinking it all in.
Another favorite scene -a happy one this time- was when Jamie and Claire are stopped in Edinburgh en route to return Simon Fraser’s body for burial in Scotland. Finally we get to see Jamie and Claire relaxing and actually enjoying life without freezing, starving, or running for their lives. They have money and time to leisurely dine at expensive restaurants, shop for new clothes, and pick out spectacles. I envisioned them walking down the stone streets arm in arm, strutting confidently,( bespectacled) with the sun on their shoulders, enjoying the brief respite from worry or fear. It had been a long time coming and they totally deserved it.
One aspect of the book that took me by surprise was Ian. I felt like I was really seeing a different side of him than I’d ever seen. I finally saw the fierceness that had been mentioned so often before, but never really illustrated (to me) until this book. In addition to that, he opens up and we’re given so much more insight into the way his mind works and how he manages the balance between his Scottish roots and his newly acquired Mohawk beliefs. Poor Ian was truly raked through the coals in this one: his anguish over the accidental death of Mrs. Bug (and the subsequent terror of being pursued by Arch Bug), tying up loose ends and finding closure with regards to Emily and his lost child, his separation from Rollo (who had just been shot), the reunion with his parents after (how many?) years, the death of his father, and falling in love with a Quaker girl who found it hard to reconcile his warrior nature with her non-violent beliefs. I’ve always loved Ian, thinking of him mostly as an easy-going little brother, but he has now officially grown up in my eyes. I had so much respect for his unwillingness to be something he is not and for not faltering in his beliefs. He was clearly anxious and reticent about his return to Lallybroch, but confronted it head on, donning Mohawk finery and holding his head high as if to say “This is who I am now. I can’t go back and you must accept me for what I am, or not have me at all.” Such a dramatic change from the boy who sacrificed himself for Roger back in Drums of Autumn because he was groping for his calling in life and had no idea what he was supposed to be. Am I happy that Rachel Hunter accepted him in the end? I’m not sure yet…I admire her loyalty and her dedication, but I’m not completely convinced that she is an adequate partner, not yet at least.
Another aspect of the book that pretty much knocked my socks off was the marriage of Lord John and Claire. I already knew that they had sex under the pretense that Jamie was dead (as a result of listening to Diana G read an excerpt from book 8 during a Dragon Con panel ), and yet it still came as a huge surprise to me. It’s still scandalous to think about, but here’s the kicker: I liked Lord John and Claire together. Is that wrong? I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the scene with them lying in bed talking after their drunken rendezvous the night before. John’s openness and honesty was lovely and I felt like he had genuine respect and admiration for Claire. And his story about the white deer, oh my god, my heart melted when he stopped her in the doorway and told her to “…think of the deer. My dear.” In that moment, in my eyes, they were perfect for each other! (By the way, did anyone else catch the possible symbolism there? Claire is called the white woman/witch; John’s associating her with the mysterious white deer? Is it just me?) I have long wanted Lord John to find someone with whom he could have a meaningful relationship that consisted of more than just sex, and I felt like he found that with Claire, however untraditional and fleeting. It all happened rather quickly and I wasn’t sure if Ian, Fergus, Marsali, or anyone else really knew the extent of what was happening (if at all), but quite frankly, I loved every minute of their marriage. When Jamie finally did return to America and unexpectedly walked in on Lord John and Claire, casually dressing and getting ready for the day in John’s bedroom, he was clearly not of the proper mindset to grasp the significance of the scene. I believe that he would have immediately realized the casual intimacy between them, behaving like a settled old married couple, had he not been fleeing from the British army and seeking refuge. And once he does realize?? The intensity of this cliffhanger reinforces my prior fear of my inability to cope with the 2 year void until book 8 is released.
And speaking of cliffhangers, what about Jem?! And more importantly, Roger?!? At least we know that Jem is still in the tunnel (for now), but Roger has just travelled through the stones! If he is concentrating on Jem (in the theory that it will help direct him through time), where will he end up?! And what about Percy and Fergus?! My nerves are shot, people.
I love this book so incredibly much. It’s absolutely amazing. How fitting it is that I bought Outlander in an after-Christmas sale in 2009 and now I have finished the series almost exactly a year later? I shall forever think of 2010 as the year of Outlander :) Without any new books to turn to in the coming year, I suppose I will have to resort to some meaningless one night stands with sexy vampires and civil war soldiers to tide me over until my reunion with Jamie and the gang, but I most definitely see some re-reads in my future…