Dragonfly in Amber

Dragonfly in Amber is the second book in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series and when you pick it up, you need to accept a few things. I'll spell them out for you now so at least you're prepared. One: unlike Outlander, this title is so ridiculous that if you're willing to be seen with this book, then you know you're hooked. Two: despite its beginnings, this book once again features Claire and Jamie in their race to somehow change the outcome of Scottish history (and more particularly, to save the Scottish clans from the massacre of Culloden), but it's definitely more focused on the history than the first book. To combine these two points, I might note with amusement that Outlander seems even more like a romance novel than its sequel, but the sequel is the one with the romance novel title. You could be seen in public reading the first book (if you can control your blushing), but the title of the second will make it look like you're reading a romance novel and yet you don't get as many of the benefits (see previous note about blushing). Three: unless you're prepared to take on the rest of the series, you should not start this book. Pretend that the first simply ended happily and leave it there. I say this for your own good, because the second ends with a cliffhanger and as soon as you finish this one, there is no feasible way that you can resist the pull of the third... and once you've read the third, are you really going to stop there? Oh, and two more things before I start the review. Since I find the title so painful, I'm just going to refer to this book as DiA... and since this is the sequel to Outlander, I warn you now that I give away the ending of Outlander so I can better explain DiA.

We open in Inverness, 1968. Already you're thinking "Um, what?" At the end of Outlander, Claire had chosen to stay with Jamie rather than return to Frank, and they were in France after fleeing Scotland with only their lives. It was 1744. Yes, that's all true, but it shouldn't take you very long to realize that something went wrong and for some reason, Claire did go back to her time after all. Since she's introduced as Claire Randall, you can also assume that she went back to Frank... but her ridiculously tall, redheaded daughter is clearly the product of a certain young Scot named Jamie Fraser.

Roger Wakefield was just a boy when we caught a glimpse of him at the beginning of Outlander, an orphan taken in by his uncle who now crops up again with a larger role. (If you're the kind of person to think back about things from the beginning of Outlander that might now come into play, perhaps you'll also remember Frank's encounter with what appears to have been the ghost of a highlander looking up at Claire's room with longing...) Roger is now a young man in the painful process of grieving for his uncle and cleaning out the Reverend's house which is chock-full of books and papers. He opens the door one morning to find Claire Randall and her daughter, Brianna, on his porch. They're in Scotland on holiday and Claire has a request to make of the nephew of Reverend Wakefield, seeing as the Reverend shared her deceased husband's enthusiasm for Scottish history. All too quickly, when Roger agrees to help Claire with some research work (tracing the fates of certain Highlanders who probably fought at Culloden), he realizes that something is amiss. Claire is acting a bit cagey and Brianna looks nothing like the pictures of her supposed father, Frank Randall. Of course, Roger is quickly smitten with the beautiful daughter, Bree, so he spends a great deal of time thinking about her, but that doesn't stop him from snooping around to figure out what Claire is hiding. When he stumbles upon some newspaper clippings from May of 1948, he learns that Claire Randall reappeared after three years of being missing and presumed dead... she was exhausted, apparently unhinged, and pregnant. Of course, whatever explanation Roger comes up with pales in comparison to the truth, which comes out in a rush as the three of them visit the kirkyard of St. Kilda... where a gravestone shows a name that means a great deal to Claire. James Fraser.

Presumably, Claire tells Roger and Brianna about all the events in Outlander before embarking on the second half of the story, which is DiA. Having escaped to France, Jamie and Claire have the opportunity to stay and run Jamie's cousin Jared's importing industry while he travels on business. This allows them the cover and the contacts they need as they attempt to thwart the plans of a Jacobite Rebellion. It's a very different scene in Paris than it was in Scotland, with dinner parties and trade intrigue, but Claire and Jamie remain the same in personality, even if their daily tasks are quite different. Of course, Claire is pregnant now and Jamie's trying to handle her with kid gloves, so the sex isn't quite as steamy in this book as it was in the previous one. Jamie befriends Charles Stuart, the Young Pretender they hope he will never be, and for a time, he seems more interested in his mistress than rebellion. There are a number of near-death and near-rape experiences (so maybe it isn't so different from Scotland after all?) and yet a further entanglement with Frank Randall's ancestors when Claire meets Mary Hawkins (whose name she saw on Frank's family tree as having married Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall) and Alexander Randall (brother of the same). Of course, Jamie and Claire believe that Black Jack Randall is dead, having been stampeded by cows at the end of Outlander. (Stampeded by cows might seem odd, yes, but it was all part of a plan to rescue Jamie from prison, where Randall was torturing and having his way with Jamie.) After what Randall did to Jamie, one can hardly mourn the loss, but Claire is tormented with questions about what this means to her first husband, Frank, and his possibilities of being born if his direct ancestor is killed before having the opportunity to perpetuate the family lineage. I think you can tell, though, that with epics like this, you can never really call someone dead until you've seen the body... and, well, what with time travel and all, I'm sure that we'll even have some issues there eventually.

Lest you fear that we've lost the Highland magic in this book, I'll let you know that we don't spend the whole book in France. With Scotland's history in the balance, there's no way that we could sit that out with only the Frenchies for company. The time in France, however, is well-spent in picking up a few side characters, including an apothecary who looks like a frog (though he might dabble in darker things than simple herbs), a boy named Fergus (well, his name is Claudel but Jamie hardly sees this a fit name for a man) who Jamie employs as a thief to steal letters, and the king of France himself. We also build upon the passionate relationship between Claire and Jamie, which is put to the test in this novel as they make promises to each other which are difficult to keep, given the complicated nature of trying to change the future, but not change everything.

Whether Jamie and Claire can stop the massacre of Culloden and what exactly it is that brought Claire back to the modern age... well, that's the bulk of DiA. The cliffhanger ending should be fairly obvious to those with any foresight, but with several books to go, I'm willing to trust in Gabaldon and let her take us wherever she wants to go. It's certainly been an entertaining ride thus far!

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