All right. Five books into the Outlander series, I know what to expect. Jamie and Claire. Roger and Bree. Lots of ludicrousness, lots of rudimentary surgeries, and lots of “Wait, is anything actually happening? IS THIS ABOUT ANYTHING?” In The Fiery Cross, in particular, you get a wedding day that is, I don’t know, 300 pages?
Overall, I found this book to be more trying than its predecessors, but the charm and charisma of the lead characters — Jamie and Claire, I mean, since I still haven’t quite warmed up to Bree and even less to Roger — is still compelling. While the books have always oscillated between high-octane adventures and more low-key home life vignettes, the pacing and intent behind this volume seemed particularly off. There’s the ad infinitum wedding day that was so drawn out because of interludes banging on about Roger’s sexual frustration and angst over whether or not Bree’s baby is his, and the two separate militia campaigns that seemed included because of the misconception that whatever was going on at Fraser’s Ridge was not adventurous enough. There’s an entire section about everyone almost dying in a wildfire in the woods, but they’re fine. Also something about a ghost bear? And don’t get me started on anything to do with Bree’s breastfeeding or her dream journals, which I’m sure were meant to be sophisticated foreshadowing but were actually either very obvious or completely irrelevant. Bottom line is, Gabaldon’s “everything and the kitchen sink” tendency was dialed up to 11 here. I can’t tell if there was too much plot, or not enough, because as much as a lot of stuff happened, I’m still not sure that I could define what the overarching forward momentum was in this book.
Winter war is coming, I guess?
I think what made the first three books work so well was how they explicitly dealt with Claire’s time travel, the heavy emotional decisions she was required to make as a consequence of that time travel, and the question of whether or not they could change history. Additionally, with 20th century Claire as the entry point for the reader, there was a whole “fish out of water” situation that signaled with a wink how crazy it was for a modern woman to adapt to 18th century life, particularly in the Scottish Highlands, with its reputation for machismo and olde-tymey mysticism. Afterward, the fourth book has Claire and Jamie finally reunited — for good, it seems — and building their life together. Without the decisions and adjustments made that formed so much of the emotional stakes of the first three, it acted as a coda to Claire’s former life and, in a way, the first “leg” of the series. Now, though Gabaldon clearly loves her characters and does a truly wonderful job embodying them, I got a sense in this book that, she hasn’t yet figured out what the most compelling aspects of their new, “settled” lives are and how to keep moving them forward. Of course, historically, they’re about to be swept up in the American Revolution, so there’s no rest for the weary, but this book had an exaggerated reliance on tangents that suggests that it is kind of in the holding pattern until Gabaldon plots out the rest of the series.
The formerly voracious pace at which I was reading this series has dwindled, but I’m not done yet. I still am in love with Claire as a character, and I hope that she is given a little more to do in the next book other than hold Bree’s baby in between her surgeries.