I picked up this book in late August 2015. I just finished it last week. For those of you as bad at math as I am, that is NINE MONTHS. I coulda grown a whole baby in the time it took me to read this book. If I was a cat, maybe dozens of babies. A rabbit . . . at least a hundred. (If I was an elephant I would still be pregnant.)
According to Goodreads, it took me eighteen days to read Outlander, four days to read Dragonfly in Amber (Sidenote: Holy shit! how did I do that?), eleven days to read Voyager, seven days to read Drums of Autumn, and only nine days to read what felt like the interminably long The Fiery Cross. And really, I was on track to finish this one in a reasonable (for this series) amount of time. I read the first 54% in six days. And then I put it down and just . . . never picked it back up again. That was on September 2nd. I made a token effort on December 7th; read about six pages. Then put it back down again and didn’t pick it back up again until March 1st.
That’s not good! I shouldn’t have been able to do that. I should have been clamoring to see what happened next. I wasn’t. Nothing felt urgent at all. And I will admit, this book is SO much better than the previous one. Actual thematic relevance across storylines. Things moving forward (albeit glacially). And even though I have some problems with the repeated cycle of violence against these characters, at least here while I was reading, it was always interesting. (Not so in Fiery Cross.)
The problem is there’s just TOO MUCH OF IT.
In case you were wondering whether it is possible to in fact have too much of a good thing, this book is proof that you can.
1,439 pages. ONE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTY NINE PAGES.
I know that part of the appeal of these books is that they are long, and I like long books! The length of the series itself, and the length of each individual book, really allow you to spend time with these characters and sink yourself into their world. But this one (and the last one) just go too far. 1000-1100 pages would have been okay and doable. Easily 400 pages of this monster could have been cut. Sure we would have lost some cute scenes, but were they really necessary? Especially when the alternative is that your book is so bloated it loses track of its own plot.
And really, couldn’t we also have cut out entirely that plot with Claire getting kidnapped (and SPOILER raped)? Was that necessary? Especially since she’s put into peril at the end of the book as well. And yet again we have Brianna being rescued from Stephen Bonnet in an extended sequence that we’ve already seen before. At least this time he’s gone for good. (But again, I was so ready for him to be gone, I couldn’t even fully appreciate how good that scene was at the end between him and Brianna.)
It’s like that how you sometimes say you’re using belt and suspenders to indicate that you’re maybe doing something not necessary, just in case. Gabaldon is a belt and suspenders writer. She doesn’t just use one, she uses both, and then on top of that she also sows her pants to her shirt JUST IN CASE. And maybe also brings along an extra pair of pants in her purse.
At least most of the scenes in this one weren’t mind-numbing as well as repetitive and somewhat unnecessary. I’d rather read about Lizzie accidentally getting knocked up by the Beardsley twins and then marrying both of them, that tiny little bigamist, than read about ghost bears and the state of Jemmy’s diapers.
But really, I think the main problem here is that Gabaldon was trying to bridge the years in between Brianna finding her family and marrying Roger at the end of Drums of Autumn and the coming American Revolution, and it took her two books to do it when she should have done it in one. Nothing interesting happens politically in that time that couldn’t have been covered in one book. For two books it’s been THE REVOLUTION IS COMING THINGS ARE HAPPENING. But nothing *actually* happens until the end of this book.
All the books have had backbones except these two. Outlander had Jamie and Claire meeting, and Claire’s journey to decide to stay in the past. Dragonfly had them trying to stop the Rising and learning to be a married couple. Voyager was them finding their way back to each other after so long apart, and Brianna learning the truth and coming to terms with her family’s past. And Drums of Autumn had all those threads coming together, so that they’re finally all settled together on Fraser’s Ridge. Fiery Cross and A Breath of Snow and Ashes was basically, “Hey the Revolution is coming! No, really it is! We promise! Just bear with me a sec!” And meanwhile all the characters were mostly stuck in one place for two VERY long books. It was claustrophobic, and she would have done better skipping those years or fast forwarding through them, I think, rather than wading through them. Domestic bliss is nice for the characters, not so nice for readers. And neither is manufactured drama (which after a while, all that repetitive peril starts to feel like).
Anyway, I’ve heard the next two books are pretty good, and now the Revolution HAS started, and there are emotional conflicts involved for all the Frasers, now that Jamie’s son is on the other side, and the McKenzies are back in the future.
It might be a while before I actually dive in, though. I’m not a masochist.