Friday, May 12, 2023

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander Book 2) by Diana Gabaldon

Publication Date: July 1, 1992

Length: 752 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

One of my goals for my blog is to eventually review all of Gabaldon's books. I know it's been done by so many blogs but they are my favorite series of books and having read them all years ago before I started my book blog, I am behind on the review part. I always have a re-read going of one of them and am currently on my third re-read of book 3, Voyager. I finished my third re-read of Dragonfly in Amber last year so I thought it was time to get going on the review. Since I'm only halfway through the book I originally planned to review this week, it's a perfect time to turn to this goal. And's hard to review this book without a few spoilers if you haven't read book've been warned!

Always reviewing with the assumption that one hasn't read the previous book, it's a good idea to explain where we are when this one begins. Time traveler Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser at the end of book one has committed herself to her new husband Jamie and their life together in 18th century Scotland. She is pregnant with their first child and looking forward to staying in the past with the man she loves. Having left behind her first husband Frank, through no fault of her own, she realizes she is making a difficult choice, but since she and Frank had barely gotten to know each other in the present day and due to wild circumstances beyond her control, she feels there is no contest when it comes to following her heart with Jamie. 

When book two begins it is a bit confusing because we expect to continue the saga we left behind. But it begins in the year 1968 in Inverness with a completely new character, Roger Wakefield, who is going through his late father's belongings and attempting to make sense of the many books and scraps of information he left behind. He is visited by Claire and her daughter Brianna who have come to pay their respects to his late father and while they are visiting, details come to light which begin to see Roger caught up in the past and Claire's personal, fantastic story. As we settle in to hear her tale, we are taken back to 1744, to Le Havre, France, where the first Outlander book left off. From there we do not return to 1968 until the very end of the book. But there is an amazing story in between those years.

Claire and Jamie have gone to France to try to stop the Jacobite rebellion and therefore change the outcome of the Battle of Culloden. They plan to infiltrate Bonnie Prince Charlie's circle of conspirators, acting as if they are on board for the battle to see his father, James Stuart, restored to the throne of England. Jamie and Claire want Charles to fail in gaining financial and military support because they know the current outcome is devastating and tragic for Scotland and all those dear to them. Staying at Jamie's Uncle Jared's opulent Parisian home, the Frasers attend high society gatherings and in Jamie's case, brothels, to seek out any information they can gather and gain the trust of Prince Charlie and his compatriots. Their optimism in their endeavor begins to fade slowly as each experience brings them closer to the seemingly inevitable outcome. They find themselves caught up in the historical inevitability of the facts they know are true while hoping that any small thing they do will change the course they are on.

The first time I read this book I sped through it. I wanted to make sense of what on earth was going on. Why did the story start in 1968? Who is Roger and why do I care? Why is Claire in the modern time and not with Jamie in the 1700's? It was a bewildering beginning and Gabaldon even wrote a preface to reassure the reader to keep will all make sense! Even when I had finished the book I was still confused with dates, timelines, back is an intricate, detailed story and if you are a true Outlander fan, a re-read is a must. By the third go around I'd finally understood everything and all the parts fit together. But even now there are things I have forgotten. At almost 800 pages it is impossible to memorize it all.

In order of enjoyment I rank this book second. Voyager, the third book is my absolute favorite, the first Outlander my third favorite. Dragonfly covers the slow build to Culloden in a thorough way, weaving in fictional characters we've grown to hate, like Black Jack Randall and adding historical ones like Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, the sneaky head of Clan Fraser and a relative of Jamie's. We meet Master Raymond, Claire's friend from the apothecary shop and Mother Hildegarde, her mentor at the Paris hospital where Claire spends her days helping the sick and injured. The major battles of the Jacobites, Prestonpans and Falkirk, are covered in realistic detail, as well as the march toward the biggest battle, Culloden. And we are joined by the Highlanders, who become near and dear to us as their story progresses. Every time I have read it, I notice little details I'd missed before and marvel at how attached I become to the place and time. 

Many people I've talked to or read reviews from about these books complain that they are too long. I get it. The first time I plowed through her books, especially this one, I thought, "this could be shortened by a lot and still tell the same story." I have totally changed my opinion. Later Outlander books I feel this is somewhat true, but after reading Dragonfly three times I've decided that every page has great significance if you are going to understand the rest of the series. So take your time, take notes, and don't rush it. You will be rewarded in the end and even more so if you continue with book three.


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