Reading Is Good For You

Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life

An Echo In The Bone, by Diana Gabaldon

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 In the wake of a devastating fire in the mountains of North Carolina, Highlander Jamie Fraser and his English wife find themselves homeless and without family, in the midst of the gathering storm of revolution. And thanks to his time-travelling wife’s information, he knows what the coming spring of 1778 will bring. But then Jamie’s illegitimate son, William, arrives in North Carolina, a young officer in King George’s army. Jamie has sworn two things to himself: his son will never know his true paternity – and he himself will never face his son down the barrel of a gun. Between the mountains of North Carolina and those of the Scottish highlands lie blockades and battlefields, storm and shipwreck, privateers and politics. The one thing that sustains the Frasers in their struggle is the hope that their family has reached safety in the future (summary courtesy of www.specusphere.com)

If you haven’t read either this book or the rest of the series, be forewarned that there will be some brief spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you . . .
Though An Echo In The Bone might not be my favorite installment in this series, there really is a lot to love about this book. I enjoyed the various mediums that were used to progress the storyline in addition to the prose, such as the letters Bree and company receive from Jamie and Claire. Both of their voices are so vividly crafted that I can easily imagine them with their quills in hand, faithfully recording their daily encounters for their beloved children and grandchildren.

I admit that I haven’t always liked Bree much in the past (I found her tongue a bit too sharp at times, without enough kindness to balance it out), but she did grow on me this time around. I love how she wrangled her way into a job position that her prospective employer felt unsuitable for a woman. She reminded me an awful lot of her smooth-talking father in that instance.

Many authors, unless they write for young people (and sometimes even if they do), struggle with making believable characters out of children, but that is not the case with Gabaldon. I loved seeing more of Jem and was highly amused by his encounters with a rat at school and speaking Gaidhlig to his teacher. I also adored Mandy (she’s a ‘feisty wee baggage,” as Jamie puts it).

We also get to see more of Young Ian, which I loved, since he has always been one of my favorite supporting characters. Through him and Jamie’s son, William, we get to meet the delightful Hunter siblings, Denny and Rachel. I thought the pair of them were a great addition to the ever-increasing cast of characters.

The latter, however, leads me to the downfalls of this book. It seemed there were so many storylines going on and so many new characters that I found it hard to keep track of them all (who was that Richardson guy again, and what does he have against half of the characters in the book?). I, like most readers, I am sure, am mostly concerned with Jamie and Claire and found myself skipping over great chunks of the book just to see how they were doing the first time around. I confess that I did not read at all about Lord John Gray or William my first run through of the book, though I did the second time and did find myself entertained by the pair of them.

There were also events in the novel that I thought way too much of a coincidence. I thought it highly unlikely that William would be wandering around injured in the middle of Nowheresville, Virginia being chased by random Indians and Ian would just happen to stumble upon him and save him. I was willing to forgive Gabaldon for that because I did enjoy their interaction there and throughout the novel. Suspension of belief at its finest, I suppose.

Other reviewers have also stated that their frustration over the plot of this book not playing out like that of a typical novel, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end, and resolution of conflicts. Like these readers, I was a bit peeved by the cliffhangers present in every storyline at the end of the book, but I found I could handle this if I thought of the book as section of pages that has fallen out of a diary. The characters have recorded their thoughts and actions over an action-packed time period and we’ll get to hear about what has happened to them next when we manage to find the rest of said diary (er, when Gabaldon gets around to publishing the next installment however many years down the road).

For these reasons, I couldn’t give An Echo In The Bone a full five stars, but I certainly did enjoy it despite these faults. If one doesn’t get bent out of shape over these things, I think they will find reading this book as rewarding an experience as I did.

Review cross-posted at my library thing page

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