As I’ve previously mentioned, I am totally late to the Outlander party. Despite picking up a copy of the blue brick (otherwise known as book 1) a few years ago at a small used bookstore, it wasn’t until last year that I decided to crack it open and HAVE MY ENTIRE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN. Joining me in my new-found obsession with redheads and the time-travelers, gay soldiers, and children who love them is my Book-Sister, Heather De La Garza, who writes the wonderful book blog True Stories and Make Believe. We’re doing a cross-post of this piece on both my blog and hers for maximum Outlander love.
Over the past few months Heather and I have been gushing about everything that happens in the Outlanderverse as we read each book in the series together. In between our anxiously awaited Skype virtual book club sessions (which really should just be called The Two Grown-Ass Ladies Swoon Over Jamie Fraser Club) we text OBSESSIVELY.
ME: OMG WTF just happened to Ian?
HDLG: IAN!!!!!!! NO!!!!!
ME: I canna handle it!
HDLG: I ken! Also, grrrrr Frank.
ME: :c( Not cool, bro, not cool.
HDLG: Just wait a few more chapters. Then the cray happens.
ME: SHIT JUST GOT REAL!!!! BONNET!!!!
You get the idea.
So joining me in this review is none other than JAMMF fangirl for life, Heather DLG.
HEATHER: Veronica (“Ronnie”) is absolutely right. From the moment I opened Outlander and read page one of this epic saga my life has been completely upended. Examples:
- there is my strong aching desire to travel to Scotland asap
- working with my mother to find knitting patterns for every piece of knitwear Claire sports on the television show
- starting an Outlander Style board on Pinterest
- falling irrationally in love with any thing bearing a tartan pattern.
Yah. ‘Tis bad. I’ll forever be in Ronnie’s debt for pushing me to begin reading this beautiful series. But enough dillydallying! ON TO THE FIERY CROSS!
VERONICA: We promise to keep this post real and emoticon free, but we can’t promise that we’ll refrain from indulging in mega-spoilers. Read on at your own risk!
VERONICA: As much as I loved Voyager and Drums of Autumn I had a deeply emotional reaction to The Fiery Cross. For me, this book was all about family–the ties that bind them together, the feelings that sustain them, and the events that shape them. From the minute Jamie starts the family call at The Gathering to his unbearably romantic closing lines in the final chapter, we gain a deeper understanding of the relationships that have created Clan Fraser.
I thought one of the most compelling relationships in The FC was the one between Jamie and Roger. If trying to kill your new son-in-law and then leaving him to the Mohawks is a rocky start, then yeah, Jamie and Roger have some issues. But it’s clear that there is something keeping these two men together beyond their love for Brianna. Despite resenting Jamie’s lairdly status and bearing, Roger can’t help but be drawn to him just like everyone else. He’s desperate for Jamie’s approval, albeit grudgingly at times, and those moments when he receives a kind word, an affectionate gesture, or–JACKPOT–Jamie’s proud acknowledgement are so powerful. When Jamie calls Roger “son of my house” it’s clear that he too knows there’s something more to his relationship with Roger than either one will admit. Does Roger fill some hole that Young Ian and Willie have left behind? Or does Jamie miss the deep loyalty and honest camaraderie he once had with Ian Sr. and Murtagh? Also, did anyone else find their plotting to kill Bonnet kind of sweet in a vengeance-y sort of way? I mean, yes, they were talking murder, but Jamie teaching Roger to fight was freakin’ adorable y’all.
Heather, what were your big thoughts about The FC? Were you as Roger-Jamie obsessed as I was? Or did something else standout to you?
HEATHER: First things first, I loved it, and full confession, I’ll probably love the remaining three novels we have yet to read. At this point, I care so deeply for Claire, Jamie, Bree, Roger and the supporting cast that I want to know everything about their lives from Jemmy’s first steps to Claire’s penicillin experiments. But with respect to my take on the novel overall, I agree with Ronnie that this book is all about da family (but I didn’t really put that together until we discussed it). I think that fits…Herself (aka Ms. Gabaldon) is bringing them all back together. For what purpose though, remains unseen (at least by me). I’ve also said repeatedly to Ronnie that The Fiery Cross felt like a “setting up the chessboard” novel more so than Drums. Herself seems to be steering her characters (and her readers) just where she needs them to be before the shit really hits the fan.
What I’m trying to say is nothing really happens in this novel. I mean yes STUFF HAPPENS (bad and good), but no event strongly alters the story in a major way (i.e. no main character separations, no time travel, no major deaths). Instead much of this novel closed old loops and story lines left open from the previous books. Unlike Ronnie, I didn’t have the same emotional reaction to it. I did, however, almost lose it when it became horrifically clear that Governor Moron was going to hang Roger, and that after all he’s survived since Culloden, the thing that almost kills Jamie is a damn snake bite while he’s hunting a buffalo (#foreheadtodesk). It was almost too much for my reading heart.
Ronnie, I agree; there is something between Roger and Jamie that is unspoken and unwritten by Herself–as if she’s hoping we can work it out on our own (Roger keeping Jamie alive feels epically important). But back to my original point: For me, this novel seemed focused on solidifying Jamie’s position as a leader of men in the North Carolina colony and the strengthening of Clan Fraser on Fraser’s Ridge. The novel’s namesake event, Jamie’s building of the fiery cross to muster his men, seemed to muster us readers to stand by Jamie and his family as we walk with them towards a very uncertain future (despite that ominous Wilmington newspaper clipping). But that’s my overall sense of the novel. Important stuff did happen, or as we like to say, “the cray happened,” so let’s get to that.
Ronnie, which cray events in this novel were your favorites, or maybe not favorites, but seem important for this novel specifically and/or for future novels to come?
VERONICA: My least favorite moment, but one that I thought was immensely important for the characters in this book, was Roger’s hanging. It was so brutal, and not just because of the awful physical ordeal. The hanging takes away this essential part of Roger: his connection to music and other people. I never thought of Roger’s being a historian as particularly meaningful, but the more I read the more it seems like Roger’s entire sojourn into the 18th century is crushing his soul. Here’s a man whose life has been spent trying to connect with the past, only to have the past repeatedly throwing him a giant middle finger. The fact that his ancestors are now in on the torture (William Buccleigh) is just another kick while he’s down.
Quick, let’s talk about something awesome before I get super bummed about Roger.
My fave cray moments included:
- Wylie trying to get all up in Claire’s business and getting majorly shut down (clearly, Claire’s still rockin’ it).
- Briana killing that buffalo solo like a badass.
- Jamie and Roger meeting up with those pig-selling Russians (and the daughter getting all gropey with Roger).
- Briana hopefully nailing Bonnet with a shot to the family jewels.
So speaking of Bonnet, I totally agree with you, Heather, about Gabaldon “setting up the chessboard” with this novel. We now know Brianna and Roger are committed to staying in the 18th century, Bonnet is likely alive and pissed, and Ian is BACK! I think that the Bonnet confrontation in particular is going to set us up for some serious trouble in the next book. It was so frustrating to me that this man that is nowhere to be seen for the vast majority of the novel is shaping the course of Bree, Roger, Jemmy, Claire and Jamie’s lives through vengeance.
Is it just me, or was this theme of absent or deceased characters impacting the lives of Clan Fraser a really strong one in The FC? Jamie thanks Claire for both his children, bringing up Faith, who is rarely spoken of, but always in Claire’s heart. Claire often says a prayer for young Ian, who is this dark cloud over Jamie and Roger’s relationship. Roger finally remembers his mother in her final hour and Jamie wonders what his life will be like now that he’s older than his father ever was. Jenny’s silence from across the Atlantic is this huge black cloud over Jamie, but strangely, Jamie’s made his peace with, and still speaks to Dougal. And let’s not forget about Frank…
Heathers, what do you think of all these people we never see still shaping lives in Clan Fraser? Also, I know you have some Frank-hate to get off your chest. Get to it, girl.
Yes, the theme of remembering deceased or absent characters is very strong here. In my notes for the book I wrote: “Remembering Dougal. No one is forgotten. Not really.” This is important for both the story and the readers, because it illustrates to me that Herself creates characters for a specific purpose, even if it’s not revealed until several novels later. Case in point: Father Raymond, the mysterious apothecary who seemed to know more than he let on way back in Dragonfly in Amber. Fast forward to The Fiery Cross and we learn about Otter Tooth’s lost journal noting that in 1968 a man named Raymond convinced four people to travel through the stones in an attempt to change history. BAM! WHAT!?! (I know we don’t know for sure it’s the same man but…we kind of do…right?)
On to Frank! Ughh…this man. He probably doesn’t deserve all this Heather-hate but he annoys me to no end. With the exception of caring for Brianna (and yes, that’s a big exception) Frank’s actions towards Claire always seemed more self-serving than selfless. He’s also a chauvinistic ass, but whatever. The fact that he showed up on the first page of the novel as a ghost-like figure just perturbed me. Claire, turn your head to gaze upon that gorgeous he-almost-died-for-you-multiple-times man sleeping next to you. Okay? Get your ass to a shaman and shoo this ghost from your house. Sheesh. But I refuse to let the man cloud over my Outlander-love.
Here are some additional cray moments that were notable:
- Claire being groped in the middle of the night and it wasn’t Jamie…..(Susto!)
- Stephen Bonnet standing right behind Wylie while Claire and Jamie are performing Betty’s autopsy. Dude. Herself loves to do that–drop them in with no advance warning. It’s one of the features that makes this story amazeballs. My eyes grew big and my jaw fell to the floor.
- Claire and Jamie almost getting struck by lightening and that weird white bear. Yeah I didn’t know what that was up with that either. It’ll make sense eventually. (Right?)
- Jenny’s letter. Really chic? Is it just me or does she seem to harbor some strong bitterness towards Claire? Why else would she tell Jamie that finding Laoghire with another man is what prompted her to forgive him? More MacKenzie than Fraser no? I know that information serves to get Jamie from under the debt he owes Laoghire and end that annoying connection once and for all, but it seemed unnecessarily cruel.
Any more thoughts Ronnie? What are you anticipating for “A Breath of Snow and Ashes?”
Veronica: All I’ll say is that I read a terrible spoiler on Gabaldon’s Facebook page that I now wish with all my heart I could un-know. It’s one of the perils of reading a series years after its been published. I am gearing up for some serious emotional tumult in Breath.
Heather: So I don’t know what the spoiler is (I’ve told Ronnie not to tell me folks), but I anticipate Breath will shock me multiple times along the lines of Voyager and push Clan Fraser ever closer to the dreaded uncertainty (or certainty) of war. I do hope we get more information about the Freemasons now that we know Jamie is one. Also, LORD JOHN GREY….dude, stop pining and contrive a reason to visit Fraser’s Ridge. Seeing your name on the page makes my life. On to Breath we go!
Random Observations & Questions:
- All I want is for Lizzie and young Ian to make beautiful Scottish babies together.
- What was the point of that Beardsley freakshow (other than to see Roger safely back home)? Heather: I dinna ken. It might have also served to end the mystery about future babies for Jamie and Claire…but that was a grotesquely round about way to get to it.
- WE WANT MOAR FERGUS! Heather: YES!! I know Roger has filled in as Jamie’s son, but Fergus is just awesome in so many ways. I miss that guy.
- Parents don’t really discuss their grown children’s marital sex lives the way Jamie and Claire talk about Roger and Bree, right? RIGHT? *stares hopefully* Heather: God, I hope not.
- Yes, 50 year-old Jamie, you are still hot, despite thinking you are an “auld man,” and the fact that you even question it makes every woman between the ages of 16 and 100 want to comfort you in an R-rated way.
- Okay, Christie. Um…WTF Roger? You couldn’t walk into Jamie’s room and ask about the man before signing land over in a legal document (this is the outraged lawyer part of my brain screaming)???? This has bad news bears written all over it…in the vein of hostile takeovers. Veronica: I am also not ok with how attractive his daughter is to Roger. Bad news x 100.
- I like that Bree’s an artist. It seemed a naturally inherited combination of gifts from her parents: natural ability like Jamie and his gift with languages and being good with her hands like Claire.
- The astrolabe from Willie!! And Roger zeroing in on the secret….
Veronica: MOAR WILLIE, TOO!
- Josiah and Keziah Beardsley!! I’m excited about these two and what’s in store for them in future novels.