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Sunday, October 4, 2009

'An Echo in the Bone' by Diana GABALDON

Book #7 in Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series starts where ‘A breath of snow and ashes’ left off. The big house on Fraser’s Ridge having burnt down, Jamie and Claire are preparing to set sail for Scotland to retrieve Jamie’s printing press from Edinburgh and present young Ian to his mother at Lallybroch. Jamie and Ian are also keeping a weary eye open for Arch Bug, who is still lurking around the Ridge with his wife, Murdina, in search of the Cameron gold…

‘Echo’ is told from several POV’s - Jamie and Claire’s, as has been the tradition since ‘Outlander’. Brianna and Roger have narrated since their appearance in ‘Voyager’, and in ‘Echo’ they tell their story from the year 1980 where they reside in Lallybroch. John Grey also lends his voice, offering a very different perspective from the British intelligence side of the war – more a battle of wits, connections and subterfuge than sword and musket.

New narration is lent by young Ian – whose story until ‘Echo’ has been shrouded in mystery, only briefly revealed in an exchange with Brianna from ‘A death of snow and ashes’ when he lamented his time with the Indian tribe and his ex-wife, Emily.

Also new to the stories narration is William, Lord Ellesmere. William is Jamie’s illegitimate son, whose mother was Geneva Dunsany. Jamie was a stable hand on William’s estate when William was just a boy, and the two encountered one another on Fraser’s Ridge when William was a lad years later. But otherwise, William has no recollection of Jamie and thinks John Grey is his only father.

These various narrations may seem confusing, but actually they lend a new layer to the story. Jamie has always been a leader – in his lifetime he has been laird to the Lallybroch residents, lead men in battle, remained strong for those men during imprisonment and exile and created a community on the Ridge. The various narrations of those people Jamie and Claire have gathered around them and made family, make for a humbling testimony to the rich lives they have lead (separately, and together). The narrations also lend credence to one of the themes echoed throughout the ‘Outlander’ books – that nothing is ever truly lost to time, history lives on – the very echo in the bone for Jamie and Claire lie in William and Brianna, and their grandchildren, Jem and Amanda and also in their foster child, Fergus, and his family.

Keeping with the theme of time and that nothing is every truly lost, there are many passages in which Jamie and Claire reminisce about old friends and enemies. Claire dwells on thoughts of the disturbed woman, Malva Christie. Jamie and Claire are warmed by memories of the Chinaman, Mr. Wilhouby, and pray he lives on. Jamie remembers characters from the Highlands – Rupert, Dougal and Callum. And many times throughout Jamie and Claire think back on their relationship – their first kiss and wedding day. All these recollections are a beautiful nod to the general theme of echo – while also acting as a very decisive severing. There is a sense that Gabaldon is tying up a few loose ends, gently closing one chapter in Jamie and Claire’s lives, in preparation for what is to come – namely, the war and revolution it begins. Readers will quickly deduce that ‘Echo’ is not the book in which Gabaldon deals with the crux of the American war, rather ‘Echo’ is the intermediary – the book before Gabaldon takes a great leap and starts dealing with truly major historical events.

Gabaldon’s masterful writing lends credence to this sense that something is just around the corner. The war, for certain, but this sense of foreshadowing and preparation for something big comes in the separate narrations as well.

William’s narration has a permeating sense of foreboding. Jamie reminds Claire early on that he promised himself and Lord John Grey that he would not meet his son at the end of a rifle on opposite sides of a war. But as we read William’s story, told from the perspective of a patriotic English soldier, there is a weightiness to his words and an impending sense of doom that when he and Jamie meet, it will end disastrously.

Roger and Brianna’s story (told from 1980) also has a terrible sense of dread surrounding the telling. Having bought Lallybroch and restored it to modern living; Roger and Brianna are trying to cope with life after time travel. But amidst the domestic duties, new jobs and Roger’s crisis of faith, Mandy and Jem are telling disturbing stories of seeing a mythical Nuckelavee man outside their windows and in the mountains surrounding Lallybroch.

‘Echo’ is a slow burn – the action doesn’t really pick up until Jamie, Claire and Ian arrive in Scotland (Part six – around page 620), but after that it’s a mad dash to the finish, guaranteed to keep any reader glued to their seat to read how it all winds up.

‘Echo’ is brilliant, and fans of the ‘Outlander’ series will not be disappointed (only frustrated by the ending, no doubt). It's not the best installment in the 'Outlander' series, but deeply satisfying nonetheless. Gabaldon beautifully intertwines fact and fiction when she writes about the events leading to war. And as always, Gabaldon excels in her clinical descriptions – Lizzie’s child-birthing scene is meticulous and compelling for its gory realism. But best of all, Gabaldon remains true to the love story at the centre of the series – and blesses fans with plenty of Jamie & Claire goodness.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Echo’, and devoured the 800+ book in two days. Alas, now comes the long wait for the next Outlander book. There is often a 5-4 year gap between books; on the one hand it guarantees a tale of the utmost quality from Ms. Gabaldon, but on the other it means a long-suffering wait for the next Jamie & Claire instalment. And ‘Echo’s’ cliff-hanger ending means the wait for book # 8 will be an excruciatingly long one indeed….

I can name only two books I feel profound gratitude for having read. The first is Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – the second is Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’. If you have yet to read this wonderful book, I cannot begin to implore you enough to go out and read it right now!

5/5


5 comments:

  1. Really nice review :) I have read the first four books in the series. There is really something special about the way Diana Gabaldon writes. I remember reading Outlander for the first time and just being awestruck.

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  2. Great review! I'm still waiting for my copy - I think it arrived at my office Friday while I was home with a sick kid. Hopefully it's there waiting for me Monday morning!

    Have you read any of the Lord John books? I'm trying to decide if I'm going to read one before starting this one...

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  3. I own all the Lord John books, but have only read one. There is a rather important character in 'Echo' who apparently appears in one of the Lord John books - it's not necessary to have read them in order to follow LJ's story-line in 'Echo', but I did jump onto the amazon chat board just to confirm who the character was.

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  4. I love Diana's characters and her writing and I get so wrapped up in her stories that it threatens the rest of my ability to function in life, but this ended so strangely that I'll be jarred and marred for days!
    I enjoyed reading this book and I'll buy her next one, but I recommend that no one read this one until the next one is available. Leaving us hanging here, for possibly years until the next one comes out, is too upsetting.

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    1. @ UK - "... jarred and marred for days!" YES! Beautifully put, that's exactly how I feel after delving into Gabaldon's world. A little bit bruised and battered, but better for having spent time with Jamie & Co. :)

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