Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander 2)

Be warned, this review will contain spoilers for Outlander (book 1) and for Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander book 2). With that in mind…

Dragonfly in Amber, book two of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon annoyed me in a number of ways. I picked it up wanting to head straight back into the story of Jamie and Claire who I’d left in 18th century France at the end of Outlander, only to be confronted (and frustrated) with a frame narrative which led me back to the Scottish Highlands of 1968. The frame narrative picks up a minor character from the first novel, Roger Wakefield, who has grown from a shy orphaned child to an Oxford scholar specializing in the Jacobite period who Claire and her (tall, red-haired) daughter task with tracing the destinies of the men of Lallybroch after the Battle of Culloden. As part of the project, they find Jamie’s gravestone near that of Jack Randall in a church yard far from Culloden, which leads Claire to breakdown and tell them the story of her time with Jamie following on from the events of Outlander. And about time too.

I may be getting censorious in my third decade, but if I were to give the Outlander novels descriptions in the style of Friends episodes then I’d have to go with something like The One Where Claire Makes a Concerted Effort to Give Her Unborn Child Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and Jamie Demonstrates That He is an Unsuitable Father. Coming so soon after my own pregnancy problems earlier in the year the description of Claire’s pregnancy made me really, really dislike Claire and Jamie. Apparently FAS wasn’t discovered until 1973, so coming from the sixties Claire probably wouldn’t have been aware that the copious amounts of alcohol she consumes in the novel would have harmed her baby, but she does knock back so much wine, brandy and brandywine that she feels drunk on several occasions. That coupled with her and Jamie’s insistence on rushing into peril at every available opportunity left me unsurprised if saddened when their daughter Faith is stillborn at five months gestation.

In fact, for me, the whole France section of the novel felt like an unnecessary farce to link the end of the first Outlander section of the novel to Claire and Jamie’s return to Scotland and the build up to the Battle of Culloden in the second. Claire and Jamie behave in ways which feel entirely at odds with their characters from the first novel, with Jamie especially transforming from the cultured, intelligent Scotsman to something which reminded me of one of my friends’ ex-boyfriends… nice guy, but rash and slightly apelike. Which is how he ends up in the Bastille…

Still, by the time Claire has sprung him from prison for the second time (the less we say about King Louis XV and the rose oil the better) and they are back in Scotland, the novel got back on track and I found myself once again engaged with the story, though I have to say I find the degree of sexual violence in the novels, especially that implied in Jamie and Claire’s relationship, unnecessary and a little uncomfortable.

The Scottish Rising section of the novel is especially interesting to me, because it brings up the question of the influence a time-traveller can exert on a period they visit, especially in the context of a sensitive and emotive period of history. For me it begged the question of whether Claire and Geillis Duncan had created something of a causal loop. Geillis in Outlander 1 claimed to have raised £10,000 toward the Stuart cause, and Charles Stuart has some initial success in waging war in Scotland. Would the Scots still have been defeated at Culloden in Jamie and Claire hadn’t worked so tirelessly to prevent him achieving his aims?

At the end of the novel, I found that I’d switched from hating the frame narrative to appreciating it when Roger (who throws up a nice little time-travel conundrum in being a descendant of Geillis Duncan… was she her own Grandpa, in a manner of speaking?) discovers that Jamie didn’t die at Culloden as planned but was one of the few Scots to survive…

So yes, obviously I hopped straight on my computer and reserved the third book in the series from the library.

What do you think?