Review: Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

On Saturday I finished the second book in the Outlander Series, Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon which is of course part of the Outlander Series Reading Challenge hosted by moi.

As I mention earlier, with Book I, I could hardly put it down from the moment I picked it up and not much has changed between Book I and Book II.

Book II picks up where Book I ended naturally, and follows the life of husband and wife, Claire and Jamie. For those of you who haven’t read the series, I will try to not ruin it for you but I make no promises so be warned this post might contain some spoilers so read at your own risk….my advise, just start reading Book I now you won’t regret it!

So with that warning/recommendation in mind, I will continue with my post.

At the end of Book I Claire reveals she is pregnant while her and Jamie hide in France. They decide they must try and prevent the second Jacobite Rising of 1745 and ultimately the Battle of Culloden because Claire knows the ‘future’ and fears for Jamie’s life and those of this family/friends. While in France they hob-knob with various royal groups playing both sides of the coin. They know it’s a dangerous game they play and know that if they are discovered they will be arrested and tried as traitors. So they gamble they take is huge and not without consequence.

It is also revealed that Jack Randall–Jamie’s most hated adversary–was NOT killed during Jamie’s prison break in Book I as originally reported. I was kind of expecting this as I felt like Randall should have died at Jamie’s hands not randomly trampled by a stampede of cows so this was a welcome and fitting twist for me. Without giving too much away, Jamie and Randall duel and though Jamie does not kill Randall, he DOES chop off his manhood in an effort to kill him but because Claire rushes to stop the duel (to save the future ancestry of her 1940’s husband, Frank who is related to Randall) Jamie doesn’t kill him but hits the jewels instead (more of less by accident I guess….). Claire loses the baby she is carrying and Jamie is arrested for the crime of dueling.

After some time, Claire recovers and wonders what the hell happened to Jamie (no one tells her and she is so sick from the miscarriage no one wants to tell her Jamie is in prison). When she finds out what happened she knows she needs to free him even though she is mad at him. The only way for her to free Jamie is obtaining King Louis ‘favor’–favor in EVERY possible meaning. She has sex with the King and makes him promise to pardon Jamie and free him, which he does. Once she and Jamie reunite, he knows she’s had sex with the King and though he forgives her for it, he is still bothered by this (never-mind he did the same thing for her….except with a man….). They flee back to Scotland with a full pardon and still very much in love with each other trying to change the future.

Of course Jamie and Claire do not succeed in changing history meaning the Jacobite Rising and the Battle of Culloden are inevitable fates for the people of Scotland. At the end, Jamie forces Claire to time travel back to her time and he means to sacrifice himself  so Claire and her unborn child (yes she’s pregnant again) can have a chance at survival and that’s more of less where Book II ends. Here is a summary from Shelfari:

From the author of Outlander … a magnificent epic that once again sweeps us back in time to the drama and passion of 18th-century Scotland… For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones …about a love that transcends the boundaries of time …and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his …. Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart …in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising …and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves….

Most of the reviews I read about this book–before starting it–said it was the least favorite of the series. I have to say I agree, though I have not made it through the series yet of course, I thought this one was a little long-ish and had SO much going on that it was a little hard to follow.

It seems like the second installment of a series is always the most slow and boring, I have felt that with almost every series I have read and this is no different. It’s almost like the author doesn’t know where or how to begin explaining things until about Book III or toward the end of Book II. In Book II of the Outlander series, I felt like there was A LOT of Scottish history and political background in the novel. It was hard to keep everything straight and keep all the historic figures, period, and politics in order.

There were a lot of stories and sub plots happening and personally, I am not a Highlands scholar/historian/enthusiast by ANY means so I struggled to keep up with what was going on. I just really wanted to know what was going on with the main characters and didn’t care for all the sub plotting and history lessons though I know it was necessary to enrich the story and series.

Without the historic background though there was really no other way of explaining how or why Claire went back to her time at the end and clearly Gabaldon knows not EVERYONE is as into Scottish history as herself so she thought it necessary to give us all some background–which was helpful but still frustrating.

I literally felt like SO much happened in the story by the end that I felt like I just read two books! It was long and detailed and FULL of action, history, romance, genealogy/ancestry, and tons of character developing sub plots/stories. Besides this though, I was bothered by a couple of other things as well.

I was really bugged by Claire’s betrayal of Jamie by having sex with the King. I know–it wasn’t like she had a whole lot of other options and yes Jamie didn’t hold it against her and no she didn’t enjoy it but still I felt like it was all wrong for her character in some ways. The circumstance fit and all with the time period etc and wasn’t totally off base for Claire but for me I just felt like that was SO wrong on her part to give up the only thing her and Jamie still had after the loss of the baby–trust.

When they do talk about it, Claire admits she was upset with Jamie and felt like he broke the trust first by dueling with Randall and Jamie forgives her as he knows she had no choice but still….to me it was the ultimate betrayal. I felt like her having sex with the King will somehow always be something there in the back of both their minds….never able to fully trust or forgive each other in some ways.

The other thing that bothered me was how Gabaldon tried to redeem Randall in some way. For me, what Randall did, not just to Jamie but to others as well, was entirely unforgivable. Gabaldon does try and show that he has feelings and to some degree isn’t ALL bad when he enlists Claire’s help to nurse his brother–even Claire admits in spite of everything, Randall is a ‘gentleman’. He keeps his word to Claire and tries to help her and Jamie by leaking military information to them and then saves his brother’s lovers reputation by marrying her. Claire realizes/acknowledges (though she doesn’t ever really admit it openly) that Randall is somewhat like Frank. Certainly he looks like Frank but she always said his mannerisms were NOT Frank–but once she decides to help him, she sees in some ways he is like Frank….honorable as his word if nothing else.

What the mind sees it believes. When Claire sees Randall, he looks like Frank but doesn’t act like Frank…..but from time to time he does something that reminds her of Frank and because they look a like she struggles to separate dream from reality. It would be easier to hate Randall if he didn’t look so much like a man she once loved.

As was the case in Book I one thing that I liked most about Book II was the richness of its characters. Book I has a lot of philosophical insight that the characters and language highlighted throughout the story and this was no different. For example one of my favorite scenes in Book II was when Claire meets the Fraser clan ‘seer’ (Maisri) in an chapel while visiting Jamie’s family. Claire and Maisri talk about the ‘curse’ of knowing the future and whether or not Maisri should tell Lord Lovat (Jamie’s grandfather) his future/fate:

‘Did ye ever think perhaps that it’s no your own fate at all that makes you what ye are? That maybe ye have the Sight or the power only because it’s necessary to someone else, and it’s nothing to do wi’ you at all– except that it’s you who has it and has to suffer the having of it’ …Doom or save. That I cannot do. For I have no power beyond that of knowledge, no ability to bend others to my will, no way to stop them doing what they will. There is only me.

Another one of my favorite passages from the book is in the final chapters when Roger Wakefield and Claire are discussing Claire’s ‘history’ and ‘past’….musing over something one of her 1700’s friends once told her about life and one’s essence:

‘…it’s only the essence of a thing that counts. Then time strips everything else away, it’s only the hardness of the bone that’s left’

One of the things I like best about literature are the books that make you think and make you ponder things you wouldn’t normally think of or ponder. Like this for example…what would you do if you could change history or the future? What if we COULD time travel? What then? I think the language and the philosophical musings in this series do a lot to encourage this kind of personal meditation and reflection which for me stretches the imagination increasing the pleasure one gets from reading.

There is also a fair amount of romantic, lyrical passages/poems/quotes in the book aside from the imaginative reflections. One of my favs comes from a poem given to Claire by one of Jamie’s dearest friends on their wedding day….a love poem– in Gaelic which Gabaldon translates for the reader thankfully–Jamie had the Gaelic quote inscribed on the inside of Claire’s wedding ring:

‘…da mi basia mille…’ Then let amorous kisses dwell on our lips begin and tell a thousand and a hundred score a hundred and a thousand more’

The inscription ‘da mi basia mille’ means ‘a hundred and a thousand more’.

Now that I am done with Book II, I absolutely MUST continue on with the series…though they are long (each book is about 800-900 pages) but I simply cannot move on to something else until I know what happens next.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

  • Kindle Edition, 960 pages
  • Published (first published July 1992)
  • ASIN B000FC2L28

This book counts toward: 2011 Outlander Series Reading Challenge

Recommendation: 4 out of 5

Genre: Historic Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Historic-Romance

Memorable lines/quotes: 

…it’s only the essence of a thing that counts. Then time strips everything else away, it’s only the hardness of the bone that’s left

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12 Comments

  1. I enjoyed your thoughtful comments on DRAGONFLY. Many fans, including myself, count this as their least favorite of the OUTLANDER books. The Paris section can be hard to get through, and the political and military situation in the second half of the book is confusing if you’re not familiar with the history. (As I certainly wasn’t, the first time I read the books!) Let me assure you that the series does get better from here!

    Just one quick thought about Jack Randall: It’s very difficult for us as readers to think of him as anything other than a sadistic psychopath, a villain with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, because of what he did to Jamie at Wentworth. But the thing you have to keep in mind is that there are ALWAYS shades of gray in Diana’s characters. Black Jack Randall (you’ll often see his name abbreviated as BJR in discussions on other sites such as Compuserve) is not 100% totally, irredeemably evil, as Diana portrays him; if he were, he’d be a cartoon character. He has one positive trait: his love for his brother Alex, which causes him literally to commit treason by giving military information to Claire, as you noted. He’s a complex character, just as all the other major characters in these books are. I think it’s part of what makes them seem like real people.

    Have fun with VOYAGER! That’s one of my favorite books of the whole series.

    Karen

    Reply
  2. I can’t wait to read this. I had to make sure that I didn’t read your review, I didn’t want anything given away! I’m glad you enjoyed it though!

    Reply
  3. Cecilia

     /  May 31, 2015

    Yes, I had a problem with Claire character, also read to end of book 3, but lost interest in story so did not continue. Too many issues I do not want to go into. But, that’s me. Clairewants to save Randall to preserves Frank’s existence yet she has no problem trying to prevent a historic uprising which could could futures for thousands of people, for the good or the bad. I guess, for me that was wishy washy. I read too much into this, it’s fiction but I felt if it addressed changing one person’s future then a bigger picture about consequences of changing history should have prevailed. It’s good reading though, just don’t start asking a lot of questions about this and that or else it can really ruin it for you

    Reply
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