Friday 27 June 2014

#CBR6 Book 59: "The Fiery Cross" by Diana Gabaldon

Page count: 1456 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

This is book 5 in the Outlander series, and really NOT the place to start reading these books. By this point, some of the principal characters have grown to middle age and have children and grandchildren. If you're interested, say because the TV series is coming to Starz in August, start at the beginning with Outlander. Standard spoiler-warning spiel applies. If you've not read the first four books in the series, I cannot be held responsible for any spoilers you may or may not find in this review.

So - the plot. There really is rather a lot of it, but possibly not as much as you'd think for a book this huge, spanning years worth of story. It's 1771 and Jamie Fraser along with his family are at the Gathering, a huge, well gathering of Scottish clansmen in North Carolina. Jamie Fraser's family at this point consists of his wife Claire, his daughter Brianna, Brianna's fiancee Roger (all three of the afore-mentioned time-travellers born originally in the 20th Century), Brianna's son Jem (paternity as of yet uncertain), his adopted son Fergus, a former French street urchin, Fergus' wife Marsali (also Jamie's step-daughter) and their children. Bree and Roger are to be wed at the Gathering, as is Jamie's aunt Jocasta. However, the priest is arrested and carted off, leading to Jocasta's wedding being postponed, and Bree and Roger's being performed by a Protestant minister, much to the chagrin of the very Catholic Fraser-patriarch.

Once there have been weddings and christenings and servants have been acquired, the Frasers all travel back to their homestead and Jamie and Claire set their affairs in order before going to gather up volunteers. There are Regulators protesting against the rule of the British, and Jamie has been tasked with the Governor to fight them as the Colonel of the local Militia. Initially, they avoid any direct fighting, but later on, there is a battle, with very dire effects for some of the extended Fraser family. Over the course of the massive book, Jocasta Cameron finally gets married on her lavish plantation at River Run, but the festivities is marred by a murder, and Jamie and Claire play amateur detectives when they're not busy getting it on in the shrubberies. Seriously, they might be middle aged, but there is certainly nothing wrong with their libidos.

There is also a subplot involving the search for the Fraser's current nemesis, the dastardly Stephen Bonnet. There are also villainous types wanting to find long-lost French gold, Claire's attempts to cultivate penicillin, Roger's attempts to learn to shoot straight and re-learn his singing, the mystery of Jem's true paternity and a number of other story lines throughout the book. It is without a doubt, the longest book I own and/or have ever read. The only book I have that even comes close to rivalling it, is the next in the series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes. Diana Gabaldon does a LOT of research, and really really likes to show it all off. Most of the time, I love the characters dearly and love spending time with them. If the entire book was them getting into what Mrs. Julien is so fond of calling "the perils of Pauline", it would be a dreadfully tedious book, as it would if everything was the day to day minutiae of their lives in Frontier North Carolina.

I like the blend of everyday and action, what gets to me is that there seems to have been NO attempts at editing any of it out. If I recall correctly, a lot of the characters introduced in this book and a lot of the minor and seemingly insignificant events come back in a big way later, but as I was forcing myself through yet another seemingly pointless chapter consisting mainly of Bree's dream journal, I was hard pressed to see why some of it hadn't been edited out. The important character moments get drowned in the boredom of slogging through chapters with no clear purpose except to bulk out the page count some more. This is not the 19th Century, where authors were paid by the word and books were encouraged to be as big as possible because they were the only sources of entertainment during the long dark winters. I would have greatly preferred it if Gabaldon and her editors had removed a few hundred pages from this book, so I could have enjoyed the time I spent with characters I care deeply about without wanting to throw the book (or in this case, my trusty Reader, because really, I'm not getting the arm strain of actually carrying the physical book) at the wall. This is, upon re-reading, so far my absolute least favourite of the series, but it still gets a rating of 3.5 because the bits that are good, are extremely good. You just have to get through a lot of chapters to get to them.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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