Book Review: Amanda Quick’s The Mystery Woman

mysterywomanTitle: The Mystery Woman
Author: Amanda Quick
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Yes / Book 2
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program

I’m a fan of Amanda Quick (aka Jayne Ann Krentz) and auto-buy her books. I admit I lost interest in her Arcane series once we reached the conclusion of how Jones & Jones agency came together and she started expanding the Arcane series to include outside associates. I wanted to prep for this review by reading the last 3 books I missed, but decided it would be best to read from a new reader’s perspective without any previous knowledge as most new readers.

Amanda Quick’s The Mystery Woman is the second book in her Ladies of Lantern Street series. If you haven’t read the first book, Crystal Gardens, it’s not necessary to do so. Quick does a good job giving you an overview of what exactly the agency Flint & Marsh specializes in and a brief history of how it was established.

On the night her mentor, Roland Fleming, is found murdered, Beatrice Lockwood is forced to change her identity to hide from the killer. She finds employment at Flint & Marsh, a private agency that specializes in discreet inquiries. Undercover as a paid companion, Beatrice meets Joshua Gage, former messenger to the mysterious Mr. Smith, and helps her foil a kidnapping attempt on her employer. Joshua informs Beatrice that he has been looking for her and needs her assistance in finding his sister’s blackmailer. Little do they know, someone with a more sinister plan is also looking for Beatrice. Will they be able to uncover the identity of the blackmailer or will Beatrice become the killer’s next victim?

The writing is very typical Quick especially with the use of paranormal elements she’s been fond of using these past couple of years. It doesn’t distract a reader and it goes hand in hand with the time period of late Victorian England. The paranormal became popular during the era and there was a demand for people who had the ability to conjure spirits or speak with the dead. It makes sense that she would have a character with some type of extrasensory ability. In this case, Beatrice is a clairvoyant and Ronald Fleming recognized her talent. Joshua doesn’t believe in the paranormal and several times Beatrice reminds him how his intuition has been spot on and therefore is an extension of the psychic realm. Quick once again does thorough research and it shines throughout The Mystery Woman. She incorporates aspects of Egyptology in her plot and again it makes sense, since the Victorians were obsessed with Egypt. As the use of electricity emerged in the 19th century, so did the question of raising the dead. Quick takes advantage of this experimentation and incorporates into the plot. I won’t say exactly what it is, but it goes hand in hand with Egyptian mythology and paranormal ability.

In terms of characterization, one thing that stood out immediately is how much Joshua resembles a previous Quick character. Joshua reminded me of a lot of Tobias March (from the Lake/March series) and both share the same characteristics in terms of an injured leg and having a nephew under his wing. What I really like about Quick is that she gives us strong heroines who aren’t afraid to make a life for themselves. These are no shrinking violets and The Mystery Woman reminded me once again why I’m a fan of Amanda Quick. She also makes you think about the possibilities of science. The whole idea of reviving someone who is dead will leave most readers fascinated and yet horrified. I’m still thinking about it a few weeks later.

If you’re a fan of historical romance mixed with a bit of mystery, I recommend Amanda Quick’s The Mystery Woman. Just be advised, there a few plot holes regarding the mystery, but nothing you’ll lose sleep over.

Book Review: CM Spencer’s Good Intentions

good intentions Title: Good Intentions
Author: CM Spencer
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: No
Rating: 3 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy won via LibraryThing’s Member Giveaway

Victoria Larke vows never to marry a naval officer. She has nothing against them, it’s just that her father was one and was always way from home. Her mother wants her married and settled and her father takes the family to Bath in hopes of her finding a husband. There she meets two gentlemen, David and James. Both are smitten with her, but it’s James that pays the most attention to her; however, business calls him away and he bids Victoria goodbye. Upon his return to Bath he’s shocked to learn Victoria has married his good friend and he proceeds to hide his true feelings from her. Victoria wants James to be happy and makes it her mission to find someone worthy of his love. What ensues is a series of misunderstandings and lets James realize early on what type of woman he’d be happy with.

The writing is good and doesn’t sound too modern. In terms of characterization, it’s well done, but Spencer focused primarily on Victoria and James. At no point could I figure out why David won her heart. David was a patient man especially when a lot of the set ups ended up disastrous. One thing that doesn’t sit well and it is an incident involving Victoria and James. I won’t say what it is because it can be viewed as a spoiler. I did enjoy Victoria’s set ups and remind me a bit of Jane Austen’s Emma where she’s involved in all sorts of matchmaking and yet fails terribly. In each failed incident, I felt bad for James because I thought for sure he’d find his love and when it didn’t quite happen, I felt his disappointment. In this day and age we have the luxury of waiting around and dating until we find our significant other, but in the Regency period you were limited to what you could and couldn’t do. If you were lucky to find someone immediately then good for you and Spencer does a good job detailing the perils of trying to find someone in a period where it was pretty much hit or miss. Often times you could marry someone you thought was a good fit and turns out it isn’t. She did a great job showcasing that and I appreciate it.

In the end, Good Intentions falls flat. I understand the reason to focus primarily on Victoria’s attempt to set up James, but I wanted that “aha” moment. The moment the two protagonists fall in love and live happily ever after and we don’t that get that moment. For a good 60% of the novel, it’s about Victoria and James with Jemma in the background. When we finally get Jemma into the picture, she doesn’t play a major role in her own romance. I still can’t figure out when exactly James fell for her.

If you’re a fan of Jane Austen’s books, you might be interested in reading Good Intentions.

Book Review: Ashlyn Macnamara’s A Most Scandalous Proposal

prop Title: A Most Scandalous Proposal
Author: Ashlyn Macnamara
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 3 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program

Julia St. Claire doesn’t believe in falling in love because nothing good can come of it. She’s witnessed firsthand the heartache and destruction that accompanies unrequited love. Her sister, Sophia, on the other hand, has spent the past five years pining for Earl of Clivesden, but he only has eyes for one of the St. Claire sisters. When Benedict Revelstoke, a long time friend of the St. Claire family, learns of Clivesden’s true intentions towards Julia, Benedict makes every effort to keep her away from Clivesden and in the process discovers that he loves her. Julia rejects Benedict until she’s betrayed by her father and suddenly she makes him an offer he can’t refuse.

The story is interesting, but lacks in depth characterization. Julia is a bit one sided and I was trying to understand her, but couldn’t. Sophia is a bit more interesting and the one I cared about the most. As for the men, Highgate’s personal history was interesting and you could feel the pain of his past. George Upperton, Benedict’s best friend, was personally one of my favorite characters and every time he made an appearance on the page, I smiled. In terms of Benedict, it would have been nice to read his gradual interest in Julia turn into love. Instead it happens overnight and there’s no hint of him having had these feelings prior nor are we given the exact moment he realizes he loves her. That “aha” moment is crucial to any romance plot because readers are on the same journey as our protagonists and if we don’t have it, then I feel we miss out on something that’s expected.

The writing is good and there are some funny moments. I particularly liked the scene between Highgate and Sophia discussing Pride and Prejudice. I loved how both of them were able to describe people they knew as characters. At one point, Sophia tells Highgate his sister, Lady Wexford, resembles Lady Catherine de Bourgh because she looks down on Sophia and her family. My favorite quote describing Highgate’s personal thoughts regarding his sister is: “He’d always thought their father would have made a sound investment in buying her a commission-preferably in India.”

Ultimately what makes this a three and not a solid four, are the different narratives that made my head spin and in the end, we didn’t get the one that really counted, that of Clivesden. What drives him to seek Julia instead of Sophia? While Julia assumes it’s because she’s perceived as a cold fish, I wanted to know more about him. We aren’t given much in terms of his personal history other than how he came into the title and he’s known to sleep around. In hindsight, I can see why he picks Julia because she is not attracted to him. Although Sophia’s heart is engaged, in the end, he would have made her life miserable, I doubt she would have grown to realize this had he showed any interest in her. Knowing Clivesden’s history, I doubt he would have cared for Sophia’s feelings and he’s not the chivalrous sort. Ultimately, Macnamara does a good job handling the shift in narratives, but wish she would have them drawn them out more. In the end, we have two romances taking place and despite the fact Sophia’s is secondary, her romance was the strongest. I wish Macnamara had focused on Sophia and Highgate’s romance primarily because it outshined that of Julia and Benedict.

Ashlyn Macnamara’s A Most Scandalous Proposal is a good debut and despite a few hiccups, I’m looking forward to reading more of her work. If you’re looking to try a new author, I recommend Macnamara.

Book Review: Elizabeth Hoyt’s Lord of Darkness

12907444Title: Lord of Darkness
Author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Yes / Book 5
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley courtesy of Grand Central Publishing

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Lord of Darkness is the fifth book in her Maiden Lane series. For those not familiar with this particular series, Lord of Darkness can be read as a standalone if you don’t mind the back-story she fills in. Otherwise I recommend starting with the first book, Wicked Intentions.

Godric St. John still grieves for the loss of his wife Clara. He decides to live the rest of his life as a widower and devoted to her memory; however, that changes when Griffin Reading blackmails him into marrying his sister Margaret. Margaret reluctantly agrees to the marriage when she finds out her fiancé has been murdered and fears what her family might do when they find out she’s expecting a child. Knowing Margaret will never want a real marriage and his secret will be safe, he agrees to marry her. The two live separately: Margaret in his country estate and Godric in London.

Two years later, Margaret decides she wants a child and the only way to have one is to consummate her marriage. She surprises Godric by showing up at his London residence and explains she came to town for some shopping. When she confesses her real reason, he tells her he cannot betray Clara because consummating their marriage would be the ultimate betrayal. He doesn’t realize Margaret too grieves for her dead fiancé, Roger. When Margaret discovers Godric is the Ghost of St. Giles she confesses her reason for being in St. Giles: she’s looking for Roger’s killer. Godric takes the opportunity to explain how he came to be the Ghost and agrees to find the person responsible for Roger’s death. He also agrees to give her a child.

The majority of the plot centers on the lassie snatchers and we first come across them in Thief of Shadows. I was a bit disappointed Hoyt was going to focus on this again, but in hindsight it makes sense. For readers not familiar with them, they are a group responsible for buying or kidnapping young girls for the sole purpose of making lace stockings. These lace stockings were highly sought after by the wealthy and the girls were often beaten and underfed. In Lord of Darkness, we finally get to put a name to the man behind the operation and we also find out how Roger’s death is connected to the lassie snatchers.

The real story here is that of Godric and Margaret finding love. We have two people who loved deeply and are afraid to take that chance again. Hoyt does a remarkable job expressing their concerns. The moment Godric realizes he loves Margaret is bittersweet. She confesses how she can’t go on not knowing who murdered her beloved and yet at that moment, he’s willing to “walk the fires of hell” for her. There’s one particular scene where I thought Godric might fly off the deep end and that’s when he walks into his bedroom to find Margaret reading a letter she wrote to him. He realizes she was looking in his drawer and he could have easily given her the cold shoulder and thrown her out of his room, but instead he was honest and open with her.

There are few unanswered questions. Godric tells Megs that Sir Stanley Gilpin trained him and two others. If Sir Stanley found it a lark to dress up as the Ghost who’s to say he didn’t train other men before Godric? And if Sir Stanely only trained three men, why did Captain Trevillion knowing Godric was the Ghost, let him go when he had the perfect opportunity to arrest him? Was it because Godric was saving children from the lassie snatchers or is there much more to this? I’m curious about Trevillion since he’s been featured before and I’m hoping Hoyt gives him his own book.

Hoyt often includes a story within a story. All these of course take place in the chapter headings. Our treat this time is the Legend of the Hellequin and what a story it was! Every time she includes one of these in her books, it makes me wish she would publish them in their entirety.

My favorite scene in Lord of Darkness involves Godric, his sister, and Margaret’s Great-Aunt Elvina discussing babies. Elvina believes they are troublesome especially those that bother her dog. Godric suggests they should be hung:

“I cannot believe you would suggest tying a child to the wall.”
“Oh, no, ma’am,” Godric said as he poured himself more wine. “You have me entirely wrong.”
“Well, that’s a relief—”
“I meant the child should hang on the wall.” He looked kindly at the elderly woman. “Like a picture, as it were.”

Elizabeth Hoyt once again delivers and Lord of Darkness doesn’t disappoint. We’re given a preview of Duke of Midnight, the sixth book in the series. It will feature the Duke of Wakefield and Artemis Greaves and I have a feeling we have our third Ghost in Wakefield. It’s scheduled for an October release and October can’t come soon enough.

Book Review: Cathy Maxwell’s The Earl Claims His Wife

the earl claims his wifeTitle: The Earl Claims His Wife
Author: Cathy Maxwell
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Yes / Book 2 of 5
Rating: 3 out of 5
My Copy: Borrowed from the library

I like Cathy Maxwell and it’s been awhile since I’ve picked up a book of hers. The Earl Claims His Wife is book 2 in her Scandals and Seductions series. I haven’t read the first book and don’t see a problem reading the series out of order; however, if you’re the type that doesn’t like to be spoiled then start with book 1 (A Seduction at Christmas).

I should start out by saying that I enjoy the abandoned wife plot in historical romance. Maxwell does a good job with a simple plot. After spending four years under Wellington’s command and fighting Napoleon, Brian, the Earl of Wright, returns to London; reluctantly he honors his father’s demands of returning and only because his two older brothers are now dead. Upon returning to London he quickly finds out his wife, Gillian, is not under his father’s roof, but instead has left to manage her cousin’s household. He writes demanding her return, but headstrong Gillian does not comply and he’s left to fetch her only to discover she’s in love with another man.

Gillian, in many ways, had the right to leave her father-in-law’s household. She spent four years being oppressed without a house of her own, whereas Brian’s mistress, Jess, had her own house. Gillian’s resentment towards Brian is justified and it doesn’t help Brian confesses he only married her because he was told to (yes dear reader he tells her about Jess). While spending time at her cousin’s estate, she meets a Spanish nobleman, Andres, and realizes he’s the man she wants to be with. Her aunt tries to knock some sense into her, but Gillian won’t listen and is prepared to take Andres as her lover and things were going according to plan until Brian shows up. Brian threatens a duel with Andres if she doesn’t return with him, Gillian agrees to return only to save the life of the man she loves. Little by little during their journey to London, Gillian sees glimpses of the man she fell in love with. Brian informs her that he needs her and he’s willing to give their marriage another chance. She agrees, but upon arriving in London she’s greeted by the sight of a child and she’s heartbroken for believing in her husband’s lies. Brian for his part tries everything to convince her to stay.

The heart of the novel is Brian’s father, the Marquess of Atherstone. Atherstone likes to control people and when they defy him, he goes out of his way to make them regret their decision. Brian very much defies him at every turn and only returned to London when he was forced. Atherstone has a position in mind for Brian, but Brian has a different idea. The question here is how powerful is Athersone? The answer, dear reader, is simple: very. Maxwell presents us with a worthy character who has a network of spies. I won’t say anymore because it does ruin the experience of reading.

A few people I’ve spoken with believe Gillian was fickle especially since she was so quick to discard Andres. I don’t believe that, but rather she never stopped loving her husband. She tells her aunt, she knew Brian was the one the moment she set eyes on him and when she realizes she still has feelings for him, she does the right thing and that is to inform Andres. As for Brian and his feelings for his mistress…I truly believe he knew deep in down Gillian’s character, but was so blinded by youthful infatuation he couldn’t see anything other than Jess. How many times have we held onto that perfect memory only to experience it again and have it shatter our soul because it was all a lie? Brian experienced what we all do and he comes to his senses. He knows he has a rare treasure of a woman and that’s his wife. The one thing truly missing from this book is a good grovel scene.

If you’re looking for a quick historical romance to read and have a few hours to spare then I recommend it. Just don’t look for in-depth characterization. It’s a fast paced read that will leave you satisfied with the ending.

Book Review: Wendy Vella’s The Reluctant Countess

The-Reluctant-Countess-by-Wendy-Vella Title: The Reluctant Countess
Author: Wendy Vella
Genre: Historical Romance
Rating: 2 out of 5
My Copy: Borrowed from friend

I’m not sure what to say about Wendy Vella’s The Reluctant Countess. From the synopsis it’s publicized as a Cinderella type plot and it has aspects of it, but Vella just falls short.

Synopsis:
Regal, poised, and elegant, Sophie, Countess of Monmouth, is everything that a highborn lady should be. But Sophie is hiding a past that is far from royal. When Patrick, Earl of Coulter, realizes that her story doesn’t add up, he resolves to find out the truth of what Sophie and her sister-in-law are concealing. Although Sophie has every reason to avoid him, the handsome and charismatic Patrick awakens something wicked deep within her soul . . . a powerful need that Sophie must stifle in order to protect her place in society.

Despite Sophie’s humble background, the raven-haired beauty has won Patrick’s heart. But what Sophie needs now is an ally. Viscount Myles Dumbly, the disgruntled former heir of Monmouth, is determined to expose Sophie as a fraud to recapture his lost inheritance. Soon Patrick is drawn into a fight for both their lives. Somehow he must find a way not only to rescue Sophie from poverty once and for all, but to keep her in his arms forever.

As for character development, there are some issues. The main problem for me is the villain. He’s introduced as hating Sophie and wanting to find out the truth behind her marriage to the late earl. Villains, especially those in a Regency romance do tend to be dastardly, but this one just was meek. A lot of things just don’t make sense. If the earl was dying and as the earl’s heir, wouldn’t he be there to protect his claim especially if there was talk of the earl’s apparent marriage? Speaking of marriage…Sophie married the earl on his deathbed and her son becomes the heir, hence displacing the villain. Here’s the thing… her son turns out to be her brother and of course her brother was already born when Sophie married the earl and therefore cannot be the heir! I understand being out in the country and away from London gossips, but here’s the thing- communities were small enough that people would be aware if the new mistress of the house was pregnant. Servants gossip and how in the world did the earl’s sister, Letty, manage to hush everyone up in the household is beyond me, unless they fired the lot and only retained a few in confidence. I can suspend disbelief, but in this situation it just doesn’t work for me. At one point the villain confronts Sophie and she says something to the effect of, “you got a title passed to you.” What title was that and why isn’t it attached with the others? You can’t just pick and chose with titles will pass just like you can’t pick out of a hat who your heir is going to be.

I didn’t find Sophie and Patrick’s romance all that convincing. It seemed to me she married him because she didn’t have a choice. Obviously marrying Patrick offers some protection (ahem from the possibility of the Ton finding out you weren’t married to your first husband), but I never got the impression Sophie loved Patrick. There wasn’t any indication of feelings of dislike and distrust turning into admiration and then love. It’s also never fully explained why Patrick was interested in knowing more about Sophie. It’s not like he had a claim on the title or was in any way a friend of the family. Yes, Vella writes he visited the earl a few days prior to his death, which again brings up the question of Sophie. Wouldn’t the earl have mentioned he’d married? Vella presents Sophie as a beautiful woman who pretty much keeps men at a distance. If Patrick was interested in her favors, I’d expect an author to describe his lust at seeing her for the first time or something to that effect, but we don’t. His sole purpose is to expose her as a charlatan, but then he changes his feelings regarding Sophie 25% in.

I do have to make note of the language because it sounded too modern. I know it is difficult to write a certain way, but for me when an author sets a novel in the past, I expect it to sound like a product of the time period or as close as possible.

I debated heavily with the rating. In the end, I gave it a two because Vella fails to execute the plot and problems regarding inheritance. I’ve read some well- written Cinderella plots in the past. Julie Ann Long’s To Love a Thief comes to mind as well as Pamela Britton’s Scandal.

Book Review: “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

ImageTitle: Outlander
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Yes (Book 1 of 7)
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

The first thing you encounter when you pick up a copy of Outlander is probably surprise, and maybe a bit of intimidation; the novel is a veritable tome, weighing in at well over 800 pages. Oftentimes, this is enough to scare away the more casual reader, but for me, it was more the book’s reputation and popularity that gave pause.

Throughout my bookish life, I’ve been told I ought to read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. It is the single, most oft-recommended book that I’ve ever had suggested to me, and so not inclined to follow the crowd, I resisted. News of an impending mini-series wrought by Ron Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame helped entice me to overcome this initial reluctance, as did the full knowledge of the book’s premise: Jacobite Scotland, espionage, intrigue, highland adventures, and time travel. What’s not to love? As I’ve been on a time travel kick lately, what list of epoch-defying novels is complete without Outlander?

Here ye be warned–spoilers abound in this lengthy review for a lengthy novel.

Summary
Following World War II, Claire Randall and her husband, Frank, embark upon a second honeymoon to Scotland in an attempt to rekindle their war-dwindled romance. Venturing into the countryside, they come across a circle of standing stones, and as Claire is sucked back in time, we are likewise taken along with her.

Positives
The conveyance which transported Claire back two hundred years is simultaneously brilliant and eyebrow-raising. A megalithic circle akin to that of Stonehenge, called Craigh na Dun, is deemed responsible,  and it is also suggested that this is a natural phenomenon that the ancients knew of but did not fully understand. It is implied not that the stones themselves possess the power to thrust a being back in time, but rather more realistically, that the stones were erected ages ago to warn passersby to stay away. Gabaldon’s inclusion of the mythic legends regarding fairies was also clever, and in context, such legends would be a satisfactory explanation for previous occurrences of time travel.

The juxtaposition of Claire’s 20th century mind with the 18th century culture she finds herself thrown into is amusing as well as fascinating. While she’s intelligent enough to avoid more of the situations that would create more comedic scenarios, she’ll still slip and use phrases like “Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars,” confusing those around her and eliciting a chuckle from the reader.

Negatives
Loch Ness monster? Really, Gabaldon? Someone please convince me how this contributed to the plot. It felt like nothing other than a Scottish cliche inserted to amuse the ignorant masses, who cannot think of Scotland save to conjure images of a smiling Nessie sporting a plaid tam.

I’m going to risk incurring the ire of every Fraser fangirl alive by saying this, but Jaime doesn’t do it for me. At all. I completely fail to see why he’s so appealing and attractive. Repeatedly, we’re reminded of his physical perfection; this smacks of Twilight to me, and beating me over the head with description after description of the hero’s physical glories does not at all convince me of the character’s worth. Jaime is kind enough to Claire, that is true. Initially, he seems to be quite likeable. His use of the term “Sassenach” is downright endearing, even to me (I’ll even admit that I think I’d get chills if someone called me that in a Scottish accent); however, I have to be  brutally honest here, and say that I have had great difficulty getting over the scene where Jaime beats Claire. Yes, it’s period for an 18th century man to be able to thrash his wife in punishment. Yes, he promises to never do it again and adheres to that (at least in the first book). But accurate or not, this is one instance where I am not able to accept period-correct behaviour and dismiss it in context. No woman ever deserves to be beaten, no matter her perceived crime. Is this our literary hero?

This book has an even darker side, one of which I would caution less mature readers. There are several scenes and themes in this book I would consider to be potential “triggers” for anyone with a history of abuse, and even for those merely of faint of heart or weak of stomach. We see scenes of vividly-depicted sexual abuse (heterosexual and otherwise), rape, and sodomy. It’s downright uncomfortable to read, and while I understand Gabaldon’s decision to brave exploration of abuse in the 18th century, I don’t understand why she chooses to revel in the literally gorey details, yet gloss over the ramifications and subsequent trauma. It makes me suspect she did it for shock value, and to villainize Jack Randall as much as humanly possible. To be blunt, it felt somewhat cheap.

Quotes

Jaime was not my first hero. The men moved too quickly through the field hospital, as a rule, for the nurses to become well acquainted with them, but now and again you would a man who talked too little or joked too much, who held himself more stiffly than pain and loneliness would account for.

And I knew, roughly, what could be done for them. If there was time, and if they were the kind who talked to keep the dark at bay, you sat with them and listened. If they were silent, you touched them often in passing, and watched for the unguarded moment, when you might draw them outside of themselves and hold them while they exorcised their demons. If there was time. And if there wasn’t, then you jabbed them with morphine, and hoped they would manage to find someone else to listen, while you passed on to a man whose wounds were visible.

— Chapter 36

The dusk momentarily heightened all the colors of the countryside, lighting the land with jewels; a glowing emerald in the hollows, a lovely shadowed amethyst among the clumps of heather, and burning rubies on the red-berried rowan trees that crowned the hills.”

[…]

We came down from the braes near Loch Madoch, pressing the chilly dawn mist to the edge of a still sheet of grey. Wild ducks began to rise from the reeds in untidy flocks that circled the marshes, quacking and calling to rouse late sleepers below. By contrast, a well-disciplined wedge of geese passed over us, calling of heartbreak and desolation.

The grey fog lifted near midday on the second day, and a weak sun lighted the meadows filled with yellow gorse and broom. A few miles past the loch, we came out onto a narrow road and turned northwest. The way took us up again, rising into low, rolling hills that gave way gradually to granite tors and crags.

— Chapter 25

Thoughts
I have nothing but praise for the way Diana Gabaldon writes. Her prose is lyrical, her descriptions vivid and realistic, and her dialogue is good (though not fantastic or wholly period). She has a strong grasp on the historical and cultural aspects of the 18th century, and I say this as an enthusiast of the era. I only caught one inaccuracy; she refers to a character wearing a cotton gown. While cotton was certainly known and the fabric on its way to becoming a staple (later in the century Eli Whitney’s invention would allow it to become affordable enough to reach the masses), in this context, I felt a garment made of “linsey-woolsey” or plain wool would have been more appropriate.

One area I felt could use a bit more exploration was, exactly what sort of trauma and mental distress time travel would invoke on the traveler. We are given very little of what I would expect to be a horrifying experience for anyone; aside from Claire’s initial confusion and denial, it never seems to occur to her that what she has just experienced is a mind-boggling impossibility. I don’t know about you, but I would be doing some heavy-duty thinking about whether or not my every move would be altering the course of history (read Ray Bradbury’s short story A Sound of Thunder if you haven’t already). This is touched upon more satisfactorily in Dragonfly in Amber (which I’m presently in the midst of), and admittedly a 1940s mind might not be as familiar with the concept of time travel in general as Gabaldon’s modern-day audience. Still, we barely see Claire even ponder her quandary at all.

Another question worth asking is whether or not Claire is a bigamist. Why not just tell everyone she was still married? While technically her husband Frank hadn’t been born yet, this would have alleviated the problems of her being forced to marry again. This is addressed in one of the best portions of the entire novel take place in one of the later chapters, where Claire confides in a kindly priest and consults him on the quandary of her marriage to Jaime. The issue of bigamy is addressed, albeit rather conveniently, but through this, Claire is reawakened to religion. It’s a transformation that’s always tricky to pull off, and Gabaldon does it admirably and respectfully, without the all-too-typical “Hallmark” quality that offends my sense of realism.

Conclusion
I do feel that Gabaldon could use an editor; she can be wordy, often unnecessarily so, but not in her description or exposition. It is in her innumerable adventures, the tales of Claire and Jaime that she wears the reader’s patience. Over and over we read of their exploits across the highlands (and between the bedsheets), again and again we are told of how much they love each other. But that’s just it; we’re told, rather than shown. The age-old adage holds true here. Show, don’t tell. Gabaldon is a master of description, but she fails to give us an emotional connection illustrating exactly why Claire would choose Jaime over Frank. We’re given reasons such as her fear of travelling back through the stones a second time; this makes sense, but don’t you think she would brave that risk for Jaime?

Outlander begins to weave several threads that I can only hope will be grasped more firmly later in the series. Especially the story of Geile Duncan and Frank’s experiences during the war, both of which intrigued me, and neither was fully explored.

Overall, four stars for the sheer magnitude of Gabaldon’s undertaking, her ability to pull it off with considerable aplomb, and her laudable knowledge of the historical elements surrounding 18th century Jacobite Scotland. ♦