This was probably the hardest book I’ve ever had to force myself to read. And even then, there was more than one occasion when I put it down with no intentions of ever picking it back up again.
Why? Was the plot line weak? Were the characters poorly developed? Did Gabaldon dazzle us with the first novel “Outlander”, and with great expectations for its sequel, let all the air out by writing a disappointing second novel? Did she run down too many rabbit holes and forget where the story was going, or lose herself in the monotony of overly described battle scenes or boringly detailed historical costumes?
None of the above. Her plot line, though rather long (743 pages of trying to prevent the massacre of Bonnie Prince Charles and his Highland Chieftans with only one or two key objectives thrown in, is a really long story line) – was still a wonderful read with just enough culture, political intrigue, blood and guts, and climactic passions ( not to mention romance) to keep the flood of emotional endorphin’s at a perfect 10.
What about character development?
The supporting characters in ” Dragonfly in Amber” may not be as powerful as they were in “Outlander”, but to be honest, if she had created another Jonathan Randall-Jamie Fraser-Claire Beauchamp triangle, like she did in the first novel, I might have been tempted to put the book down regardless of how much I loved the story. A soul can only take reading about so many sadist-rape-perversions in a life time, and to be honest, I don’t really want to find out how many more I’ve been allotted to handle. Suffice it to say, the one Gabaldon describes between these three characters in the first book is enough to last me a life time. But yes, I thought her development of supporting characters was good (though probably not as good as those in the first novel).
So was it a loss of focus or tendency to drone on and on about battle strategy or period costumes or the propensity of the pre-revolutionary French aristocracy to imbibe itself in gluttony and pomposity? Not really. I truly appreciated the fact that even though the author had to have realized that the greatest percentage of reader audience would be women, she refrained from expending any more energy on describing a woman’s dress or shoes or hair style than was necessary to get the point across; for that I am forever grateful. She also didn’t pretend to know much more about war or battle fields or military stupidity than I did (again…thank you Jesus); focusing instead on what was really important; the fact that ‘The Jacobite Rising’ was senseless, bloody, horrible, and more men died because of infection, lack of proper medical attention, stupidity and starvation, than should have.
Then if I thought the plot line was interesting and well thought out, its characters nicely developed, and felt compelled to compliment Gabaldon on her ability to describe a battle scene without undulating me in unnecessary details, why did I struggle to read the book? How can I say I liked it in one breath and in the next, tell my reader it was the most challenging book I’ve ever forced myself to read?
Easy. Who in the heck wants to read another 733 pages of a book, when you already know within its first ten pages that one of the main characters (one I might add, that defines just about every woman’s fantasy of what their Scottish Highlander fantasy should look like) is dead? Who, in or out of their right mind wants to finish a book after that? I sure as heck didn’t. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I knew (via a friend who’d already read the series when first published) that Jamie Fraser did in fact survive Culloden, I probably wouldn’t have. It would have been a shame really, as Diana Gabaldon is a wonderful writer. Call me a coward, but I am not about to invest my mind or endorphin’s in dead heroes. Heck, if that’s all I wanted to do, I’d read biographical accounts of WWII or Vietnam or Persian Gulf or even modern-day Afghanistan. No, when I read it’s either for research or to disappear into fantasy stories where authors at least have the decency to wait until the very end of the story before forcing their heroes to bite the dust.
On my readers scale of one to five stars, I’m giving “Dragonfly in Amber” 4 stars for overall story, and 3 for ticking me off.