Georgiana89 Reply to on 22 September 2014
|I started this book the moment I finished book two, and until about two-thirds of the way through it, I felt quite obsessed with it, remaining n one of those odd "thinking about the book in every waking moment and then dreaming about it" moods that I find my favourite books always give me.
The first third of this novel has a far more complex structure than its predecessors. The chapters alternate between the 1960s, as Claire, Brianna, and Roger try to find out what happened to Jamie after he seemingly survived Culloden; flashbacks to Claire's life over the last twenty years; and chapters from Jamie's life over the same period of time, two hundred years in the past.
I love time-travel stories when they make your head spin, and this achieved it in a way that earlier books in the series didn't quite manage. I loved having the researchers in 1968 find something out about Jamie's life from a dry document, then getting to see the emotional reality of it through his eyes. This is particularly strong where things have passed into folklore. I'm always fascinated bye the idea of the difference between historical myth and reality, and there are some wonderful examples of it here: prepare to laugh at the story of how the place called Leap o'the Cask got it's name - and then to cry at the brutal reality.
I definitely saw the first book and to a lesser extent the second book as being primarily romance novels, even though many fans tend to argue against this. In this instalment, however, I felt that while the romance between Claire and Jamie was still the heart and soul of the book, the genres were genuinely much more blurred. It's certainly a brave romance novelist that keeps her lovers completely and utterly apart for the first third of a thousand page novel.
It's worth pointing out that while the 1968 scenes are a bit lighter, most of this first third is horribly depressing. Jamie's section opens with him living in a cave, and things rarely improve. There's no one scene as horrific as the ending of the first book, but he does have to live with a relentless, soul-sapping grimness. Claire isn't living in a cave in her flashbacks. She's living in a nice house in Boston, with her dream job as a doctor and her beloved daughter. And yet her guilt at leaving, her trauma over Culloden and her inability to either properly restart or fully break off her marriage to Frank means that it doesn't make for much happier reading. And running between both threads is an utter longing for each other, even though Claire is sure that Jamie is dead and he's convinced he's never going to see her again. The author somehow makes this more poignant, and yes, romantic, then many authors manage to make scenes of characters getting steamy together. It's lovely, it's tragic, and any reader is going to be dying for them to get back together, and maybe get a break.
I hate spoilers, but considering that this is an eight book series, I don't think I'm really giving much away to say that eventually, the longed-for reunion does occur. I felt it was perfect - moving and delightful and heartwarming, without skirting around the reality that two people can't just come back together after twenty years apart and expect nothing to have changed.
There's wonderful emotional drama in the immediate aftermath of the reunion but frankly, once it had been more or less resolved, I think the book should have ended. The plot of the final third of the book centres on a trip to the West Indies and pirates and slavery. It's perfectly fun and exciting and its nice to see Jamie and Claire rebuilding their life together, but it just didn't have quite the emotional or literary impact of the rest of the novel. It didn't affect me enough to make me lost interest or to mark the book down, but I don't think it added much.
Most of the things that bothered me about books one and two were gone, or at least substantially improved. There's much less rape and attempted rape, and only one (fairly half-hearted) flogging. The lurching from one disaster to the next aspect was played down in the first half, though did come back with a vengeance once the characters hit the high seas. I'm starting to think that the main characters are simultaneously cursed to have the worst possible things happen to them at all times, and blessed to somehow get through them without dying or permanently losing each other.
In my review of book one, I complained about the negative stereotyping of both English characters and gay characters. I'm delighted to announce that, as though to silence these complaints, this book includes a character who is English AND gay and yet utterly honourable and lovely. Lord John Grey is basically the anti-Jack Randall, and I think we can all be grateful for that.
On the other hand, I was rather upset with the treatment of the man who previously held the mantle of "only nice Englishman in the entire series." One of the real strengths of the first book was that it didn't take the easy way out and make Claire single or married to someone horrid. For me, the genuine love and affection between her and Frank permeated the 1940s opening scenes, and her initial longing to get back to him and later fond memories of him and refusal to let Jamie do anything that might risk his existence were extremely touching. Clearly, at this point, Jamie is the only man for her, but I still found it sad that her relationship with Frankp couldn't regain some of its old spark in his absence.
In addition, Frank seemed so out of character. He supported his wife going off to work as a war nurse and seemed to love her adventurous nature and upbringing and was lovely in book one. Why did he try to stop her becoming a doctor? Why did he complain when she looked a bit bedraggled? At the point when he inexplicably makes horribly racist comments, I felt that the author was just manipulating me to dislike him, and actually, it felt like a cop-out. That said, I only cared so much because of the extent to which the characters and the story had got under my skin.
Overall, this isn't an easy read, but only because the author makes you care about the characters so much before putting them through hell. If you enjoyed the first two books, you have got to read this- just try to find a quiet space where you can read for hours, and get yourself some tissues and comforting whisky!