Once upon a time, Claire Beauchamp Randall made a choice: she chose to stay with Jamie Fraser, her 17th century husband and forgo returning to her own time. But that choice didn’t come without consequences. As Claire and Jamie make their way to Paris, with the covert goal of stopping Charles Stuart’s attempts to retake the English throne, intrigue, danger and uncertainty lie around every corner. In France, Claire and Jamie learn to navigate the treacherous royal court of the Louis XV, make friends with both Jacobites and Georgian loyalists alike and, armed with Claire’s knowledge of the future, try to change the course of history. Every step of the way, Claire and Jamie fight for each other, their unborn child and the future of their family – all the while trying to avoid the notion that the best chance for the Fraser family’s survival may not be in the 17th century.
In my review of Outlander, I described the first part of Claire and Jamie’s story as “epic storytelling of awesome” – a description that applies just as well to the second book in Diana Gabaldon’s series, Dragonfly in Amber. This novel doesn’t start when you think it will, it doesn’t end when you think it will and at every point in between, Gabaldon takes readers on a wild, crazy, beautifully vivid ride through French and Scottish history. Though the book has been published since 1992, I’m still wary about revealing spoilers, but I will say that I found Gabaldon’s framing device for this second book particularly effective. I loved the way it sort of hugged the book from both the beginning and the end, making it feel as if you got lost in a memory.
There’s so much good about Dragonfly in Amber, but for me, the core of this story and these novels remains Claire and Jamie. Their relationship is what holds the story together and gives readers a way into a world they may not know about. In Outlander, when Claire chooses to stay with Jamie, she does so knowing exactly what (and who) she’s giving up, but she also doesn’t stop being who she is – a woman from a 20th century perspective and her own ideas and opinions, things that are sometimes in opposition to the social mores of the time.
I love that Jamie accepts and loves Claire for exactly who she is. He doesn’t try to force her to change, but at the same time, he also recognizes a need for Claire to fit in, but not stand out – something that’s not easy for a woman used to a very different life. The push and pull of their relationship is so wonderfully nuanced and complicated. Claire’s choice didn’t make things magically perfect and easy; their marriage still requires work, understanding, forgiveness and communication. Gabaldon writes all of this so well and so believably, I kept forgetting where and when they were.
One of the other things I really liked about Dragonfly in Amber was this idea of whether knowledge of the future means we can or should try to change it. Claire wants desperately to save the people she now knows and loves in Scotland from a terrible fate, but doing so would alter the course of history and she has no way of knowing what the consequences of that action would be. At the same time, she goes to incredible lengths to ensure some things do still happen (Jack Randall’s survival) to protect Frank back in the 20th century – even though this causes a great deal of conflict with Jamie.
Gabaldon raises some interesting questions because of Claire’s actions. She knows what will happen if Charles Stuart is successful, but she made a choice to stay in the past. Is she bound to live within the dictates and history of this time? Are the efforts of just one person even enough to change the outcome of a battle that will affect thousands? What’s the greater good in this situation? Gabaldon doesn’t necessarily provide answers, or easy ones when she does; instead, she lets the story unfold in real time, with the reader reacting right alongside Claire and Jamie.
Dragonfly in Amber is one of those books that took me forever to read – not because I found it slow and uneventful, but because I kept rationing it out in small doses; I knew that the faster I read, the sooner it would be over and I didn’t want it to be over. I wanted to stay with Claire and Jamie as long as it could. Luckily, even though the novel did eventually end, I knew there were several more chapters of this epic story still waiting for me.
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