Sunday, December 4, 2011

My review of THE SCOTTISH PRISONER



Here is my review of Diana Gabaldon's new novel, THE SCOTTISH PRISONER.

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THE SCOTTISH PRISONER is at least as much Jamie Fraser's story as Lord John Grey's.  It takes place in 1760, during the time when Jamie was at Helwater, and it fills in many of the details of a time in Jamie's life that readers of the OUTLANDER series know very little about.

THE SCOTTISH PRISONER is very much a character-focused, character-driven book, but there's plenty of action, and the story seems very well-paced. The structure of the book, with the alternating points of view between Jamie and Lord John, reminds me in some ways of VOYAGER (and I think it's effective for the same reason).  Just as in the parts of VOYAGER that deal with the search for Jamie, and Claire's decision to go back, we as readers have some idea what's coming, we're rooting for it to happen, and when it finally does, it's enormously satisfying.

As a reader, I want to see John and Jamie reconcile and resume their friendship, and although that's not the whole focus of the plot, it makes me hypersensitive to the smallest gesture that indicates progress is being made there.  ("They're smiling at each other!"  "He said, 'Call me John'!  FINALLY!" etc.)  There is a sense of the pieces of their relationship falling into their rightful place, particularly in the last part of the book, and that's very satisfying to me as a reader.

John and Jamie's adventure in Ireland was highly entertaining, and kept my attention throughout.  I see now why it was necessary to take both of them out of their normal environment before they could begin to re-establish any sort of relationship.  Clearly they couldn't do that at Helwater, let alone on Hal and John's turf in London.  Ireland is neutral territory, so to speak; it gives them a way to begin to interact as equals, and once that happens, once Jamie starts to let go of the hostility, anger, and depression, and begins to relax a bit and let down his guard around Lord John, the chemistry between the two of them really starts to shine through, and that makes the story even more fun to read.

The scenes with Jamie's young son Willie are terrific -- all of them.  Diana Gabaldon has a real gift for writing about young children in a way that's quite natural and believable.  We see Jamie's relationship with Willie evolve very gradually over the course of the book, and by the end of the story, it's hard to imagine how Jamie will ever be able to leave his son. Seeing them together in SCOTTISH PRISONER makes their eventual separation, in VOYAGER, even more heartbreaking.

And speaking of separation....

The constant reminders of Claire's absence, the way she is never far away from Jamie's thoughts (or dreams), are just heartwrenching.  I kept wanting to assure him, "Don't worry, she's fine, you'll see her in a few years."

There's plenty for Lord John fans to enjoy in this book, too.  Many of the major characters from the Lord John novels appear in THE SCOTTISH PRISONER, including Tom Byrd, who is one of my favorites.  It's interesting to see how Jamie interacts with all these characters.  His reactions to seeing John's brother Hal and Harry Quarry were particularly memorable.

(Just as a side note:  Diana Gabaldon has said that you don't need to have read any of the Lord John books and stories in order to enjoy THE SCOTTISH PRISONER, but I think the story will have a lot more depth if you've read LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, at least.)

I really wish I could think of a way to communicate to the fans at large, especially those who don't normally read the Lord John books, how much I think they're going to want to read this book.  There's so much in this story that will appeal to even casual OUTLANDER fans.  I think it would be a real shame for people to dismiss this book on the basis that they don't like Lord John, or don't want to read gay sex scenes, or whatever.

In my opinion, Diana Gabaldon has done everything she possibly could in SCOTTISH PRISONER to make the point that

a) This is all one immense, interrelated story,

b) The boundary between "the OUTLANDER series" and "the Lord John books" is largely an artificial one, created by the publisher or the marketing people or whoever. 

c) People who choose not to read the Lord John books (for whatever reason) are missing important pieces of both the overall story, and the relationship between Jamie and Lord John in particular.

I think it's going to be really interesting to see how readers react to this book, and I honestly do think that readers who dismiss it because they think it's going to be "just another Lord John book" are going to be missing out, big time.

9 comments:

Outlander Kitchen said...

Great review, Karen! I, too, loved the book, and it's got me to go back and start the LJG books again. As you said, there is just so much richness to enjoy about this GIANT, interrelated story. Theresa

Jane Greaney said...

I really enjoyed your review Karen!! I downloaded it right away onto my Kindle but am waiting to read it. Have a LONG flight coming up on Thursday and am thinking The Scottish Prisoner will help make the hours fly by. Your review helped with the wait!

kimberely said...

Can't wait to read this! Wonderful review.

Regards,
Kimberely
@unshakable soul

Karen Henry said...

Thanks to all of you! I sent the link to this blog post to Diana Gabaldon, and she has retweeted my review to all 10,000+ of her Twitter followers! Wow. Her comment on Twitter was, "Thank you, Karen! Wonderful review! <g>"

Karen

Barbie said...

Herself is right... this is a wonderful review! I very much enjoyed this story, and will reread it... just as soon as I finish rereading Echo. I loved what you said about his separation from Claire, that you kept wanting to assure Jamie that he'd see her in a few years. I found that I had to go straight to my copy of Voyager and read where she finds him in Edinburgh. Neither is whole without the other, and I felt her absence as well. I did love how he kept using her expressions, even when they were from her time and not his. Thank goodness we know they'll be together again, because reading this story without that knowledge would make his heartache even more heart-wrenching than it already is.

And Lord John... the more I read about him, the more appealing he becomes. I only got into his series this past summer and have been pleasantly surprised with how much I have come to love him as a character. I certainly enjoyed having so much Jamie in this book, but I'll continue to read any other Lord John books for Lord John's sake alone.

I guess we're back to waiting for the next book... thank goodness Diana gives us those daily lines, which really should be labeled what they are... daily excerpts!! And aren't we lucky that shares?!?

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

I just finished TCP and your insightful review is right on the money, I agree 100% with it! Jamie makes it, but all the characterizations are great (I love Tom too!). His interaction with John's family is fascinating in London - this is a whole new world and side to Jamie we haven't seen before. It's vintage Jamie - he's in fine form and I loved the way he was able to be "himself" again - a laird, a gentleman, as he was before Culloden. Yes, his yearning for Claire was heartwrenching, I felt the same you did. Interesting about Minnie, I wonder if Diana will ever write a short piece including that hearth rug moment! ;)

Lisa W said...

Terrific review! I just finished TCP, and agree wholeheartedly that this book is a part of the whole (and for that matter, so are all the Lord John books). I've always found the first part of Voyager to be incredibly moving, as we discover what Jamie went through during the twenty years after Culloden. TCP expands on what we already know, and really lays the groundwork for the depth of friendship between Jamie and John which we see in later books.

While I enjoyed the mystery and adventure in TCP, it was the character development (Jamie & Willie! Amazing!) that really made this an incredible reading experience. Anyone who skips the Lord John books and TCP is missing some key parts of the story!

Deniz Bevan said...

I agree - I don't quite understand how any fan of the series could miss out on the Lord John books.
Great review, Karen!

dksaga said...

Well, a few years on, and I've just read SP. So I wish I was as enthusiastic. To be sure, I love Lord John and was happy to start "his" series with this book (because I naturally love JAMMF, too, and figured twice the fun, you know?) but I wasn't so totally taken with the story. I very much appreciated the relationship bits, if you know what I mean, and DG does bring these people so to life for me whenever they're interacting. But I couldn't bring myself to care much about the other characters and found it oddly easy to put the book down and be distracted to something else (which otherwise never happens to me with her books).

I'll go on to "Blade" just to see if there's something else to keep me with the LJ side series, besides the presence of Jamie. But I was disappointed. It was worth a read, but I don't feel compelled to reread as I always do with her other books.