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