‘I stood still, vision blurring, and in that moment, I heard my heart break. It was a small, clean sound, like the snapping of a flower’s stem.’
A while ago I read the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s famous Outlander series, and whilst I enjoyed it, I found it problematic in a several ways. However, I feel like these issues were less prominent in this second instalment, and I actually found myself enjoying Dragonfly in Amber much more than Outlander.
Dragonfly in Amber opens with Claire Randall having returned to the 20th Century, where she has been living for 20 years with her husband Frank and daughter Brianna. However, following Frank’s death, Claire finally decides it’s time to tell her daughter the truth about her origins, and the two take a trip to the Scottish Highlands to visit an old friend. Claire hopes this old friend will be able to help her find out more about the tragic events on Culloden Field, two hundred years earlier, and the fate of the Scottish warrior who she holds in her heart.
When I first started reading this book, I was a little confused by the new structure. The first book had a simple, linear narrative, and ended with Claire and Jamie together and definitely in the 18th Century. Therefore I had expected this book to start where Outlander left off, and so was a little baffled when I started reading and found that it was set back in the 20th Century, but 20-odd years after Clare’s mysterious disappearance into the past. I wasn’t sure about this change at first, especially as the introductory section seemed to drag on, but by the end of the book I could see why it was necessary in context of the series.
However, as soon as the narrative reverted back to the 18th Century I found myself really getting into the story, and I loved the new setting of Paris, where Claire and Jamie find themselves mixing with the likes of Charles Stuart and King Louis XV as they try to prevent the disastrous Jacobite uprising. I continued to love Claire and Jamie as a couple, and I really enjoyed the chemistry between them, but I also really liked the introduction of so many new characters.
I especially loved the introduction of Charles Stuart as a character, particularly the his first appearance, as he drunkenly scrambles through Jamie and Claire’s window at night. He’s far from the most likeable character being somewhat deluded and pompous, but he’s definitely interesting as a historical figure and makes a colourful character.
However, my favourite new character was the mischievous but courageous Fergus, and I liked seeing his relationship with Jamie and Claire develop. Jamie becomes something of a father/brother figure to him, which was heart-warming to see, and even though Claire always tells him off, you can her genuine fondness towards him. Other new characters I liked include Master Raymond, Mary Hawkins, Mother Hildegarde (and of course the dog Bouton – how can you not like a dog that can help diagnose illness?) and Roger Wakefield in the 20th Century setting (although I unfortunately wasn’t as keen on Brianna, which could prove a problem in the later books!).
As she did with the Scottish highlands in the first book, Diana Gabaldon paints a vivid scene for the reader through her descriptions of life in Paris, and I loved seeing Claire and Jamie become embroiled in the Parisian high society. When the book moves back to Scotland later on I also liked visiting lots of new places, such as 18th Century Edinburgh and Stirling, although you could sense the looming figure of disaster as events continued to lead towards Culloden and the coming tragedy.
Although I feel this book did suffer with a longer-than-needed introductory section, overall I really enjoyed it, even if the ending left my poor feelings in tatters (plus, talk about a cliffhanger!). I liked this book much more than Outlander, largely because my feelings towards it weren’t complicated as much by various issues, and also because I liked the way the story developed and the way it seems to be taking the series. I sense that the whole time travel aspect is going to become an even bigger part of the series in Voyager, and I’m really hoping to get round to reading that soon!