Of haggis, gigged frogs and succubi: Continuing her Outlander series, Gabaldon (An Echo in the Bone, 2009, etc.) again pushes the boundaries of genre fiction.
Sensitive readers new to the series will want to know that Gabaldon’s leads are fond of dropping f-bombs, sometimes even in the clinical sense: “Damn you, neither one of us was making love to the other—we were both fucking you!" They’ll also want to know that, as those characters cross time and space, they’re given to the basest treacheries as well as the profoundest loyalties, which may help explain the preceding quotation. The action now takes place across the water in revolutionary America, where Jamie Fraser, one-time Jacobite rebel, now commands 10 companies of Continental militia, when, he worriedly notes, “he’d never led a band of more than fifty.” Lord John, his old Brit friend and sometime bugaboo, figures in the mischief, of course. There are twists aplenty, one of them Jamie’s Lazarus-like return from the great beyond to find—well, different domestic arrangements. Meanwhile, his child, having long since learned that it’s possible to enter “a time vortex with a gemstone” and come out safely in other eras, now has good reason to want to be not in the 20th century but back in the 18th, where, if things are just as complicated, she at least has trustworthy kin. Confused yet? With willingly suspended disbelief, it all makes sense in the end. Gabaldon’s themes are decidedly grown-up, as the in-joking chapter titles (“Frottage,” “Frannie’s Frenulum”) suggest, but the basic premise is a dash of juvenile fantasy, a jigger of historical fact and heaping helpings of counterfactuals. If you’re a Gabaldon fan, the Scottish dialect, laid on with a spade, and all those naughty asides will be a familiar pleasure. If not—well, this overly long book isn’t likely to make converts, at least not without several thousand pages of catch-up to figure out who’s who, who’s doing what, who’s doing whom, and why.
Gabaldon works a successful formula, with few surprises but plenty of devices. And yes, there’s room for a sequel—or 10.