With his wife Claire's knowledge of the future, Jamie Fraser has reluctantly come to side with the American rebel cause in the mounting Revolutionary War. He knows the Americans will win, but fighting for the winning side is no guarantee of survival. He also refuses to face his own illegitimate son, William, who is now a young lieutenant in the British army, across a battlefield. In an effort to avoid the inevitable battles to come, Jamie makes the decision to return to Scotland to retrieve his printing press to fight the war on a different front. However, fate has other plans in mind for the Scotsman and his time-traveling wife. As they face pirates and sea battles that sweep them right back into the heart of the war, Jamie and Claire must bring both of their wits to bear in order to survive the very danger they sought to escape.
Meanwhile in the relative safety of 1980 Scotland, their daughter, Brianna, along with her husband, Roger, and their two children have taken up residence at Lallybroch, the historic home that once belonged to her father. Brianna deals with the difficulties of working in a male-dominated career, while Roger struggles to figure out what he's meant to do with his newfound life. As they work to carve out a path for themselves in the future, they gradually learn the fate of Brianna's parents through old letters Jamie and Claire left for them to find. But their lives take an abrupt turn when the past comes calling in the form of an unexpected visitor, and the trouble that seems to follow the stolen Jacobite gold lands once more on their doorstep, inextricably linking them again to a time two centuries earlier.
An Echo in the Bone is the seventh volume in Diana Gabaldon's epic Outlander series, and things change up a bit in this book. While there have been other POVs outside of Claire's and Jamie's in the past few books, I believe they were limited to Bree's, Roger's and Ian's. With this volume, we have all of those and the addition of a few more, giving the narrative the feel of an ensemble cast. It also takes place in two different time lines, with Bree and Roger having returned to the future and living in 1980, while Claire, Jamie, and the rest are still in the late 1700s, during the American Revolution. There is also action on two different continents, with most of the story taking place in the Colonies, but Claire and Jamie eventually return to Scotland, and some characters, including Jamie and Lord John, make trips to France as well. It all definitely keeps the reader on their toes, and I advise paying close attention to the dates in the chapter headings because things tend to jump around a bit. I had no trouble following along, through, and most seasoned Outlander readers shouldn't either, but I can see how it could get a bit confusing at times. For me, I loved it all and found it very exciting.
Claire and Jamie have always been and will always be the backbone of this series. They're beginning to age, though not enough yet to truly slow them down much. Claire is still the spitfire heroine we've known since the start of the series, just with more gray hair.:-) She's the consummate, caring doctor, providing advanced medical knowledge to save lives in a variety of circumstances. Jamie is the born leader and warrior, fighting battles on whatever front he finds himself. After surviving the destruction of their home on Fraser's Ridge, they make the decision to return to Scotland to finally take Ian home to his family after so many years apart and to retrieve the printing press that Jamie left behind so that he can be a warrior of a different sort, taking up the pen instead of the sword. They made this choice, in part, because with Claire's knowledge of the future, Jamie refuses to fight on the losing side in the Revolution, but to fight for the Americans might mean facing-off against his own son, who is now a British soldier, across a battlefield, a risk he's not willing to take. However, their plans go awry when the ship they're sailing on is taken by the British who attempt to press Jamie and Ian into service. By committing piracy, they manage to get back on the winning side, but only if Jamie agrees to serve in the Continental Army for a short time. This leads to all sorts of Revolutionary War misadventures before he and Claire finally reach their goal. But then some shocking things occur in the final chapters, which could put their relationship in jeopardy moving forward. Jamie and Claire are the perfect couple who've seen each other through thick and thin. I don't think I've ever read a more well-matched, made-for-each-other pair than they are, and I have no doubt that their love will last for eternity. I would follow these two anywhere and into any circumstances just to read more about them.
As I mentioned before, Bree and Roger went back to the future at the end of the previous book to seek life-saving medical treatment for little Mandy. Having purchased Lallybroch, they're now trying to build a new life for themselves and their children in 1980. Bree starts a challenging new job in a man's world, working at the local hydro-electric plant, while Roger struggles with deciding whether he's still meant to be a minister. Meanwhile, their children, Jem and Mandy, try to adjust to life in a different century. At the end of the last book, Bree and Roger discovered a box of old letters that her parents left for them to let them know what happened after they went back through the stones, which they begin to read as a way of reconnecting with the past. However, their seemingly idyllic new life is thrown into disarray when an unexpected visitor shows up, and before they can even recover from that, the stolen Jacobite gold comes back to haunt them in a shocking twist. Bree and Roger are almost equally as well-matched as Jamie and Claire. They experience their ups and downs, but they always seem to find their way back to each other. Their part of the story is pretty much left on a cliff-hanger which I very much look forward to hopefully seeing resolved in the next book.
Ian gets some scenes of his own as he finds himself the target of a vengeful Arch Bug after unintentionally killing someone close to the man. He also wrestles with his divorce from Emily and their seeming inability to have a child. While doing so, he meets up with William and shares an unexpected friendship of a sort with him that keeps popping up throughout the story. Ian finds new love with a young Quaker woman but doesn't know if his feelings are reciprocated. He also finally makes it home to Scotland and his family but despite being glad to see them again after so many years, he finds himself restless to get back to America, which somehow feels more like home now. Ian is a warrior just like his Uncle Jamie, and they're like two peas in a pod. Where one goes, the other one can usually be found, because they're as close as father and son. I was happy to see him finally find someone who holds the promise of a great love for him and hope to see the fruition of their relationship in the next book. Ian definitely deserves it after all that he's been through.
Jamie's son, William, gets a number of his own scenes for the first time in the series. He's a relatively new officer in the British army and eager to fight with them to put down the revolution. However, with his seeming penchant for getting lost, it takes a while before he sees any real action. That doesn't stop him from getting himself hurt, though, and on one of these occasions, he encounters Ian, a man he doesn't know is really his cousin. William rather grudgingly likes Ian, and the two form a strange bond that brings them together time and time again. Not only do they share some misadventures, but they also share tender feelings for the same woman, which I hope doesn't lead to any major conflicts for them in the future, as I think they have the potential to become genuine friends. I loved finally getting to see more of William. It was fun to explore all the physical similarities, as well as the little quirks that he shares with Jamie, despite not knowing who his true father is. At only twenty years old, he's still young and occasionally a bit foolish, but at the same time, he's an honorable man and a true warrior, just like both his fathers. I can't wait to see more of him in future installments.
Then there's Lord John, and I believe this marks the first time he's gotten his own scenes in an Outlander novel. Reading these parts was kind of like reading a mini-Lord John story, and as an aside, I'm quite happy I'd read his series before getting to this book. I highly recommend it, because some characters from that series show up in this volume. After an encounter with Percy, his step-brother and former lover, John must return to England and eventually France to investigate some possible spies. While in England, he visits his brother, Hal, whose health is rather poor, and agrees to take his niece, Dottie, to America, ostensibly to marry William. Once back in the Colonies, he sets about getting the best medical care he can for his nephew, another soldier, who was badly wounded and is slowly dying. This eventually brings him into Claire's sphere again, where some truly shocking things happen between them. I really enjoyed getting a Lord John story in the midst of an Outlander story. I must admit to being blown away by the things that occur and I'll be very interested to see how this all sorts out.
The final character who gets some of her own POV scenes is Rachel, a young Quaker woman, who along with her brother Denny, are brand new to the series. Denny is a doctor - and a bloody good one, which is rare for the time - who has a surprising connection with another character in the book. Ian brings an injured William to Denny for help and in the process the two young men find themselves falling in love with Rachel, who is not only Denny's sister, but also his nurse. I really loved getting to know these two characters. As Quakers, it isn't surprising that they're both kind and gentle souls but they each have an underlying touch of steel. I'd be thrilled to see Rachel with either Ian or William, though I think she's already made her choice. It's just a matter of whether her faith will allow her to be with either of them because of their violent, warrior natures. I was also pleased with where things went for Denny who has a loose connection to the Lord John series. I very much look forward to seeing more of these two in the future.
Overall, An Echo in the Bone was yet another excellent installment of this epic romantic series. It was a little slow at the beginning, but as the story progresses, it builds very nicely. As always, no detail of these stories is a throwaway. Every one is typically the start of a breadcrumb trail that leads to some greater moment later on. It's also fun to see characters who maybe haven't been on the canvas in a while pop up again. It never ceases to amaze me how Diana Gabaldon deftly weaves everything together into a cohesive whole, especially with so many characters in different places and time lines. There are also a number of real-life characters of the American Revolution included, which was exciting. Readers will say a teary farewell to one long-time character as well. But perhaps best of all, the slow build-up led to a number of truly jaw-dropping moments toward the end with lots of tantalizing little threads left hanging to tease the reader into the next book. I think this may be the most cliff-hangery book of the series thus far, outside of Dragonfly in Amber, and I'm already chomping at the bit to read Written in My Own Heart's Blood, the next volume.
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