In 1778, Jamie Fraser has just returned from being presumed lost at sea along with his sister, Jenny, an assumption that left his family in turmoil. Upon arriving in Philadelphia, he discovers that in his absence, his good friend, John Grey, has married his wife, Claire, leading to a confrontation between the two men. But before that happens, Jamie's illegitimate son - John's adoptive son - William Ransom finally realizes, much to his dismay, who his biological father really is, an event that sends his emotions careening down a slippery slope as he searches for a new sense of self. Meanwhile, Jamie's nephew, Ian, declares his intention to marry Rachel, a young Quaker woman, which could prove difficult given their differing views on violence and the fact that Rachel and her brother, Denny - who is engaged to John's niece - were read out of their Quaker meeting, leaving them with no spiritual home in which to marry the people they each love. As all of them grapple with their respective emotional upheavals, they also become embroiled once again in the Revolutionary War, which will prove dangerous for them, placing at least one of their lives on the line.
Jamie and Claire's only solace is that their daughter Brianna and her family are safe in 1980, but little do they know that Bree and Roger's lives are also in a state of turmoil. Bree frantically searches for her missing son, Jem, who was kidnapped by men hell-bent on finding the cursed Jacobite gold, of which only Jem and Jamie know it's location. But thinking that they took Jem to the past, Roger sets out through the stones with his ancestor Buck, searching for Jem there. When Bree finally succeeds in getting her son back, she fears that she may never see Roger again, knowing that he won't stop looking until Jem is found even though the boy isn't there. But she has little time to contemplate that possibility when the kidnappers come after her with a vengeance, sending her and the children on the run for their own protection and leaving her with the certainty that there is only one place where they will all likely be safe.
Although I've tried in my previous reviews, I'm not sure there are adequate words to express what a huge fan I am of the entire Outlander series and all the characters in it, but once again, I will try with this review of Written in My Own Heart's Blood. For the last few books, the focus has expanded from Jamie and Claire to include a number of other characters' perspectives, such as Brianna and Roger, Ian, Lord John, William, Rachel and Denny (although I don't think he had any of his own POV scenes), Dottie, and even occasionally, the odd other POV like Jemmy and Germain. No matter who's "telling the story," I love them all and can't get enough of them. It's what makes these books so darn enjoyable for me. As a writer myself, I never fail to be astounded by how well Diana Gabaldon wrangles all these characters and weaves each of their individual narratives together into a cohesive whole. Then of course, there's the heart-stopping romance, and we get a number of romantic pairings in this volume that definitely held my interest and kept me reading. I'm always eager to see what happens next, which is why I simply couldn't put this or any other book of the series down.
Jamie and Claire may not be the only characters whose stories are being told anymore, but they're definitely still the heart and soul of the series, and all the other characters and events still revolve around them. This book begins with a continuation of their reunion after Jamie was presumed dead and lost at sea but then "miraculously" reappeared. They haven't even properly reunited yet before Jamie and John (who married Claire in his absence to protect her) end up in a fight outside of town, and then Jamie finds himself conscripted into the Continental army at the behest of George Washington himself. It takes quite a few chapters before things finally get sorted out for Jamie and Claire to really come back together, and from there, they take part in yet another major Revolutionary War operation, the Battle of Monmouth. From there, they spend some time back in Philadelphia, before heading for Savannah, and at the very end of the book, finally returning home to Fraser's Ridge. Through it all, it's obvious that this couple are still madly in love with one another even after all the many years they've been together and even after weathering through all sorts of separations and challenges. They face a number of new complications in this book, including a life-threatening injury, but their love overcomes each and every one. I adore these two and never tire of seeing more of their lives together.
As with the previous book of the series, Lord John has become a major player with his narrative woven into the Outlander books instead of having his own separate stories. During his personal conflict with Jamie at the beginning of the book, he says exactly the wrong thing, so that when they're accosted by Continental soldiers, Jamie is angry enough to leave John to his own devices. This leads to John, whose brother Hal has reactivated his military commission, being taken as a prisoner of war. From there, he ping-pongs back and forth between escaping and being a prisoner, but he can't quite get away from the Rebels. This leads him back to Jamie and Claire, as well as a brief and unwelcome reunion with his step-brother and former lover, Percy, but eventually he does find his way back to the British army and Hal. He also investigates a mysterious officer named Richardson who might be a spy or maybe even a double-agent, and helps Hal and William search for Hal's son, Benjamin's widow and her child, whom they've never met and aren't even certain exist. He must also deal with some difficulties in his relationship with William over not revealing the truth of William's birth. It would be impossible not to love John for his honorable nature and the way he always tries to do the right thing. It was revealed that Richardson has certain knowledge about John that could be very damaging, so I'll be sitting on pins and needles wondering what might happen to him in the next book.
William, Jamie's illegitimate son and John's adopted son, is an important player as well. At the end of the previous book, he finally discovered his true parentage and he spends this entire book dealing with that fall-out. He's left emotionally adrift and trying to figure out exactly who he really is and find something about himself that's real. In the midst of this reckoning, he meets Jane, a young prostitute who offers him a bit of comfort. Because of his status as a prisoner of war, he can't fight in the battle or carry weapons, so he's assigned to relocating Loyalists who must leave Philadelphia and head for New York in the wake of the Continental Army taking over the city. On the way there, he encounters Jane again, along with her younger sister, Fanny, and becomes their protector. I thought perhaps Jane might become a love interest for William, but things didn't go exactly the way I thought they might. However, through it all, William exhibits the kindness, care, and honor that he's apparently inherited from both of his fathers.
Young Ian is beside himself to discover that he didn't actually lose both Jamie and his mother, Jenny, after all. He follows Jamie into the battle as a Mohawk scout, and as usual, gets himself into a bit of trouble. On the romantic front, Rachel made it clear at the end of the previous book that she'd chosen Ian, and although William is a bit put out at first, her mind is more than made up. However, there are still complications to overcome, in that Ian isn't a Quaker and has no real interest in converting since fighting is in his blood. There's also the little problem of Rachel and her brother, Denzel, having both been read out of their Quaker meeting because of Denny's calling to be a surgeon with the Continental Army. Denny continues to be an incredible doctor for that era and is more than willing to learn from Claire, also saving her life at one point. He has his own issues to overcome in his relationship with Dottie, because although she has converted to the Quaker faith, like Ian and Rachel, they have no meeting where they can marry. However, I can say that there are happy endings all the way around for these two couples that made my hopeless romantic's heart soar.
Meanwhile, Brianna, Roger, Jem, and Mandy are all inhabiting their own timelines. At the end of the previous book, Jem had been kidnapped. Thinking that the kidnappers - who were in search of the cursed Jacobite gold of which only Jem and Jamie know the location - had taken Jem back through the stones to find it, Roger, along with his ancestor, Buck - who himself had accidentally traveled to the future - go back in time, looking for Jem. Little do they know, though, that Jem never left 1980, so their search for him is fruitless. But they do meet a number of other characters, including a surprising one, when they land in a time just a few years before the one Claire first traveled back to. Unfortunately, though, this leaves Bree alone in 1980 to fend off the kidnappers, save Jem, and figure out a way to keep her kids safe from these ne'er-do-wells, which ends up with her taking drastic actions.
There is so much that happens in Written in My Own Heart's Blood that it never feels like an 800+ page tome. The plot moves along at a steady pace, with all the characters involved at various points. In addition to everything I talked about above, Fergus and Marsali suffer through a double tragedy, but have happy news as well, while Jenny once again, becomes a main supporting player and we begin to get reacquainted with the residents of Fraser's Ridge. There are a couple of very sad deaths that brought tears to my eyes. As usual, the history is deftly woven into the narrative with many real historical figures as characters as well. I always feel like I'm getting an entertaining history lesson whenever I pick up one of these books. This volume doesn't end on quite as big of a cliffhanger as the last one, but there is enough left open to tantalize the reader into the next book, which unfortunately isn't yet available. I've seen Ms. Gabaldon's posts mentioning that it's in the final stages, so in the meantime, I'll be delving into the second Outlandish Companion, while eagerly waiting for Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone to be released, hopefully sometime yet this year (2020).
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