Jamie and Claire have comfortably settled into life in their big new house on Fraser's Ridge. Jamie has gathered many of his old friends around him as their tenants, and as such, he's once again taken up the leadership role to which he was born. Their daughter, Brianna, finally marries the love of her life, Roger, and they too settle in next-door to raise their baby son, Jemmy. Life is relatively quiet, but with their knowledge of the future, Claire, Brianna, and Roger are increasingly aware of the impending Revolutionary War, which is only a few years away. Rumblings of discontent are already simmering in the colony of North Carolina, and the governor has called upon Jamie to muster a militia unit to go after the Regulators whom the governor views as troublemakers. Jamie has friends among the Regulators and isn't unsympathetic to their cause, but as a landowner, he has little choice but to comply with the governor's orders. Brianna's dreams are also still haunted by her attacker, Stephen Bonnet, and Jamie and Roger have vowed to hunt down and bring the criminal to justice by any means necessary. As Jamie's Aunt Jocasta and his friend, Duncan prepare to marry, Jamie and Claire find themselves drawn into the mystery of a murdered slave and some missing French gold that was pledged to the Jacobite cause. While Claire works tirelessly to mend broken bodies with her knowledge of medicine, Jamie must try to keep his family and friends safe from harm, and in the process they share many an adventure that will test their fortitude and strengthen their love.
It's now been over two decades since I discovered and read Outlander (the first book of the series) for the first time, and in all that time, no other pair have been able to supplant Jamie and Claire as my all-time favorite romantic couple. I love them and their relationship so much, I would literally read anything that their creator deigns to write about them, and I'm never disappointed with their stories. That said, though, the narrative of The Fiery Cross tends to ebb and flow between more exciting action and mystery and the quieter moments of their lives. For this reason, there were times I wasn't quite as anxious to get back to reading it as I was with some of the earlier books of the series. I wasn't bored, just not as engrossed as I might have been. Throughout reading it, I went back and forth between a 4.5 and a 5 star rating, and eventually settled on 5 stars simply because, even though it took me three weeks to read it (I'm a very slow reader), I was still sorry to see it end. I closed the book on another chapter of Jamie and Claire's lives, but I still want more. That, to me, is one of the main hallmarks of a perfect read, even if the story did have some slower parts.
In this installment of the series, we see Jamie and Claire comfortably settled in their big house on Fraser's Ridge, surrounded by their loved ones and friends. I really enjoy stories about the Colonial period of American history, but don't find ones set in this time all that often. As with all her books, Ms. Gabaldon goes into great detail regarding what life was like in that time, and it isn't always a pretty picture. She doesn't shy away from the harsh, sometimes brutal, realities of living in that era, but it's also balanced out with the beauty of the unspoiled wilderness and wildlife, as well as day-to-day living. There are also some events that are precursors to the rapidly approaching War for Independence, which Jamie and Claire are trying to avoid, but sometimes can't help being dragged into. Wherever they are though, the setting comes alive and basically becomes a character unto itself. In addition to their life on the Ridge, Jamie and Claire experience lots of adventures away from home, some good, some bad, some humorous, and some life-threatening. But no matter what they're doing, they support one another and take joy in each other's company and in their growing family. Almost from the beginning some mysteries start to develop too, which aren't fully untangled until the final chapters of the book, and even then, we're left with additional intrigue that I'm sure will carry over into the next book.
Jamie never ceases to amaze me with his sheer perfection. If he has any flaws, I'd be hard-pressed to say what they are. Claire would probably say it's his stubbornness, but even that can be endearing and has served him well on many occasions. IMHO, he's everything a man (and a romantic hero) should be and more: strong, protective, loyal, determined, responsible, honorable, intelligent, open-minded, a good father and husband, a tender lover. Need I go on?:-) I honestly can't imagine anyone reading these book and not falling in love with him. He's also a born leader who inspires loyalty, and while he holds no official title, he's in essence become the laird of Fraser's Ridge. Jamie bears a heavy weight of responsibility for his tenants and grieves deeply if anything happens to any of them on his watch. He's a strong warrior and skilled fighter, who isn't afraid of battle, but is diplomatic enough to try to avoid it whenever possible. He's also a man of the land, skilled in farming and animal husbandry. I love how intelligent Jamie is and how even though it's sometimes difficult for an 18th century man to wrap his head around many of the things Claire tells and shows him, he's still fascinated by them and enjoys learning about them. I also adore Jamie's sense of humor. He has a boyishly mischievous side that's utterly charming, and he often make me laugh at his jokes and his reactions to certain things. Jamie's family is everything to him. He adores his children and grandchildren, even the ones who don't share his blood and the ones who can't be with him, and he welcomes his new son-in-law into the fold, even if he does test him a bit in the process. Best of all, Jamie's love for Claire is breathtaking in its intensity and the kind of love I think everyone wishes for at least once in their lives. It's also very heartwarming to see that he's not only still madly in love with her after nearly thirty years, but still desires her more than his next breath. It's no wonder that in all this time, no other romantic hero has been able to knock him out of that top spot on my list of favorites.
I've always admired Claire for her strength, determination, and tenacity. She's a woman who knows who she is and isn't afraid to be who she was born to be. She also knows what she wants and goes after it with single-minded intent. She's a born healer, who instinctively understands the human body, including all its frailties. While we've seen Claire in this role throughout the series, I think it's perhaps even more pronounced in this book. She's able to bring to bear her twentieth-century knowledge of medicine, but is often frustrated by her eighteenth-century limitations. It doesn't stop her, though, from doing everything she possibly can to heal or cure every person who steps into her surgery, and much like Jamie, she deeply feels the weight of responsibility for every death, even when she knows there was nothing she could do to prevent it. As she herself muses, she has that "odd mixture of empathy and ruthlessness needed to be a great doctor." She has a dry wit and a wry sense of humor that makes me smile. Also like Jamie, family comes first in her world, and she would do anything to keep those she loves safe. Although she often worries for Jamie's safety, she is strong enough to recognize when he needs to do something and support his endeavors even if she doesn't like it. She's always been Jamie's rock and sometimes even his lifeline, both physically and emotionally. She loves him with the same all-consuming passion that he loves her and can't bear to think of a time when they might not be together.
At this point in the Outlander series, the books are no longer just about Jamie and Claire, but also their daughter, Brianna, and the love of her life, Roger Mackenzie. Roger probably gets nearly as many scenes from his third-person POV as Claire does from her first-person POV, with a smattering of Jamie's and Brianna's perspectives thrown in here and there for good measure. Roger is a keen observer of human nature, and he often watches Jamie and Claire, wishing to emulate the love and deep connection they share in his own marriage. While Roger's and Brianna's romance isn't quite the grand affair that her parents' is, it's still obvious that they love one another deeply and IMHO are well-matched. Both of them have an artistic side, Roger's leans toward music, while Brianna has a talent for drawing and painting. Much like her parents, they are both highly intelligent. Bree nearly became an engineer, and Roger is a historian, like Bree's adoptive father, Frank. Having grown up in the relative safety of the twentieth century, both of them face difficulties in adjusting to life in the past. Bree is more independent and adaptable like her mother, while also being strong and stubborn like her father. She's a crack shot and has little trouble facing the realities of the past head on. Roger, however, is a bookish sort and a musician, who is much more at home singing than fighting or shooting things. He struggles with a sense of inadequacy, feeling like he can't quite measure up to the almost legendary Jamie Fraser. Throughout the story Roger grows and changes as he admirably faces life-altering challenges of his own, the type that can make or break a man. Both of them, to some degree, must also face what was done to Bree by the villainous Stephen Bonnet in the previous book. I greatly admire them both for their handling of the situation, Roger for his protectiveness of his wife and Bree for standing up for herself. I also enjoyed watching them be parents to their baby boy, Jemmy, who is a real cutie-pie. He behaves exactly like I would expect a miniature red-headed Fraser descendant to - intrepid, mischievous, and full of curiosity.
Like I said before, I just can't get enough of Jamie and Claire. Their love is the kind that I aspire to have. No matter how long they're together, they still have an easy rapport that melts my heart. It's like they're the missing piece of the other, always knowing and sensing things about one another that no one else would notice. Even though they're now middle-aged, they're still madly in love and desire each other to the depth of their being. It's nice to see Roger and Brianna at least trying to follow in her parents' footsteps, even if they have some very big shoes to fill. I truly can't wait to see what else might be in store for all of them in future books of the series.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook