Lord John Grey attends an electric eel party which is all the rage at the time, but it all ends badly with him unintentionally killing a man in a duel. Needing to lay low for a while, he's rather relieved to receive a summons from Charlie Carruthers, an old friend, who needs him to act as a character witness in his court-martial. Charlie is stationed on the Canadian frontier, so John immediately sets sail for the New World. There he finds all manner of interesting, intriguing and dangerous people and situations, and soon it's not just Charlie's life he's trying to save, but his own as well.
Chronologically, The Custom of the Army is set approximately one year after the events of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade and its subsequent novella, Lord John and the Haunted Solider. Unlike the other Lord John Grey stories, which are primarily historical mysteries, this one doesn't really have much of a mystery to speak of. Instead of it being a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end, it feels more like a series of vignettes in John's life that intersect in some ways. That's not to say it isn't good, though. I still enjoyed it every bit as much as the other novels and novellas in the series. It just has a slightly different feel to it.
The story all begins with John at an electric eel party that goes awry and ends with him unintentionally killing a man in a duel. With that man's father, as well as the father of the young lady whose honor he was defending, breathing down his neck, John needs to find a way to lay low for a while before accepting his military promotion. Fortuitously, Charlie Carruthers, an old friend and fellow military man with whom John briefly had an affair, requests that John come to Canada, where he's stationed, to act as a character witness in his impending court-martial. John is all too happy to oblige as a temporary escape from his own problems and immediately sets sail for the New World. There he gets his first glimpse of Native Americans, some of whom are friendly and some not so much. He also goes in search of his cousin-in-law, Malcolm Stubbs, to give him a gift from his wife, but theirs isn't exactly a happy reunion. John meets up with Charlie and discovers exactly how he ended up being court-martialed, and last but not least, he takes part in the Battle of Quebec. It was a surprising number of events condensed down into a fairly short novella, which made it a pretty fast-paced read.
The part about Charlie is probably the closest John came to any sort of mystery in this novella, and it was left somewhat open-ended, which makes me wonder if it will be resolved in a future story of the series. John also finally receives some closure with regards to his father's murder. There are a few past characters from the series who pop up again in this one, including John's friend Lucinda, who hosts the electric eel party, John's cousin-in-law, Malcolm, who raised both my ire and my sympathy, and John Hunter, a doctor who's a little on the creepy side with his obsession over human anatomy and who according to Ms. Gabaldon's introduction was a real person. As always the author's attention to historical detail is superb, with some other real-life players in the Battle of Quebec present, including Simon Fraser, who is also seen in one of the Outlander novels. John also gets a little side romance of a sort with Manoke, a Native American man he meets, but that relationship is more implied than anything else.
Overall, I enjoyed this series of adventures in which Lord John takes part. I had two favorite things about the story, both of which have to do with John as a character. First, he, once again, shows how honorable he is in several different ways. The one thing I've always admired most about Jamie (who barely received a mention in this story) is his honor, and I've always felt that John is an equally honorable man, which is part of his appeal for me. The second is that we get to see him with a couple of little ones in this story, which shows us a taste of the wonderful father he'll become. Aside from the fact that these stories can be a tad dry at times and that military history isn't really my favorite type of historical fiction, I have no real complaints. John, himself, more than makes these stories worth the read. The Custom of the Army was originally published in the multi-author anthology, Warriors and was later republished as a stand-alone novella in eBook and audio format. It's most recent publication is in the single-author anthology, Seven Stones to Stand or Fall, along with several other Outlander related novellas.
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