Note: Dragonfly in Amber is the second novel in the “Outlander Series.” There will necessarily be spoilers for the first book in the series, Outlander.
In Outlander, Claire, a young married English nurse on vacation in Scotland after World War II, accidentally traveled back in time 200 years to 1743. There she took up with Highland Hottie Jamie, and developed her skills as a healer. As Outlander ended, Claire was pregnant, and Jamie insisted she go back to the future to save herself and her unborn child, since he thinks he is about to die in battle.
As Dragonfly in Amber begins, we meet Claire again, but now it is 1968. Claire has brought her 20-year-old daughter, Brianna – the spitting image of Jamie – with her to Scotland. They traveled from Boston, where Claire is a doctor, and they have come to see Roger Wakefield in Inverness, who is an historian. Claire’s husband Frank Randall has died, and so she plans to tell Brianna that her real father is Jamie. But first she wants to discover, if she can, what happened to Jamie after she left twenty years earlier. She knows that Roger’s late father collected a great deal of materials from that time period.
For most of the book, Claire, in the process of telling Roger and Brianna the truth about who she is, takes us back to the 1700s to fill us in on what happened since the end of Outlander. As the book ends (some 743 pages later), Roger has discovered a clue to Jamie’s fate that changes everything Claire thought she knew.
Discussion: The author provides a more lucid account of the political issues behind the Jacobin rising in this book. She also has a bit of a “meta” reverie (played out between Claire and Roger) on the ways in which the historical record is mutable, depending on a complex web comprised of ideology, values, and political agendas. In the case of Scotland in the 1700’s, Claire was there and knows things were not as they were later depicted. Claire explains to Roger that her bitterness is not against historians themselves:
“Not the historians… For the most part, they think what they were made to think, and it’s a rare one that sees what really happened, behind the smokescreen of artifacts and paper. … No, the fault lies with the artists…. The writers, the singers, the tellers of tales. It’s them that take the past and re-create it to their liking. Them that could take a fool and give you back a hero, take a sot and make him a king.”
This is only one of the instances in which Gabaldon takes a critical look at herself through the voice of her characters: about writing historical fiction, about writing very long books, about writing romance novels. It’s a nice touch.
One troubling aspect of the story is the fact that Claire waited all that time to check on whether Jamie was really dead. That seems hard to swallow, given Claire’s character, and given her abiding love for Jamie.
Evaluation: You can’t help but get caught up with these characters, and want to know what happens to them. And indeed, you get a blow-by-blow account in these books of almost every minute in almost every day. But it’s not a bad vicarious life to be living. Claire may be over-confident for a woman of her generation, but one must grudgingly like her or at least admire her adaptability. Jamie is handsome and heroic and smitten with his woman – not bad traits about which to fantasize. And Jamie’s friends and family are all you could wish for in a loyal, loving, bonded group. Play on, Gabaldon!
Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 1992
Note: There is a book, The Outlandish Companion, which provides details on the settings, background, characters, research, and writing of the novels. Also, you may want to get started in reading these huge books; an Outlander TV series is featured on the Starz network.