Review of “Dragonfly in Amber” by Diana Gabaldon

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.

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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!

Rating: 3.5/5

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.

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7 Responses to Review of “Dragonfly in Amber” by Diana Gabaldon

  1. sandynawrot says:

    I can’t remember which book is the one where she gets back to Jamie…this one or the next one. I was absolutely TAKEN with the first three or four books, but after those, it seemed like filler to me. I burned out after book 5, and still have 6 on my iPod, waiting for inspiration!

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I’ve heard so much about these books sometimes I feel like I should read them but I think they might be too soap operish for me.

  3. Trish says:

    I started to read this one but was so turned off by being in the 1960s with a grown daughter that I turned off the reading app on my phone and probably played on twitter instead. And gone from Jamie for 20 years and not sure if he’s alive??? I don’t know that you have sold me on continuing. Can I just re-read the first one again? 🙂

  4. Beth F says:

    I read them all and listened to them all. I’m a fan. Some installments were stronger than others, but that’s to be expected. She is TIME TRAVELING for god’s sake … why quibble about the believability of some of the “facts” of Claire’s personality or life. LOL

  5. Laurie C says:

    I listened to Outlander on audio, and loved it! I couldn’t find Dragonfly in Amber on audio at the time, so got out the print book from the library. It didn’t cast the same spell on me, and I ended up skimming most of it, and didn’t go on to the next book. Maybe I missed Jamie?? Or just the gorgeous accent of the audiobook narrator, Davina Porter…

  6. Marg says:

    I was obsessed with these early books in the series. Voyager is my favourite so I hope you love it too when you get to it.

  7. stacybuckeye says:

    Thanks for the review. I read the first 4 forever ago and want to read The Fiery Cross without rereading them all. I’ll have to wait for your reviews to catch me up 🙂

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