Disclaimer! If you haven't read the previous six books in the series, there will be minor spoiler in this review. Proceed at your own risk.
Having finally completed my epic re-read of the previous books in the series at a page count total that is frankly obscene, I finally got to read a new to me Diana Gabaldon. When this book first came out in 2009, I just didn't have the energy to expend on re-reading the whole series to catch up and I decided to just put it off. With book eight in the series being published earlier this year, the very entertaining TV series making me remember what I love so much about Gabaldon's writing and the excellent online company/support group I am part of over on Facebook to discuss the books with, I was a lot more motivated to get through the series now. Yet it still took me more than a month to get through this.
There is so much I love about Gabaldon's writing. Jamie and Claire have been part of my life for a very long time, and I generally find most of the stuff involving them very interesting. But since pretty much book 3, these books aren't really just the continuing adventures of Jamie and Claire Fraser in the 18th Century. There's Brianna and Roger and their kids, now back in Scotland in the early 1980s (which I'm freaking out about a bit, because that's within MY lifetime). There is Jamie's best friend, Lord John Grey, who, when he's not trying to figure out why his niece is pretending to be madly in love with his stepson and hell bent on going to America to be reunited with him, goes about doing not much of anything obviously important or interesting for two thirds of this book. There's said stepson, Jamie's illegitimate offspring, William, the Eight Earl of Ellesmere, who is now a soldier in the British Army. He gets recruited for spy missions, but doesn't seem very good at it. He travels to Canada and back. There are letters between him and his stepfather which may be super interesting for people who are a lot more into the American War of Independence than I am, but to me, it was the literary equivalent of watching paint dry. So much boring.
Jamie and Claire have decided to go to Scotland to fetch Jamie's printing press. Jamie absolutely does not want to get involved in the war, because doing so might mean that he will face his son on the battlefield. The Frasers bring along their nephew, young Ian MacKenzie, because Jamie swore to his sister that he would bring the lad home, and while it's taken quite a long time, and Ian has both been adopted by a Native American tribe, married, divorced and experienced the loss of a child in that time, it would still be good for him to be reunited with his parents. Many many complications arise on their way. It again takes them the best end of the book to actually arrive in Scotland, but because much of their story was action packed and dramatic, I have no real complaint about their sections.
In the future, Roger and Bree have bought Lallybroch and are trying to make a home there. Bree gets a job working for the Scottish hydro-electric board, and Roger debates whether he wants to become a minister after all. They have a stash of letters written to them by Bree's parents, so they can follow along in the continuing adventures of Jamie and Claire, while worrying because they keep ending up in historically significant places and close to or in the midst of important events. Roger is trying to put down everything they know about time travel in writing and their family are settling in nicely when they have a very unexpected visitor about the same time as it is obvious that someone in the village not only knows about the gold Jamie and Claire hid way back in the 18th Century, but are willing to go to rather extreme steps to get to it.
As I said, far more of the book than I cared about is devoted to young William Ransom and Lord John Grey. I love Lord John, he's a great supporting character. I laugh every time I think about how Bree tried to coerce him into marriage. Reading about him in London, talking to his brother about irrelevant family matters, or travelling to France to speak to uninteresting individuals or generally just worrying about the safety of his immediate or extended family was super dull. Reading about William was even more boring, and as this was the first time I read the book, I had no idea which bits I could skim or even skip (now I know). There are seriously multiple chapters devoted to William lost in a swamp, deliriously wandering. Not cool, Diana Gabaldon, not cool. He does eventually have his life saved by young Ian in said swamp, but really, there are better ways those two characters could cross paths.
Not content with a supporting character gallery into double figures already, Gabaldon also introduces some new individuals in this book. William's cousin Dottie seems pretty spunky, for all that she's the sheltered daughter of a Duke. It's very obvious to the reader early on that her and William's story about being madly in love is a clever fiction, but it takes much of the book for the reader to discover why Dottie would go to such lengths to get herself to America. Young Ian, who loved and lost his Native American wife, falls in love again with a Quaker, Rachel Hunter. She and her brother Denzell, who is a doctor, join the Continental army as healers and I very much enjoyed everything with them.
I would have rated this book 3 stars based on the first two thirds, but then things really start coming together and becoming super exciting in the last third. It's quite telling that it took me more than a month to read the first two thirds, and about two days to get through the last third. Jamie and Claire finally make it to Scotland. We get to see Jenny and Ian again, and young Ian is reunited with his family. William and young Ian are both clearly a bit in love with Rachel Hunter. There is quite a lot of interaction between William, Ian, Claire and even Jamie. The bits having to do with the Battle of Saratoga were actually quite exciting. While they're in Scotland, Claire discovers that one of Fergus and Marsali's children desperatey needs surgery, so she returns alone to America. There are heart-breaking confirmed deaths, dramatic presumed deaths, dangerous surgeries being performed successfully, lovers reunited, terrible vengeance nearly wreaked, surprise time travellers from the past, abductions, marriages of convenience, long kept family secrets revealed - so much awesome and drama in only a few hundred pages. Why did I have to spend so much time reading about William in a swamp, Diana, when you are capable of such great things? Why not edit your books more!?!
With so many characters and storylines, Gabaldon also gets to have multiple cliffhangers towards the end of her book, making me really very excited for book 8. I'm now glad that I waited as long as I did to catch up, because (once I am done reading the books I need to complete my various reading challenges) I can go straight into Written in My Own Heart's Blood, which has been rated very highly by those Cannonballers who have already read it, and also appears to be only about 850 pages long, so the shortest book in the series for ages. Due to the excellent ending of this book, I'm now all anticipation.