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Diana Gabaldon – The Fiery Cross

August 23, 2008

102. The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon (2001)
Outlander, Book 5

My Review of:
Book 1, Outlander
Book 2, Dragonfly in Amber
Book 3, Voyager
Book 4, Drums of Autumn

Length: 979 pages

Genre: Historical Romance

Started: 03 August 2008
Finished: 23 August 2008

Summary: Although Jamie and Claire and their family are well settled at Fraser’s Ridge in North Carolina by the time of the gathering of the clans in late 1770, all is not as peaceful and idyllic as it sounds. The life of a homesteader was full of hard work and danger, plus the Frasers have three additional threats hanging over their heads and darkening their lives: the foreknowledge of their own futures, found in a newspaper clipping by Brianna before she went through the stones; the first bubbles of discontent that presage the war they know is coming; and the looming specter of Stephen Bonnet, whose continued existence has the potential to destroy happiness, family, and peace of mind.

Review: I picked this book up after a book that had been a major disappointment… I was struggling against reader’s block and I wanted some literary comfort food. On that front, at least, this book succeeded heartily. Even though this was my first time reading this installment in the Outlander series, it’s still familiar and comfortable and easy to slip into the thread of Claire and Jamie’s (and Brianna and Roger’s) lives. Most of the elements that made the earlier books in this series so great are still there – the historical detail, the blend of romance and adventure and sex and humor and pathos that permeates the writing, and the incredibly endearing characters that feel like family.

The problem is that only most of the elements of its more successful predecessors are present in The Fiery Cross. Gabaldon seems as though she’s lost the thread a little bit, letting her characters and her story run out of her control. Stuff happens, of course (I should hope so! It’s a huge book.), and there are only a few bits where it really drags, but at the same time, even at the end of it I am hard-pressed to point to a definable plot – writing that summary above was far and away the hardest one I’ve done. There’s not really any single motivating story arc that carries the reader from beginning to end… or even two sequential arcs, as she’s done in previous volumes. The result of this aimlessness was a slow-down in my reading speed – the story jumped around enough that it didn’t always grab my full attention, and made it too easy to set down for the evening. It wasn’t terrible, and each little bit was certainly enjoyable on its own, but as a novel it needed a stronger editing hand and a tightening of focus. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Seeing as most women, men, animals, and some intelligent-ish plants that have made it through the preceding four books are likely so in love with Gabaldon’s characters that they’re unlikely to stop while there’s more to read, my recommendation here is nigh on useless. Still, it might help to go into it treating it more as a series of vignettes rather than one straight-shot novel.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Confessions of a Bibliophile, The Bookworm’s Book Review, Reviews by Christy

First Line: I woke to the patter of rain on canvas, with the feel of my first husband’s kiss on my lips.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 14: ““If nothing else, I might accidentally step on his fleam and break it; that’s probably the only way I’ll stop him bleeding people.”” – a kind of lancet, as for opening veins.
  • p. 40: “I had several very strong emmenagogues – blue cohosh, ergot, and pennyroyal = but picked instead the gentler tansy and rue, setting a handful into a bowl and pouring boiling water on them to steep.” – stimulating the menstrual flow.
  • p. 42: ““I’d five acres in late barley,” Abel explained. “Ripe and yellochtie achin’ for the scythe.”” – The only time this word shows up on all of Google is from this exact quote, so… just guessing, it means… yellow?
  • p. 57: ““Miss Jo suffers from the megrims, and doesna sleep sae well as she might.”” – migranes.
  • p. 112: “Looking for a loyal and competent man willing to undertake the settlement of a large section of wild backcountry, Governer Tryon had offered Jamie a Royal grant of land just east of the Treaty Line, with no requirement of quitrent for a period of ten years.” – rent paid by a freeholder or copyholder in lieu of services that might otherwise have been required.
  • p. 167: “He was also a hard-mouthed, bad tempered reester of a horse, which was why he hadn’t cost much.” – a restive, wayward, obstinate, or balking horse.
  • p. 170: “If he could guddle a trout – and he could – why not a cat?” – to catch (fish) by groping with the hands, as under rocks or along a riverbank.
  • p. 179: “The Sheriff’s men had not struck me as civilized enforcers of an abstruse regulation, but rather as thugs whose prejudice was momentarily constrained by fear – of Jamie.” – hard to understand; recondite; esoteric.
  • p. 186: ““Speaking of kitchens, Joseph – d’ye think your lassie might bring up a dish of cream for the baudrons here?”” – a cat.
  • p. 188: ““Possibly because Jenny dressed him in baby-gowns and fed him rusks, and I dropped him into the millpond, to see could he swim.”” – a slice of sweet raised bread dried and baked again in the oven; zwieback.
  • p. 204: “He laughed, handing her a biscuit filled with ham and Mrs. Bug’s piccalilli.” – a pungent relish of East Indian origin, made of chopped vegetables, mustard, vinegar, and hot spices.
  • p. 224: “Mrs. Bug, disedified by the conflict with Mrs. Chisholm, declined to make any lunch, and retired to her room, ostensibly suffering from headache, though she refused to let me treat it. ” – To fail of edifying; to injure.
  • p. 228: “I mad my way cautiously down the slope, the faint trail leading through the boulders, and finally round an outcrop of rock, before debouching into the spring clearing.” – to emerge from a relatively narrow valley upon an open plain.
  • p. 281: “Sniffing cautiously, I deduced that the barrels I saw contained – among other things – salt fish, tar, apples, beer, and sauerkraut, while bundles of woolen blankets dyed with cochineal and indigo, kegs of black powder, and half-tanned hides reeking of dog turds lent their own peculiar fragrances to the unique mephitis within.” – any noisome or poisonous stench.
  • p. 285: “He was naked, covered by no more than a linen blanket, and as I turned it back, I glimpsed ulcerated sores amid the smears of ordure.” – dung; manure; excrement.
  • p. 325: ““Not that I expect a word of my well-meant Advice will find lodging in your Breast, so filled must it be with animadverse Sentiment toward the Man, but I would beg that you take Notice at least of Liston’s Mention of Bonnet’s Connexions.”” – No definitions for this word; animadversive means “Having the power of perceiving; percipient.”, but here it seems like it’s meaning adverse.
  • p. 329: “I peered down at the tiny face, still pale and waxy with vernix but no longer chalky, as it suckled with deep concentration.” – A waxy white protective substance covering the skin of a fetus.
  • p. 363: ““A nice venison pie we’ll have for Hogmanay,” she said, eyes narrowing as she envisioned the prospect. “And the haggis to follow, wi’ cullen skink, and a bit o’ corn crowdie . . . and a great raisin tart wi’ jam and clotted cream for sweeties!”” – A thick Scottish soup made of smoked Finnan haddie, potatoes and onions.
  • p. 365: ““He was a carline, was Johnnie Howlat, and folk went wary near him – but they went.”” – an old woman; hag; witch.
  • p. 372: “People were still talking of it when we adjourned to the house, just before midnight, for stovie, beer, and cider, before the first-footing.” – A traditional Scottish dish containing potatoes, onions and often leftover roast beef.
  • p. 384: “I dug about in the cupboard, unearthing a handful of cotton pledgets.” – a small, flat mass of lint, absorbent cotton, or the like, for use on a wound, sore, etc.
  • p. 420: “Besides, the mad collieshangie of her hair made him laugh.” – a noisy row; brawl.
  • p. 474: “Another time, he might have been interested to see a shivaree, and trace all of the roots of it from French and Highland customs – but not bloody now.” – a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple.
  • p. 482: “I paused at the first landing and glanced down the hall toward Jocasta’s suite of rooms, but all was quiet there, the charivari and horseplay over.” – Another term for shivaree.
  • p. 496: “No one was, though two wine goblets sat on the bench, stained red with beeswing abandoned remnants of the night’s festivities.” – a light, flaky deposit found in port and some other bottle-aged wines.
  • p. 500: “Phaedre’s beautiful face might have been carved of fruitwood; normally a delicate cinnamon, her complexion had faded to a pale, ligneous brown, and her eyes stared fixedly through the open door of the pantry at the blank wall beyond.” – of the nature of or resembling wood; woody.
  • p. 503: “The wandering moon was low in the sky, but still shed light enough to see the brick path through the garden; the espaliered fruit trees spread black as spiderwebs against the walls.” – a trellis or framework on which the trunk and branches of fruit trees or shrubs are trained to grow in one plane.
  • p. 532: ““It scarecely matters,” he added, “as he isna going to tell anyone about it. Because if he does, I shall cut him like a stirk and feed both his ballocks and his lying tongue to the pigs.”” – a young bull or cow, esp. one in its second year.
  • p. 597: ““Oh, ye think it’s nothing, do you, that a man should cheek up to ye in public, like a common radge?”” – One who is not all there; a bit mental. Someone who likes to noise others up and get into fights.
  • p. 657: ““Aunt Jocasta gave me some of her old sketchbooks to use, and a whole quire of watercolor paper – but I feel guilty when I use them, because I know how expensive it is.”” – a set of 24 uniform sheets of paper.
  • p. 664: “Having to be imported from England, they were rare amongst colonial small farmers, many of whom made do with nothing more than wooden dibbles and spades, with an ax and perhaps an iron hoe for ground-clearing.” – a small, hand-held, pointed implement for making holes in soil for planting seedlings, bulbs, etc.
  • p. 827: ““The only thing I ken to Stephen Bonnet’s credit is that he killed one o’ yon lurdans.”” – a lazy, stupid, loutish fellow.
7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 23, 2008 11:25 pm

    I have seen this series and wondered how it was. It seems like we have similar tastes in books. I am fan of fantasy stuff. I just saw you on J. Kaye’s blog .

  2. August 24, 2008 1:59 am

    I didn’t really like any of the other books in this series as much as the first two. Diana Gabaldon is a wonderful writer though!

  3. August 24, 2008 7:31 am

    confuzzled – Welcome! The Outlander series is a lot of fun, historical fiction mixed with romance mixed with just a smidge of fantasy (what with the time travelling and everything). I’d definitely recommend checking out the first book… I bet you’ll be hooked!

    Ladytink – If I were forced to choose, I’d have to go with Outlander as my favorite, although it’s a pretty slim margin amongst the first three, with Drums of Autumn not far behind – there are parts of each of them that I just loved.

  4. August 24, 2008 7:33 am

    Hi there. Saw your blog spotlighted on J. Kaye’s blog. I’ve followed you for a few months now and agree with her that your blog is lovely!

    I really enjoy the format of your reviews, and elements such as the start/finish date, first line, and vocabulary! I’m still tinkering with my review format and might even borrow some of these ideas from you in the future!

  5. August 24, 2008 7:38 am

    Shana – Wow, thanks! I started putting a lot of that stuff in my reviews (like start/finish) just for my own reference; it’s cool that other people find it interesting too!

    I’m also wicked far behind on my vocab list, particularly from the Outlander books… they’re so long, and filled with historical, Gaelic, and Scots terms that I don’t know… but typing all of that out can get really time-consuming and usually I just want to put the review up right away! It’s a project for some lazy Sunday afternoon….


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