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Diana Gabaldon – An Echo in the Bone

October 15, 2009

121. An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon (2009)
Outlander, Book 7

Read my review of book:
1. Outlander
2. Dragonfly in Amber
3. Voyager
4. The Drums of Autumn
5. The Fiery Cross
6. A Breath of Snow and Ashes

Length: 821 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 27 September 2009
Finished: 10 October 2009

Where did it come from? The library. (First on the holds list, woohoo!)
Why do I have it? Please. That’s not even a question you have to ask, is it?

Who knows how the past
would have turned out if Jamie
weren’t there causing it?

Summary: The American Revolution is in full swing, and while its effects haven’t quite reached to Fraser’s Ridge yet, Claire and Jamie know what’s coming. They decide to return to Scotland to get Jamie’s printing press, and help the war effort that way, as Jamie’s feeling a bit to old to be a regular soldier… plus he does not want to run the risk of facing William, his illegitimate son who is now an officer in the British Navy, across the lines of battle. But of course, nothing in Jamie and Claire’s life ever runs according to plan, and they must face press gangs, murderous sea captains, Indians, British troops, blackmailers, supply shortages, medical emergencies, treason, old foes, and new complications before they can face down the spectres of the past and finally begin to realize the future that Claire knows is coming.

Oh, also, Brianna and Roger are readjusting to life in the 1980s, and realizing that history may be more malleable than they’d previously thought.

Review: I read in an interview somewhere that Gabaldon wants to continue the Outlander series until 1800. At the time, I dismissed that as flatly impossible… 1800 would make Jamie and Claire pushing ninety, which seems remarkably unlikely, even given Claire’s medical training and knowledge of nutrition. In An Echo in the Bone, however, it becomes clear for the first time how Gabaldon means to shift her focus to the next generation. Brianna, Roger, Young Ian, and William take much more of the spotlight in this book, and while the book still resolves around the Jamie and Claire – who, let’s be honest, are the characters that everyone loves, and the reason most of us keep reading – it’s clear that the torch is preparing to be passed.

Jamie and Claire aren’t going to fade into the background just yet, however; they’re both still healthy and spry and getting into all sorts of trouble, and still going at it like randy teenagers whenever the opportunity presents itself (I will admit to mentally editing them back down to their Outlander-era ages whenever they were Doin’ It. Plus, there was a rather lengthy discussion on the frequency of red vs. gray hairs above vs. below Jamie’s neck that I just really, really didn’t need. Aaanyways.) Gabaldon’s characters really do feel like family, and while not every episode leads somewhere that advances the plot, almost all of the chapters feel like spending time with old friends.

The exception was William. While we’ve spent plenty of time with young Ian, and Brianna and Roger, and thus love them (almost) as much as we do Jamie and Claire, this is the first we’ve really seen of William as an adult… and we get a lot of his POV chapters, and man alive, did I find them dull. This was also the first time where Gabaldon assumed that her Outlander readers had also read the Lord John books… which I haven’t, and as a consequence, I was almost completely lost for most of Lord John’s POV chapters.

Other than that, though, this book ticked along nicely, with plenty of action, plenty of humor, and more than once where it managed to wring real tears out of my cold dead heart. It’s got all of the things that I love about this series, plus it ends with major cliffhangers in just about everyone’s storylines, so it’s clear that Gabaldon’s not done yet. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Don’t start the series here, obviously. But for Outlander fans, this book feels like a return home, as well as a start to plenty of interesting things to come.

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First Line: The pirate’s head had disappeared.

Cover Thoughts: Do I know why this is the black book? No… but did I know why Drums of Autumn was turquoise? No. I’m a big sucker for Celtic knotwork, though, so as these series covers go, I like it.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 12: “And a commander given to spitting on the floor – Richard Howe had once spat on Grey himself, though this was largely accidental, the wind having changed unexpectedly – was possibly easier for a young subaltern to deal with than the quirks of some other military gentlemen of Grey’s acquaintance.” – a commissioned officer below the rank of captain.
  • p. 42: “The rattle of wood, the clang of a falling pewter dish, and voices raised in adjuration inside saved me from reply.” – an earnest request; entreaty.
  • p. 59: “William took the spontoon, seven feet long, its burnished steel head gleaming dully even under the clouded sky, and felt the weight of it thrill through his arm.” – a shafted weapon having a pointed blade with crossbar at its base, used by infantry officers in the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • p. 60: “He’d not worn uniform for nearly two months and, rain-damp or not, felt its resumption to be a glorious apotheosis.” – the elevation or exaltation of a person to the rank of a god.
  • p. 74: ““Wouldn’t never’ve guessed,” the pipe-smoker said, grinning round the stem of her pipe. “Thought ‘ee was a jakesman, sure!”” – Night-scavenger.
  • p. 97: “He’d been fifteen when he left Scotland – a tall, scrawny gowk of a boy.” – a fool or simpleton.
  • p. 114: “The baby’s sex was edematous; it did look much like a little boy’s equipment, […] , but wasn’t.” – effusion of serous fluid into the interstices of cells in tissue spaces or into body cavities.
  • p. 124: “He’d not paid much mind to the stars when he was home in the Highlands, and you couldn’t see stars at all in Edinburgh, for the smoke of the reeking lums.” – not clear… is this maybe a typo for slums?
  • p. 129: “Hal disliked the man, and hadn’t approved at all of William’s working for him, though he had nothing concrete to adduce against him.” – to bring forward in argument or as evidence; cite as pertinent or conclusive.
  • p. 162: ““But they’ve no money these days – no one does. I’ll take a chicken or a flitch of bacon – but half of them haven’t got so much as that.”” – the side of a hog (or, formerly, some other animal) salted and cured.
  • p. 211: “This, added to the mephitis still tainting the atmosphere, caused a number of other gentlemen to vomit, as well, and William felt his own gorge rise, but controlled it by vicious nose-pinching.” – any noisome or poisonous stench.
  • p. 242: “Glancing toward the sound, he perceived that what he had thought to be merely a heap of rumpled bedclothes in fact contained a body; the elaborately passementeried tassel of a nightcap trailed across the pillow.” – trimmed with braid, cord, bead, etc.
  • p. 272: ““Mom would give me laldy if I just went off wi’ no word.”” – to put in 100% effort, pull out all the stops, and do so with great enthusiasm or gusto.
  • p. 348: ““We will take some refreshment in the library,” Amandine was saying. “Plainly you are perishing of cold and inanition.”” – exhaustion from lack of nourishment; starvation; lack of vigor; lethargy.
  • p. 361: “Your father is commanding a crew of laborers at work on this bridge; I can see him just now, from my perch on one of the fort’s demilune batteries.” – an outwork resembling a bastion with a crescent-shaped gorge.
  • p. 371: “Her name had been Margery, and he had written a perfervid panegyric to her.” – very fervent; extremely ardent; impassioned.
  • p. 471: “By simple chance, they stumbled upon William’s tent first, and he invited Balcarres to join him in a glass of negus before bed.” – a beverage made of wine and hot water, with sugar, nutmeg, and lemon.
  • p. 498: “I was walking slowly across the field, conducting a mental triage – the man on the stretcher there was going to die, probably before nightfall; I could here the rales of his breathing from six feet away – when I caught sight of movement on the cabin’s porch.” – an abnormal crackling or rattling sound heard upon auscultation of the chest, caused by disease or congestion of the lungs.
  • p. 510: “Denny’s stomach echoed mine, rumbling with a series of great borborygmi.” – a rumbling or gurgling sound caused by the movement of gas in the intestines. (There’s a word for that? That’s excellent.)
  • p. 515: “Jamie had told him about his wife’s experiments with the substance, with a full account of the amazing operation she had performed on a young boy, he rendered completely senseless as she opened his abdomen, removed an offending organ, and sewed him back together. After which the child was right as a grig, apparently.” – a cricket or grasshopper, a small or young eel, or a lively person.
  • p. 569-70: “He had met Simon Fraser of Balnain two or three times, but when they were both lads in the Highlands – Simon was a few years younger, and Jamie’s vague memories of a small, round, cheerful wee lad who trotted after the older boys, waving a shinty stick taller than himself, had nothing in common with the stout, solid man who rose now in his stirrups, calling out and brandishing his sword, attempting to rally his panicked troops by sheer force of personality.” – a Scotch game resembling hockey.
  • p. 573: “He scrabbled with his feet clawing for purchase on the logs of the abatis, got one hand through a gap and onto a log, but lost his grip on the flaking bark and fell back, landing bruisingly on his rifle and knocking out his wind.” – an obstacle or barricade of trees with bent or sharpened branches directed toward an enemy.
  • p. 586: ““Some do. What of it?” I said, taking a good grip on my spurtle and staring him down.” – a stick used to stir porridge.
  • p. 594: “Slowly, slowly, he put out a hand to her, the fingers moving without his will, slowly, as though to guddle a trout.” – to catch (fish) by groping with the hands, as under rocks or along a riverbank.
  • p. 602: ““Ever heard of coup de foudre, Sassenach? It didna take me more than one good look at you.”” – love at first sight.
  • p. 634: “One dealt mostly with cases of venereal disease, another was an accoucher, and the third was plainly a quacksalver of the worst sort.” – a person who assists during childbirth, esp. an obstetrician; a quack doctor.
  • p. 640: “Possibly we could acquire a fresh bridie from a street vendor, I thought, hastening in Jamie’s wake.” – a Scottish pastry made of minced beef, sometimes with onions and spices, placed on rolled-out pastry, folded into a semi-circular shape, and finally baked in an oven.
  • p. 641: “Applied externally, it is emollient, relaxing, and discutient, and greatly promotes suppuration.” – causing dispersal or disappearance of a pathological accumulation.
  • p. 650: “I had a fresh quire of good-quality paper.” – a set of 24 uniform sheets of paper.
  • p. 674: ““And now ye come back from America, fardeled up like an English popinjay.”” – No idea.
  • p. 691: ““You said it was important, aye? So we’ll have the negroamaro.”” – a red wine grape variety native to southern Italy.
  • p. 696: “Ian’s long, knob-jointed hands on the gralloch knife, the wrench and hot metal smell of the blood that smeared his fingers, the look of his brown hair ruffling in the wind off the loch, the narrow back, bent and springy as a bow as he stooped to snatch one of his toddling bairns or grandchildren off their feet and throw them giggling into the air.” – Offal of a deer. So, presumably the knife used for removing of such.
  • p. 731: “Rachel Hunter put one hand to her stomach, another to her mouth, and stifled a rising eructation.” – The act or an instance of belching.
11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2009 12:16 am

    I have the first two books but I always find them daunting reads! Both are so thick! One day maybe, not now when I’m still in a reading funk :)

    • October 18, 2009 7:07 pm

      Lightheaded – Oh, I don’t know, I feel like the first book is absorbing and quick-moving enough that it actually might be just the thing to break you out of a funk.

  2. October 18, 2009 10:32 pm

    I read all the previous books, but in French. I’m actually thinking of re-reading them all in English, because I truly loved them! I’m glad yo hear you enjoyed this one too – and I’m also glad to hear that the torch is being passed to the younger generation. I think it will be interesting to see this evolve. Do you know if the author has a clear plan as to how many more books there’ll be?

  3. January 4, 2010 3:50 pm

    I think you are absolutely right–Gabaldon is moving us slowing into the next generation and I, with you, had never read any of the Lord John books so was lost in the chapters about him and his past. I found William’s story to be a bit boring at first, but when he got himself lost in the swamp and met up with Ian things picked up and we got a sense of his personality. I’m sure Gabaldon will flesh him out for us and we will one day be as in love with him as we are with Jamie and Claire and Briana and Roger now.

  4. Nancy permalink
    January 24, 2010 7:36 pm

    Dianna, we are obvioulsy loyal readers! Why did you think you needed the (painful) hooks ending An Echo…? It seemed as though someone cruel deliberately tore out the last 100 or so pages :-(

  5. January 25, 2010 2:14 pm

    Yes, Nancy, you are right, we don’t need all of those hooks and who knows how long we will have to wait to see what happened to Jem (we know he popped back 200 years, don’t we?) and what that guy is going to do with Briana. We don’t need any of that to spur us to read the next book–just the love of Dianna’s writing and her incredible imagination.

    • angela permalink
      June 13, 2010 6:58 pm

      jem is still in currrent time locked in the underground tunnel at the conclusion of the book.

  6. karen permalink
    January 25, 2010 5:26 pm

    Help…I just started An Echo. I read ABOSAA so long ago I find I can’t remember some of the characters. Anyone have a summary list of who is who?

  7. Morag permalink
    June 8, 2010 10:03 am

    I love these books, have done for well over 10 years now. Not so keen on all the Lord John stuff in there now though, as he has always been my least favourite character.

    Just a point to clarify something posted above. Re p.124 Lums is not a typo, it is the Scottish word for a chimney. There is a old Scottish blessing of sorts that my Granny and Pappy still quote “Lang may your Lum reek!” Which roughly translated means long may your chimney smoke. Meaning that you wish the person to long have a warm and comfortable home.

  8. June 14, 2010 12:10 pm

    Angela, How can you be so sure that Jem hasn’t jumped?

  9. Sally permalink
    July 8, 2010 1:15 pm

    I seem to have missed something.. How do Bre & Roger get the box of letters from the past? Thanks

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