Diana Gabaldon – Lord John and the Hand of Devils
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Short Stories/Novellas
Started: 18 September 2011
Finished: 09 December 2011 (It didn’t take three months of constant reading to get through this book; I read the stories in chronological order between the novels.)
Where did it come from? Purchased from Barnes & Noble.
Why do I have it? Part of my post-Outlander Gabaldon acquisition kick.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 04 May 2009.
Lord John’s life would go
smoother if he’d stop getting
Individual Summaries and Reviews: Lord John and the Hand of Devils is a collection of short stories (really one regular length story and two longer novellas) that are interspersed between the full-length Lord John novels.
“Lord John and the Hellfire Club” is the shortest work in the bunch, and chronologically occurs before the Lord John and the Private Matter. In it, Lord John, freshly returned from Scotland, meets a young man who says that he urgently needs his help – but who is then murdered in a crowded street before he can explain himself. Lord John becomes involved with a secret society with some dark rituals before he can unravel what’s going on. I thought it was too quick to be really satisfying, and that if it had been in a longer format, the ending could have been milked for a lot more.
“Lord John and the Succubus” takes place between Lord John and the Private Matter and Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade. Quartered in Germany during the Seven Years’ War, Lord John is confronted with two soldiers, both dead by impossible means, and a persistent rumor that the town is being haunted by a succubus. I liked this one a lot, as Gabaldon had more time to develop the mystery as well as fit in some character moments, and a few nicely creepy parts. However, I don’t know much about the Seven Years’ War, and I had a difficult time keeping track of the regiments and commanders and troop movements, especially since I was lacking a map of the relevant area. Also, by this time, I was beginning to think that Gabaldon was purposefully going to keep poor Lord John from ever getting any lovin’, using more and more outlandish coincidences. (This was of course disproven in Brotherhood of the Blade, but I didn’t know it yet.
“Lord John and the Haunted Soldier” takes place shortly after the events at the end of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, and concerns them directly. Lord John is summoned to appear before a military tribunal to be questioned about his part in the Battle of Crefield… only the tribunal appears to be more interested in the explosion of the gun Lord John was commanding than in the death of the gun’s former commander, even going so far as to implicate Lord John’s half-brother in the deliberate production of faulty powder. Lord John must then attempt to clear his family name while attempting to do what he can for the family of the soldier whose death hangs on his conscience. This was my favorite of the bunch; it had several well-developed little mini-mysteries, one military and one personal, that fit together neatly and kept me intrigued and emotionally involved right to the end.
Overall Review and Recommendation: I don’t know how essential these stories are to the understanding of the full-length Lord John books; Gabaldon occasionally introduces characters or events in the short stories that reappear in the books, but I think she does a fine job re-explaining them in the novels. I’m mostly basing that on my experience reading Lord John and the Private Matter, which contains a lot of callbacks to “Lord John and the Hellfire Club”, but was perfectly understandable, even though I read them out of order. On the flip side, I think that the stories also stand mostly independent of the books… at least the first two, although “Haunted Soldier” somewhat less. Overall, I’d say they’re not required reading, and I wouldn’t recommend starting with them, but for fans of the Lord John novels, the stories should be just as enjoyable. 4 out of 5 stars.
First Line: Lord John Grey jerked his eyes away from the door.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 162: “Perhaps a Dutchman by his looks – a black-browed gentleman whose fiercely rubicund features radiated a jolly determination.” – red or reddish; ruddy.
- p. 178: “Here lay half a Spanish culverin, the breech blown off.” – a kind of heavy cannon used in the 16th and 17th centuries.
- p. 246: “He had no idea what he wrote, only wanting to find some escape in the words, and found after a time that he was recounting Mr. Lister’s visit and that gentleman’s remarks anent the profession of arms.” – in regard to; about; concerning.
- p. 271: “The ribs and keelson of a large ship rose like a whale’s skeleton on one side, while on the other, a newly completed keel lay in the channel, swarms of men covering it like ants, laying deck in a racket of hammers and curses.” – any of various fore-and-aft structural members lying above or parallel to the keel in the bottom of a hull.
- p. 286: “Not in uniform, but attired in an inconspicuous suit of dark blue, worn with a scarlet domino.” – a large, hooded cloak with a mask covering the eyes, worn at masquerades.
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