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Diana Gabaldon – The Scottish Prisoner

February 8, 2012

10. The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon (2011)
Lord John, Book 4

Read my review of book:
1. Lord John and the Private Matter
2. Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
3. Lord John and the Hand of Devils

Length: 560 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 26 January 2012
Finished: 29 January 2012

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I managed to read the first three Lord John books right before the fourth one came out. Good timing, self!

So an Englishman
and a Scot walk into an
Irish treason plot…

Summary: Lord John finds himself in possession of a packet of materials entrusted to him by one of his men, materials that present a solid case of corruption against one of Lord John’s fellow army officers. Amidst the other documents, however, is a fragment of poetry in what appears to be Gaelic – an odd inclusion that hints at something more dangerous than mere corruption. Lord John knows someone who may be able to translate the poem: Jamie Fraser, currently serving a term as a prisoner-of-war on parole at Helwater farm. But it won’t be a simple matter of asking for Jamie’s help; their last disastrous meeting has left their relationship strained seemingly beyond repair, and Lord John is unsure where Jamie’s loyalties truly lie when the matter at hand concerns a Jacobite plot to overthrow the English king.

Review: The Scottish Prisoner, which takes place in 1760 (and therefore in between Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager, although Voyager should be read first), contains a lot more Jamie Fraser than the previous Lord John books, which turns out to be somewhat of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, Jamie’s POV scenes (which made up about half of this book), were some of my favorite parts, and watching him around his young son William was truly a delight. On the other hand, Jamie’s such a larger-than-life personality that he makes the other characters seem somewhat washed out in comparison. Lord John’s got a personality – I’ve been convinced of that since Brotherhood of the Blade broke my heart repeatedly on his behalf – but in The Scottish Prisoner, his actions and his personality seem dictated by his response to Jamie rather than independently motivated. And while that may actually have been in keeping with his character as established, it had a hint of lovestruck teenager to it that made me miss who Lord John is when Jamie’s not around.

One of the things that I did appreciate about the inclusion of Jamie’s POV chapters were how much they made me re-evaluate my opinions of Jamie’s previous appearances in the Lord John books. In my review of Brotherhood of the Blade, I said “I was particularly struck by how different Lord John’s Jamie is than Claire’s Jaime, very hard-edged and tightly-wound and almost harsh. If this had been the first time I’d met him as a character, I doubt I’d have liked him much.” But now, in retrospect, I realize that it’s not a difference between Clare’s perspective and Lord John’s perspective, it’s a difference between Jamie when Clare’s around, and Jamie when Clare is (to his knowledge) gone forever, and he’s exiled from his land and his family, for the rest of his life. The Scottish Prisoner also reminded me, after the fact, that Jamie has some very real and very concrete reasons to respond badly to any homosexual attention, and that his rage that bothered me so much at the end of Brotherhood of the Blade is not directed towards Lord John so much as it is towards the memory of Jack Randall. It’s a subtlety that I missed upon my first read, but one which Gabaldon effectively drives home in The Scottish Prisoner.

While the book is mainly about the characters and their relationships, the rest of the plot ticks along smoothly as well. There are a fair number of secondary characters involved in the mystery and the various plots and schemes and minor story threads, but they were surprisingly easy to keep straight. Likewise, this story covers more physical ground than most, but Gabaldon’s good as usual about really evoking her setting. Also, for such a thick book (not Outlander-thick, but still), it’s a pretty quick read; it was great at capturing my attention, and kept me wanting to read more. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I would actually recommend that Outlander fans who are unsure about the Lord John books start here, rather than with Lord John and the Private Matter. Jamie’s POV provides a familiar entry point, and Gabaldon’s good about explaining the events of previous Lord John books that bear on the plot, making it relatively self-contained.

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

Other Reviews: Outlandish Dreaming
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: If you deal in death routinely, there are two paths.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 16: ““The rest of it” included specifi denunciations of a number of men – some of them powerful – who had been involved in Siverly’s defalcations.” – misappropriation of money or funds held by an official, trustee, or other fiduciary.
  • p. 69: “The mash tub was in the tack room, and he parked William on a stool and reached down a bridle with a snaffle for the boy to play with, clicking the jointed bit to make a noise.” – a bit, usually jointed in the middle and without a curb, with a large ring at each end to which a rein and cheek strap are attached.
  • p. 106: ““Get on wi’ ye, then, ye stocious bugger, before I’m drowned!”” – drunk; intoxicated.
  • p. 111: “Grey, with some experience of von Namtzen’s capacities, rather thought that the Hanoverian was likely to engulf the entire meal single-handedly and then require a quick snack before retiring, but before he could excuse himself, Harry snatched the kidnapped papers from his hand, thus requiring an introduction to Frobisher and von Namtzen, and in the social muddle that ensued, all four found themselves foinf in to supper together, with a salmagundi and a few bottles of good Burgundy hastily ordered to augment the meal.” – a mixed dish consisting usually of cubed poultry or fish, chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, onions, oil, etc., often served as a salad.
  • p. 111: “They’d got from the simple things like moon/June/spoon/spittoon/poltroon onto the more delicate issue of whether “porringer” could be legitimately rhymed with “oranger,” the latter being arguably a real world.” – a low dish or cup, often with a handle, from which soup, porridge, or the like is eaten.
  • p. 140: “Grey didn’t look at Fraser, unsure whether the Scot might consider this reluctance to exterminate Siverly as pusillanimous.” – lacking courage or resolution; cowardly; faint-hearted; timid.
  • p. 167: “So was her last remark – though upon due contemplation, he thought it had been mere persiflage.” – light, bantering talk or writing.
  • p. 171: “What he needed, he thought suddenly, was a fridstool.” – A seat in churches near the altar, to which offenders formerly fled for sanctuary.
  • p. 175: “She’d likely fall into the ha-ha and break her neck, if she didn’t freeze to death out here.” – a wall or other barrier set in a ditch to divide lands without marring the landscape.
  • p. 192: ““I haven’t seen a cove that sick sine me uncle Morris what was a sailor in a merchant man come down with the hocko-grockle,” said Tom, shaking his head.” – an imaginary disease.
  • p. 216: “The last thing he needed was to have a pixilated Irishman along on this expedition, breathing traitorous suggestions down his neck and distracting his attention while he dealt with Grey and Siverly and whatever else Ireland might have in store for him in the way of trouble.” – slightly eccentric or mentally disordered.
  • p. 262: “The cup was about the size of a small quaich and fit in the palm of his hand when Abbot gave it to him.” – a Scottish drinking cup of the 17th and 18th centuries having a shallow bowl with two or three flat handles.
  • p. 300: “Thus internally fortified, and dressed in a country gentleman’s good wool suit – complete with gaiters to save his lisle stockings from the mud – and with several documents carefully stowed in separate pockets, he was armed and ready.” – knit goods, as gloves or hose, made of a fine, high-twisted and hard-twisted cotton thread.
  • p. 334: ““All I can say is, it’ll be a day when the streets will be crowded, the beer flowing from the taverns, the squares all hoaching like weevils in a sack of grain.”” – teeming.
  • p. 377: “Then, frowning, Fraser rose swiftly and, grabbing the ash shovel, scraped a smoking mass of papers out of the hearth, scattering them hastily over the floor, seizing chunks that had not yet quite caught fire, and separating them from the baulk of burning pages.” – a variant spelling of “bulk”, but I can’t find it in the dictionary with this meaning.
  • p. 387: ““But did you not begin this hegira with the intent of bringing him to justice and making him account publicly for his crimes?”” – any flight or journey to a more desirable or congenial place.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2012 12:12 pm

    The was my first book with Lord John as a main character and I liked him more than I thought I would. Jamie was different for me though — I thought he was slightly bitter — but with everything going on in his life and Lord John’s appearance, he’s got more than enough reasons to feel the way he does. I appreciated his POV too. It was a good read for me and I’ll probably try and pick up the other books in this series/spinoff.

    Here’s my review if you want to link to it –

    • February 23, 2012 3:51 pm

      I’m glad you liked it! Be aware that the first Lord John book is the weakest, and they get better from there.

  2. February 8, 2012 12:46 pm

    I just finished listening to Lord John and the Private Matter and even though I had been warned that it was vastly different from the Outlander series I was still surprised at how dry and slow it was in places. In some ways it reminded me of a Sherlock Holmes story. It wasn’t bad though, and since I own the second book I will be reading it sometime soon I’m sure.

    • February 23, 2012 3:52 pm

      I hope you do keep reading, since I thought brotherhood of the blade was much better than the first…

  3. February 8, 2012 3:15 pm

    I really should try Gabaldon’s writing, but I’m intimidated since I don’t read much historical fiction. Her books are so big, they feel like commitments.

    • February 23, 2012 3:53 pm

      They are big, but they’re also very good about hooking you in. I read most of lOutlander in a single day!

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