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Diana Gabaldon – Written In My Own Heart’s Blood

November 12, 2014

83. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon (2014)
Outlander, Book 8

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

Length: 830 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction with touches of Fantasy

Started: 18 September 2014
Finished: 16 October 2014 (it’s a long book, but I also took a chunk in the middle to get my book club’s book read.)

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? First new Outlander in five years!

A revolution
is often not the safest
place to time travel.

Summary: Claire Fraser, believing Jamie lost at sea, had married Lord John in order to keep herself from being arrested for sedition. When Jamie turns up at Lord John’s Philadelphia home, then, the reunion was a bit tumultuous. And from there, things only begin to get more hectic, for in 1778, being the wife (or former wife) of a British Lord in Philadelphia is not particularly safe, particularly when the British Army retreats from the city, and General Washington’s troops pursue them close behind. Nor are Claire and Jamie’s family safe from the war – Jamie’s illegitimate son William has finally learned who his true father is, to his horror, and as a member of the British army, may wind up shooting at his own family across a battlefield. Jamie’s nephew, Young Ian, is in love with a Quaker, despite his violent past, and current activity on behalf of the American troops. And even Jamie and Claire’s daughter and grandchildren are not safe, despite being 200 years in the future. For they’re being hunted by someone who wants the secrets of their time traveling, someone who has kidnapped young Jem, and lured Roger into the past. But the past Roger winds up is not the past he’s familiar with, and while he finds a Fraser at Lallybroch, that Fraser is Brian, Jamie’s father. Roger won’t return to the present without his son… but how can he be sure that Jem even traveled to the same time?

Review: I loved this book. I always love the Outlander books. And the reason for that is probably 90-95% down to how much I love the characters. After eight fatty-fat novels, they feel like family, and even though the novels’ plots tend to meander, I never mind, since reading about them is just like spending time with old friends. As the series progresses and the main characters age (Jamie is in his late 50s in this book; Claire in her early 60s), more and more of the focus is shifting to the next generation. And this is okay with me: I love Jamie and Clare (and Lord John) as much as I ever did, and they have some fantastic scenes, but I love the next generation almost as much (well, Young Ian and Brianna, at any rate. I’m warming to William, but Roger is still a little self-righteously pious for me.) Gabaldon keeps the story moving along at a quick pace, even given its size, switching between the viewpoints of the various characters. And they all have moments, lines, scenes, that were just wonderful. I cried a couple of times, had my heart melt at a few others (Jamie helping Ian to put on his war paint – gods, that scene was amazingly touching), laughed more than once, almost squirmed out of my seat at one point. (There’s eyeball surgery. In 1778. I don’t deal well with eye violence. Ick! Not cool, Gabaldon.)

I keep referring to “the story”, but when it comes to these books, particularly the later books in the series, that’s a bit of a misnomer. This book isn’t so much a story with a beginning, middle, and end; it’s a slice of these people’s lives. Again, because I love the characters so much, I don’t mind, but it does make the pacing a little weird. Most of the first half of the book is given over to events leading up to, during, and immediately after the Battle of Monmouth, which would seem like a cohesive story arc own its own. But then the book keeps going for another 300 pages. It’s a little wrong-footing, and it takes a bit of adjustment to not having a strong (or really any) narrative driving the story, and even though this is something that can and has driven me bonkers in other books, Gabaldon’s got enough writerly voodoo that it doesn’t bother me here. Briana and Roger’s storyline(s) also have more of complete arc in this book – Roger’s stuck in the past, Brianna and the kids are in danger in the present, and neither of them knows when (or if) their family will ever be back together again. There was also a nice tie-in with Roger’s story to the short story “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” from Songs of Love and Death – it’s not necessary for understanding this book, but it built on it nicely.

So, all in all, I really enjoyed this book. It took me quite a while to read it (sorry, everyone after me on the wait list at the library, for keeping it a week past the due date!), but I so much enjoy sharing these character’s lives that it’s worth reading slowly enough to savor. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you need a cohesive plot running through a book, and don’t do well with character-driven fiction, then this is not the book (or series, really) for you. But if you’ve read the rest of the series (and maybe the Lord John series… and the short stories…) already, then this installment will be a welcome return. But if you’ve read all of the other books already, then you don’t need me to tell you that.

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First Line: In the light of eternity, time casts no shadow.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 35: “He and Fraser had absquatulated onto the roof and down a drainpipe, leaving William, clearly reeling with the shock of revelation, alone in the upstairs hallway.” – To depart in a hurry; abscond
  • p. 79: ““It would be dangerous to move him. A further extravasation of blood into the brain . . . “” – To force the flow of (blood or lymph) from a vessel out into surrounding tissue.
  • p. 92: “Valley Forge had been hoaching like a grain sack full of weevils when they left it an hour before, the soldiers salvaging what they could from the camp, molding fresh musket balls and packing cartridges, preparing to march on Philadelphia when the word was given that Clinton’s men had withdrawn.” – Be full of or swarming with.
  • p. 104: ““I am before you, William said, and bowed, inclining his head a quarter inch, keeping a close eye on the cullion.” – A contemptible fellow; a rascal.
  • p. 120: “Rachel opened her mouth to reply, but he snooved his way hastily through the screening bushes before she could speak.” – to walk smoothly and steadily; make a steady advance
  • p. 135: “Leaning forward, Jamie peered over Jenny’s shoulder to see a large Highland dag in her hand, its eighteen-inch barrel trained steady on the duke’s chest.” – an early wheellock pistol.
  • p. 181: ““Senga, fetch the cranachan, aye? I’ll show ye where India is.”” – a traditional Scottish dessert. In modern times it is usually made from a mixture of whipped cream, whisky, honey, and fresh raspberries, with toasted oatmeal soaked overnight in a little whisky.
  • p. 198: “A knock came on his own door: Jenny Murray, tidy in a white pinny, dark curly hair tied back but not yet capped for the day, with a jug of hot water, a pot of soft soap, and a razor for shaving.” – a sleeveless dress resembling an apron; worn over other clothing.
  • p. 228: ““I fell asleep whilst he was tapping on my chest like a yaffle after tree grubs.”” – The European green woodpecker (Picus viridis syn. Genius viridis).
  • p. 229: “Most of the men wore a hunting tartan with a sett in green, brown, and white, but Roger wasn’t yet familiar enough with the local patterns as to tell whether they came from somewhere close by or not.” – a square in a pattern of tartan.
  • p. 242: ““Aye, thanks. I’ll have . . . a bacon butty and an Irn-Bru?” he asked tentatively, looking up at the waitress.” – a sandwich
  • p. 274: “The cloth of his new uniform smelled of fresh indigo, walnut hulls, and fuller’s earth; it felt strange and stiff against my face.” – A highly adsorbent claylike substance consisting of hydrated aluminum silicates, used predominantly in fulling woolen cloth, in talcum powders, as a filter, and as a catalyst.
  • p. 284: “As Jamie explained to me on the way out of Philadelphia, the problem lay not in finding the British but in catching up to them with enough men and matériel to do some good.” – The equipment, apparatus, and supplies of a military force or other organization.
  • p. 289: “While the axle of the cart was intact, one wheel had struck a jagged rock and not merely popped off but had in the process lost the flat-iron tire that encircled the felloes – which in consequence had come apart, being badly glued.” – The rim or a section of the rim of a wheel supported by spokes.
  • p. 333: “Castrametation was the science of laying out a proper military camp.” – The art or act of encamping; the making or laying out of a camp.
  • p. 385: “It was perhaps four o’clock ack emma.” – in the morning; a.m. (World War I phonetic alphabet for A, M)
  • p. 407: “Percy smelled of bergamot and petitgrain and the red wine on his breath.” – an essential oil distilled from the leaves and stems of the bitter orange.
  • p. 413: “I nodded and set his hands to grip the stone he sat on, to keep him in place while I hastily finished unloading Clarence – who was making the welkin ring with frustration; I should have realized at once that the the artilleryman was deaf, as he was taking no notice of the racket – hobbled him, and set him loose to join Denny’s mules in the shade.” – The vault of heaven; the sky.
  • p. 432: “The countryside was folded up like a leporello, rolling meadow diving suddenly into wooded ravines, then springing back out, only to disappear again.” – printed material folded into an accordion-pleat style.
  • p. 462: “He had three, of different lengths, plus a davier: good for grasping a rounded object, but the jaws were much bigger than the tips of a forceps and would cause more bleeding.” – dental forceps.
  • p. 463: ““All the Frenchmen I know are dreadful cranks about their health and have enormous collections of tonics and pastilles and clysters.”” – An enema.
  • p. 492: “He wasn’t in uniform and was – for him – quite subfusc, in a coat and breeches of the dull gray that was referred to (with accuracy) as “sad-colored,” though he had taken the trouble to wear a dove-gray waistcoat with it that flattered his coloring.” – Of a dark, dull, or somber color.
  • p. 503: ““Have you seen my bundle?” she said, in an almost ordinary voice. “I have a housewife in it. I need a needle.”” – a small sewing kit issued to soldiers.
  • p. 525: “These proved to be vegetable marrows from the kitchen garden, which cascaded over the floor in a bouncing flood of green and yellow as she let go the apron in order to leap at her father and embrace him.” – a cucurbitaceous plant, Cucurbita pepo, probably native to America but widely cultivated for its oblong green striped fruit, which is eaten as a vegetable
  • p. 592: “Roger led the way out of the square and past the last house, then up a cow path, dodging heaps of manure, until they reached a drystane wall that they could sit upon.” – variant of dry stone; a building method by which structures are constructed from stones without any mortar to bind them together
  • p. 625: ““Spell ‘hordeolum‘ for me and I’ll tell you the one about the water horse’s wife,” I suggested.” – a medical name for a stye of the eye.
  • p. 686: “He’d been hunting once with Ben, and they’d stopped like this; Ben had told him a particularly scabrous joke, and he’d laughed so much that he couldn’t piss and Ben had pissed on his shoues, which made them both laugh harder, and . . . ” – Dealing with scandalous or salacious material.
  • p. 725: ““It’s the dead of winter in the mountains; we canna get through the passes ’til March, and I’d rather not be stravaiging about the countryside with three bairns, two pregnant women, and nay money.”” – to wander aimlessly
  • p. 746: ““Oh, a cully, sorry. At the brothel, you mean.”” – A fool or dupe.
  • p. 788: “Nearly eight months gone, she was noticeably heavy, but he managed with no more than a slight grunt and, with a care to low-hanging branches and loose stones, carried her off into the forest, leaving Clarence to graze on a succulent clump of muhly grass.” – Muhlenbergia capillaris, a perennial hedge-like plant that grows to be about 30–90 cm (1–3 ft) tall and 60–90 cm (2–3 ft) wide. The plant itself includes a double layer; green leaf-like structures surround the understory, with purple-pink flowers out-growing them from the bottom up. The plant is a warm-season grass, meaning that leaves begin growth in the summer. During the summer, the leaves will stay green, but they morph during the fall to produce a more copper color. The seasonal changes also include the flowers, as they grow out during the fall and stay healthy till the end of autumn. The muhly grows along the border of roads and on plain prairies.
  • p. 812: “We worked through the day then, Jamie fitting stones for the foundation, me digging the new garden and foraging through the woods, bringing back pipsissewa and black cohosh, mint and wild ginger to transplant.” – any of several evergreen plants of the genus Chimaphila, esp. C. umbellata, the leaves of which are used medicinally for their tonic, diuretic, and astringent properties.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 12, 2014 8:51 am

    A lot of my friends love this series but I’m pretty sure it’s not for me. You reinforced that with this review.

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