An Echo in the Bone, by Diana Gabaldon, is the seventh novel in the continuing adventures of Jamie and Claire Fraser. This time, they are facing the start of the American Revolution, spies, warring armies, vengeful ex-wives, press gangs, and other eighteenth century dangers. I’ve been waiting for this book since 2005, when I finished the last entry in the series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I can tell you that this this book was worth the wait, in spite of some of its problems.
The draw of these books is–and always has been–the story of Jamie and Claire. Their love story is so amazing (and complicated) that it makes these books hard to classify into one genre or another. I’ve seen the books in Romance, Fiction, and Fantasy. But the characters are so interesting to watch that I frequently re-read the series just to see it all play out again. Since book four, though, other characters have started to take stage time away from the Frasers. And the problem is that I don’t care about them as much. I’m not as invested in seeing what happens to them or watching their problems get worked out.
The first half of An Echo in the Bone is mostly about these peripheral characters, in particular William Ransom (Jamie’s illegitimate son) and Lord John Grey (William’s adoptive father). William is part of the British Army under General Burgoyne and Grey is involved in a scheme with French spies. As you read, you pick up clues as to what’s really going on. But, being an American with some knowledge of my country’s history, this tangential stuff is not as interesting to me as seeing my favorite characters at Fort Ticonderoga and the battles of Saratoga. Unfortunately, the story didn’t get that far until about 400 pages in. I was very tempted to skip through the parts that didn’t interest me. Really tempted. I stuck with it, though, because I know that every clue and bit of plot will come back to play later in the story. At least I got more page-time with my favorite characters after we crossed the halfway mark.
Though I have some mixed feeling about the book (it is not the best in the series), what I did enjoy was the level of historical detail. That’s part of the reason these books take so long to write. I can’t imagine how many books and articles Gabaldon has read since she started writing these books. The chapters are so backed with details about smells and customs and tastes and language and textures that you feel like you’re there in the action. Claire’s medical exploits in particular are fascinating. It’s amazing what this character can do with limited resources, like remove adenoids and embedded bullets with homemade ether.
What really ticked me off about this book, though, was the ending. It’s just a cliffhanger. Normally, these books wrap themselves up pretty neatly. Sure, there are events and concepts that will act as catalysts for the plot in the next book. But the books don’t just stop in the middle of the action. I’m okay with cliffhanger chapters, but not at the friggin’ end of an 800 page book. Oy. And now I have to wait another three years for the next installment. After this book, I have to wonder where Gabaldon is going with this series. There are more characters and more plots, and I can’t help but think that she’s starting to move away from the essence of the story.