Completed the re-read of The Fiery Cross that was interrupted by Thanksgiving break. This book’s structure clearly places it as the second-to-last book in the series, as do the themes it emphasizes.
Past books had structures that reflected their nature as natural divisions of a larger story. Outlander starts the story, covering the earliest part of Claire & Jamie’s marriage, and ending with their arrival in France. Dragonfly in Amber covers their time in France and elsewhere, trying—unsuccessfully—to prevent Culloden. It ends with their failure and separation. Voyager is what happened to them while they were separated, how they were reunited, and how they ended up in the New World. In Drums of Autumn, Claire and Jamie establish their life in America; the book ends with the resolution of part of Brianna and Roger’s story.
The Fiery Cross takes place from late 1770 to late 1772. It picks up, as the first section is titled, in medias res, the day after the end of Drums. However, one can’t really describe the story covered by this volume as a neat chunk, like prior books; instead, it’s clearly a prelude to the sixth and last book, which will cover the American Revolution.
The book also structured somewhat unusually for the series, which had previously employed both flashbacks and interweaving of timelines, but in a fairly even-paced way. Some points in time are still going to have more happen during them than others, but this book takes that toward one extreme. The first 160-odd pages all take place during the last day of the Gathering of area Scots, of which weddings are a particular focus. Then there’s a domestic interlude as the characters prepare to muster the militia to deal with the Regulators, North Carolinans disaffected with corrupt British officials, and then adventures during the muster. Another domestic interlude, and then another 150-odd pages on another wedding-focused gathering (note the recurring bench and glasses, and some dialogue parallels) and then back to the Regulators again. The structure loosens up a bit after that; more domestic interludes on the aftermath of the Regulators, and then another crisis, and then after that, bits and pieces from the prior gatherings jump back up and get (partly) dealt with. The book then ends with some new time-travel information and the characters looking ahead to the coming Revolution.
Whew. You see why it’s almost a thousand pages.
This structure makes sense; after all, Claire and Jamie are living on a remote mountain, and there is just naturally more scope for plot when there are more people around, as during the gatherings. And it also displays the general themes the series is exploring: marriage, and the changes in society during the 18th century. It just felt a bit odd on the first time through.
At first, I thought the book ended too abruptly. Upon reflection, I think it doesn’t, but on a theme level rather than a plot one. Without getting into spoilers, Claire and Jamie are certainly having to face their own mortality these days (Jamie turns fifty in this book, and Claire is several years older). Time and change and the (im)mutability of history—those are all themes that, as played out in events towards the end of the book, are likely to sharpen that realization. And since Gabaldon has said that she thinks the story is going to end around 1800, when Jamie would be approaching 80 . . . well, I rather suspect that we’re going to see all of Claire and Jamie’s lives from the point they met.
Some thoughts on the rest of the book: I think the other viewpoint characters continue to be developed in ways that I find very interesting and realistic. The story is also still very engrossing; there’s one sequence that pulled me in far enough that I could just feel my skin crawling. (There’s also bits that had me snickering, like Claire’s first use of her microscope.) However, there’s another sequence late in the book that bothers me, because I can’t believe Jamie would be quite that stupid in that manner. This might reflect what I suspect was a fairly hasty editing process. And one last minor annoyance: I had “Clementine,” which is a terrible song (here’s one set of lyrics, though the book doesn’t use the “dreadful sorry” line, thankfully), stuck in my head for days.
Overall verdict: worth both the lengthy wait and the loss of sleep. If I’m still doing this book log in four years or so, y’all can see me get twitchy all over again waiting for book six . . .