Hello, the house!

It is a bold move to open an eighth book in a series cold – an intricate series with many characters and multiple time lines, no less. Written In My Own Heart’s Blood begins where its predecessor ends: James Fraser has returned from the supposed dead, William Ransom (Ninth Earl of Ellesmere) has learned that James Fraser is his real father, and Claire Fraser is pleased that her husband is truly alive, negating her marriage for safety and security to Lord John Grey.

William takes off to wander Philadelphia, distraught at learning about his illegitimacy. Jamie and Lord John disappear as the British army is after them (this timeline is at 1776 in Philadelphia). Claire remains in the home she shared with Lord John happily reuniting with her sister-in-law Jenny who was also presumed dead in a shipwreck with Jamie.

So begins the eighth installment of the Outlander series. Diana Gabaldon has increasingly woven a complicated tapestry with each subsequent book. The first, Outlander, was recommended to me by a friend in an MFA class. I loved it and continued to read the series until I caught up and now must wait for each hefty tome to arrive like everyone else. There is something magical about discovering a series that has several books already written and being able to read them in rapid succession. Although the anticipation of the next installment is its own type of pleasure.

The novel follows Claire and Jamie as they reunite, determined to stay together. All they want to do is return to their home in the South but first General Washington conscripts Jamie to lead troops who quits when Claire is shot while working at her makeshift physician’s tent. Gabaldon doesn’t hesitate to show the good and the bad in life, the scary and the joyous. If anything, she continually reminds the reader that life is tenuous so must be cherished. Our loved ones are tenuous so must be cherished. Using a time centuries before now, she is able to reinforce the concept that the modern person is able to easily distract from – life is scary, bad things happen, find love and joy where you can and never, never take it for granted.

Claire’s sections are still written in first person. (Outlander was fully in first person from Claire’s point of view.) Over her shoulder as a doctor, we know her elation at saving a life and her despair at the impotence of her abilities. Some people can’t be saved.

Speaking of saving, and on a slightly lighter note, Jamie and Claire’s daughter Brianna searches for her son Jemmie in 1980. Men who suspect Brianna and her family can travel through time have kidnapped him. While she searches in 1980, her husband Roger travels back through the stones to find their son. In a nice crossover to other work Gabaldon has written in the Outlander universe, Roger finds his father and sends him back through the stones. There is a short story from his father’s point of view about the strange man who helped him home and yelled, “I love you!” before he passed through the stones. As a fan of the series who reads the other peripheral stories and books, this subplot was very satisfying.

There is no easy way to sum up an 813-page novel so I won’t even try. I will say that Gabaldon continues to explore the themes of love and loyalty and being who you are. Claire and Jamie’s marriage is successful because they each see the other for who they truly are: she is a doctor who took an oath to help anyone, even an enemy, and he is a man who leads and takes care of others. Despite respecting each other’s attributes and gifts, there have been many moments when who they are causes problems or fights. This has occurred throughout the entire series. It is an intriguing theme to pursue because I think it is something we all strive to know – who we are, who are those around us? Here are two characters who know who they are and need to live with that, for better or worse, and often times for worse. They can’t change. They won’t.

Gabaldon has written a love story that is beautiful and painful and wonderful and tragic. Each book always presents new angles of history to see (for example, there was a lot of information about Quakers in this book). The accuracy in details is astonishing. But I buy the books to be with Jamie and Claire again, to see them kiss and fight and cry.

And dammit if she didn’t get me again. The ending was a cliffhanger but it was exactly what I was hoping for. I’ll admit it – I cried.

“Hello, the house!”

(How long until the next book?!?)

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