The Book Junkie

An Echo in the Bone is the seventh book in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, which centers around Claire and Jamie Fraser. Set partly at the opening of the American Revolution and partly in Scotland in 1980, "Echo" is a sprawling tale. It has four major plot lines: Jamie and Claire (and Ian), Brianna and Roger, John, and William. All of the characters we've come to love over the years are accounted for (including Rollo the dog), and the book is overall very satisfying. It did leave me wanting more--as it's not the end of the series, there is quite obviously more story to be told. Frustratingly, I'll have to wait for several more years to read the next installment. Books this big do not get written in a month! My main quibble is that the book ends with a cliffhanger for each plot line. It seemed more like the first part of a book (despite its length) rather than a novel in its entirety. While Gabaldon expects to write additional books to wrap up the series (she has promised that "Echo" is not the last), leaving the story lines dangling made me feel like I hadn't finished. There was no denouement to satisfy the reader's need for closure at the end of the story, so I finished the book frustrated instead of content.

Plot line one starts with Jamie, Claire, Ian and Rollo preparing to leave Frasier's Ridge, both to escape the danger inherent in staying and to go to Scotland to retrieve Jamie's printing press. At the end of A Breath of Snow and Ashes, the little world of the Ridge is in turmoil; the big house has burned down, two residents have been killed, and the Bugs have made off with a fortune in gold. Echo begins here. Jamie and Ian uncover the location of the treasure, but accidentally kill Mrs. Bug in the process of retrieving it. This sets Mr. Bug on a mission of revenge that will chase Ian through the rest of the book.

Plot line two starts in Scotland in 1980 with Brianna and Roger struggling to redefine themselves. Roger is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis—he no longer feels like a professor, but he’s moved away from his life as a farmer and preacher. Brianna, meanwhile, is balancing herself as a modern mother and career woman, and fighting her way into a male-dominated field. Their lives intersect Claire & Jamie’s when an unexpected and unwelcome visitor from the past turns up. This leads to a modicum of healing of emotional scars, but leads to far worse when Jemmy is kidnapped. Has he been taken back to the past? This ties the “present” day plotline to the past.


Plotline three, which involves Lord John, is less fleshed-out than the others, and seems more complementary until tragedy strikes, and John and Claire are thrown together to survive.  Here is where the plots become inextricably intertwined; the relationship that these two form in the face of their mutual despair becomes the basis for one of the cliffhangers at the end.

 

Plotline four details William’s development—which, of course, intersects with the Jamie/Claire/Ian and John plotlines.  William learns about life as a soldier, and has to decide on his future career path. Does he want to pursue straight-up soldiering or intelligence? He also learns the disturbing truth about his past and Jamie’s involvement.  In addition to that, he and Ian intersect when they both fall in love with the same woman.

 

So many complicated plotlines make for a challenging book. At times it took effort to make myself keep reading, and it takes a long time to digest. It was, however, fun, and I’m glad I read it.


Despite my complaints, Echo has all the elements of Gabaldon that I've come to love--the historical facts interwoven in the fictional plot line, the fully-fleshed characters (who seem like real people to me), the details of scenery, action, and day-to-day minutiae of life in the 1700s in the Colonies, and the cameos of real people (in Echo, we get to meet Ben Franklin and Benedict Arnold, among interesting folks). I did occasionally get frustrated with the multiple stories as I was reading--I would have enjoyed being able to read each plot line straight through. However, by the end of the book, it was clear why so many complicated stories were told within the covers of one book. They really do meld; you just have to be patient and get to the end. And then be patient for the next few years while she writes the next book to tie up the ends she left loose. On reflecting, the lack of denouement emphasizes the story's themes and the characters' struggles; we leave them in the midst of a time of great turmoil in the world--how else could Gabaldon leave the reader other than in turmoil at the anticipation of what's to come next in the series?

All in all, An Echo in the Bone was worth reading. I did have to push myself sometimes, and it did take me a couple of weeks to read, but by the time I finished, I was glad that I had. I will clearly have to go back and reread it in a few weeks; at 800 pages, it's not a book I can digest in one reading. For those who, like me, sometimes enjoy a book as meaty as this, "Echo" is a pleasure to read. For those who, like me, are used to waiting for the next book in an exciting series (Harry Potter, anyone? Eragon?), you'll understand my impatience on reaching the end of the book. And perhaps you'll join me.


Please note, Gabaldon has explicitly said that this is NOT the last book in the series, so while the cliffhanger endings are frustrating, we will have our questions answered in a few years. Overall, I enjoyed “Echo” and look forward to finding out what happens to Jamie, Claire, and crew when the next book comes out.

 
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