A blog dedicated to my opinion on books

Friday, July 5, 2013

“Dragonfly in Amber” by Diana Gabaldon

Title: "Dragonfly in Amber"
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Delacorte
Year: 1992
Genre(s): Historical fiction, romance, fantasy
Part of a Series: Yes

Synopsis: The story of Jamie and Claire continues from "Outlander" in "Dragonfly in Amber." The couple forges a new life in France, visiting Jamie's cousin Jared in Paris.He is going away to do business and leaves his day-to-day operations in Jamie's hands. He introduces Jamie and Claire at court and the two soon enter upper French society. But Claire makes an enemy upon her arrival to Paris and Jamie has an encounter with an old enemy. They have to be on their guard, especially as Bonnie Prince Charlie arrives to try and build support to take back Scotland. Jamie befriends the man while working with Claire to prevent Culloden from happening. Can they do that? And can their marriage survive their enemies?

Review: Going in, I was told by a few people and the internet that this wasn't as good as the first book. And I have to admit they were right. While "Outlander is large" and I believe it could've been a bit tighter, it had many moments which captured my attention. Unfortunately, those moments were few and far between in "Dragonfly in Amber."

In truth, the book and I didn't start off on the right foot as I don't care for POV changes in a book. As a reader, I prefer for the writer to stick with one style. In the case of “Dragonfly in Amber,” one chapter was third person limited, then the next was first person. I was getting comfortable with it and then she started changing them in the same chapter. But once Claire started telling her story, it resumed the first person POV for the majority of the story. The mixed POVs returns at the end, when we return to 1968. Once again, it's a personal preference and I understand why Ms. Gabaldon made the decision to include Roger. But I would've kept it in third person limited in the framing chapters.

Claire’s characterization gets a bit more ridiculous this go around. Let me explain: In “Outlander,” I liked how realistic most of Claire’s reactions were (I still believe she was a bit too quick to accept the whole time traveling thing but that’s a quibble) and how realistic people reacted to her. Here in “Dragonfly,” I feel people’s reactions are not as realistic as they once were. Claire and Jamie are introduced at the French court during the War of Austrian Succession, which is being fought with the British. And it has always been clear that Claire is Very British. So I had some difficulty believing she would be so readily welcomed at court, no matter her husband.

Gabaldon also raises the fantasy element in this book by introducing the idea of the La Femme Blanche, or the White Lady. People believe Claire is this mystical woman and respect her. I personally felt Gabaldon pushed it too much. It makes Claire a bit too invincible, at least when it comes to her enemies. Also, there comes a point where Claire’s flaws are glossed over a bit too much. When she goes with her husband to meet up with the Jacobite cause, she takes over a small town and turns the townswomen into her own personal underlings. I'm surprised they didn't run her out of town. Yes, Claire can be bossy. But bossy people tend to piss other people off. It makes the character more real if that happens.

This brings me to the Jamie worship which also raises a few levels. Everyone loves Jamie and the women are jealous of Claire for being married to him. He's Charles Stuart's bestest friend in France. And everything is done to make Jamie look as good as possible, in my opinion. There is one scenario in particular which upset me but I do no wish to go too much into it due to spoilers. All I will say is that I found it to be nothing more than a moment for Gabaldon to create tension and drama between Claire and Jamie with very little payoff.  Jamie does something which shatters Claire’s trust in him and it seems their marriage is in ruins. But it is revealed that Jamie had noble reasons for acting that way and Claire forgives him. Her trust him is restored overnight, it seems. She cannot be angry at the ideal husband hero for too long.

What upsets me about this plot point is that it makes it too easy for the couple. It was a good obstacle for the couple to have to overcome and would be great character development. Watching the couple repair their relationship would’ve strengthened the romance, not hurt it, in my opinion. Ms. Gabaldon is clearly in love with her main male character. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to writing a romance, but while Gabaldon has no problem having bad things happen to Jamie, she doesn’t let him do bad things. Characters need to be able to make mistakes and to have them be recognized as such. They can’t be handwaved away—noble reasons don’t negate the act.

I continue to like the secondary characters. Louise and Mary Hawkings are compelling as is Alex Randall. He is such a contrast to his brother and I am upset we didn't get to see more of them together. Their relationship is interesting when they were together. And further proof Jack Randall is not a psychopath like Ms. Gabaldon has stated. He takes care of his dying brother, risking his career to do so. Those aren't the actions of a psychopath.

In Scotland, I love Ian and Jenny. I wouldn't mind reading an entire series about them. And their children. Or more about Gillian Edgars. I wish Ms. Gabaldon didn't stick it into the last forty pages of the book. I feel this needs to be fleshed out more. Now before everyone says "You have to read Voyager," I figure there will be more in the third book. I just felt the amount Ms. Gabaldon put in here didn't entice me like "Ooh, must read next book for more" but more like "UGGH! Must read next book to get more?" I feel Ms. Gabaldon could've focused more on Briana. She storms off angrily and the  focus is on getting her to believe Claire. 

I’m curious about Briana and her reaction. She was a daddy's girl and close to Frank. But girl had to have questions. Frank was described as having black hair, Claire brown. Briana inherited her father's red hair. Actually, she's the spitting image of Jamie. So she had to wonder how Frank+Claire=her. Unless Frank pulled out some family tree to prove red hair ran in the family and just skipped a generation and she looks just like some great-great-great grandmother. I just wish we saw her come to her own conclusions or watch her rage rather than Claire concoct a plan to get her to believe her.

Otherwise, Ms. Gabaldon's writing is still very good and she still does have some of the best description skills I've read along with Sara Donati. She creates a wonderful setting and feeling of the time period. But sometimes she crosses into dangerous territory for historical fiction novels: where the author’s research hijacks the story. Like the entire chapter devoted to potato farming. It did little to advance the plot or provide character development. Ms. Gabaldon might’ve worked the potato farming in a bit better if she felt compelled to use it.

But that’s just my opinion.

Moonlight Musing

Do you find sequels better than the original or not?

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