Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Fiction – audiobook. Read by Davina Porter. Recorded Books, 1998. Originally published 1992. 39 hours, 28 minutes. Library copy.

This sequel to Outlander begins in 1968 with Claire Randall returning to Scotland from her home in Boston with her twenty-something daughter, Brianna, in tow. Now that her husband, Frank, has passed, Claire is determined to explain her past – how she traveled through the stones of Craigh Na Dun to the 1700s, married a Highlander named Jamie Fraser, and eventually ended up in France trying to devise a plan to stop Bonnie Prince Charles from leading the Highland Clans to their death at Culloden in 1745 – and, most importantly, the truth about Brianna’s parentage to her daughter.

The story sounds fancifully and, frankly, nuts to Brianna, who asserts that Frank Randall is her biological father. She also does not want to believe Claire’s assertion that the young Roger Mackenzie, who was Reverend Wakefield’s ward and nephew when Claire first traveled through the stones, is actually the son of Geillis Duncan and Dougal Mackenzie smuggled back through the stones to the 1950s before her death in 1744. The latter revelation was revealed in the first book in the series, and the former became abundantly clearly within the first few pages as Claire explained her daughter’s hair color and stature to the listener.

Claire learns rather early on from Roger that Jamie died at the battle at Culloden, Prince Charles’ final stand, with nearly two thousand other Highlanders and supporters of the Jacobite cause, and the bulk of the book is spent explaining how Jamie ended up there after her and Claire were exiled to France in 1744. Like Brianna, I struggled to get my baring as Claire recounts her life in 1745 from her place in 1968, and that’s largely the reason why it took me nearly eight months to finish this book.

On audio, it was very difficult to discern between Claire’s first person narrative and Roger’s third person as the novel switches between the two. I would often find myself wondering how Claire knew Roger was that interested in her daughter or how Roger knew about her past only to be jolted from one narrator to the next as Claire would drop in an “I” or Davina Porter, the reader, would announce that the chapter was taking place in 1968.

I often had to repeat chapters and, to be completely honest, I’m still not sure I fully followed the entire story. I recounted how emotional I found the end of the novel to a friend who has read and loved the entire series only for her to forward me a link to a website the documents the series’ timeline with the note that what I said is not at all what happened. I guess I was just too eager for a happy ending after all the horribly emotionally-impactful experiences Claire and Jamie went through.

That said, while I expected the sequel to pick up right where Outlander left Claire and Jamie in Le Havre in 1744, I did enjoy the mystery surrounding what happened both in the past and the present. I wish the timeline had been better fleshed out (or, maybe that I read a print copy of the book rather than listened to the audio?), and a good chunk of it probably could have been cut by a clever editor. I’m not sure I needed that much detail or that Claire and Jamie needed to go through that many setbacks to make them the clear heroes of the series.  Perhaps the most telling thing is how long it took me to finish the book; I clearly didn’t feel the same burning desire to finish the book as I did the first one in the series and I’m not exactly beating a path to the library for the third one.

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