Fiction – audiobook. Read by Davina Porter. Recorded Books, 2002. Originally published 2001. 55 hours, 30 minutes. Library copy.
The fifth book in Gabaldon’s Outlander series opens right at the conclusion of the proceeding book: Brianna and Roger have reconciled at the clan gathering in the colony of North Carolina where the Frasers have traveled to see Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta marry Jamie’s co-revolutionist from Culloden.
The wedding, however, is interrupted by the arrival of the local magistrate, who proceeds to arrest the Catholic priest for practicing a religion banned in this Protestant colony. With the festivities canceled, the Frasers return to their homestead in the backwoods of North Carolina and to the news that Jamie has been commanded by the governor to raise a militia against the Regulators.
With their twentieth century knowledge, Claire and Brianna both knew the American Revolution would spread from the city of Boston in Massachusetts to the rest of the colonies. Yet, given that it is only 1771, neither anticipated their husbands would be pressed into quelling an uprising four years before the colonists and the British army would open fire on each other in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord.
Efforts on the part of the Fraser-MacKenzie men to end the confrontation at Alamance before blood is shed ends in near disaster, particularly for Roger. The injury to his body also injures his identity as a singer, driving a new edge between him and Brianna and bringing up the question of whether he and Brianna should return to 1971.
Of course, with the parentage of Brianna’s son in question, it isn’t clear whether or not Jemmy can even travel through the stones. And, if he can, where would the MacKenzies find the stones needed to assure their safe passage? The Fraser-MacKenzie family is land rich but cash poor.
Yet, that distinction doesn’t stop certain men of the family’s acquaintance – including the dreaded Stephen Bonnet – from insisting the clan is hiding gold on Jocasta’s plantation and trying to get their hands on it by any means necessary.
This may be my second favorite book of the series, right after the first book which introduced these fantastic characters and Gabaldon’s take on time travel. The story is largely concerned with the day-to-day aspects of life on the American frontier, making it clear how difficult eking out an existence could be.
This is especially true for Roger who continues to have the worst luck of them all. He serves as a reminder that not everyone would readily adapt to the past the way Claire did, but the poor guy is subjected to so many setbacks that it’s hard not to root for him to go home at times.
Yet, whenever I started to long for something more exciting than the impact of breastfeeding on Brianna’s breast, Gabaldon would send the characters off to discover a dying man in the backwoods or a possibly murdered slave at River Run. Or, she leads them into a dangerous situation at Alamance or on an island off the coast of Wilmington.
This interruption of the day-to-day by a major event kept the story from feeling stale or dragged out over the nearly 56 hours it took to complete the audiobook. And, unlike with the three previous novels in the series, I felt like I needed all the details and events that Gabaldon included. Nothing felt unnecessarily drawn out, and my interest never waned.
It will be interesting to see what the television show chooses to drop from the story. They’ve already made a major change – replacing Jocasta’s intended with a character who died in the second book – that will certainly impact the TV version of events. I just hope the writers do not remove the comedic relief Germaine provides as Marsali and Fergus’ little boy had me audibly cracking up each time he appeared in the story.