An Echo in the Bone is the 7th book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (or Cross Stitch as it’s known here in the UK) and takes place during the American Revolution. I’ve been following the adventures of Jamie Fraser and his time-travelling wife Claire for more than 10 years now and although this book won’t be published in the UK until 2010, I ordered it from the US Amazon site as I couldn’t wait to read it.
This review may contain spoilers if you haven’t read the previous 6 books in the series
If you haven’t read (or like me, have read but didn’t enjoy) the spin-off Lord John series, you might struggle with certain sections of this book. I would recommend reading Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade before beginning, as a number of characters from that book feature quite prominently in Echo. In fact, there are so many chapters (mainly in the first half of the book) devoted to Lord John, William Ransom, Percy Wainwright, Hal and Dottie, that at times this felt more like a Lord John book than an Outlander one. I do like both Lord John and William as characters though, and towards the end of the book their storylines begin to tie together with Jamie and Claire’s.
According to Diana Gabaldon, the image on the book cover is a caltrop – a weapon with four spikes each ending in a sharp point. The caltrop represents the four main storylines running simultaneously throughout the book: Jamie and Claire visiting Scotland to collect Jamie’s printing press, following the fire that destroyed their home at Fraser’s Ridge; the adventures of Jamie’s son, William, a Lieutenant in the British army; Young Ian trying to come to terms with the break-up of his marriage to Emily whilst being pursued by a vengeful old man, and Roger and Brianna following Claire and Jamie’s fate via a box of old letters.
Due to all the storylines which were taking place, the story was told from many different viewpoints – Claire, Jamie, Roger, Brianna, Young Ian, William, Lord John, Rachel Hunter (a Quaker girl who falls in love with Ian) and even one or two pages from Fergus and Jemmy’s points of view. This technique gave the book a slightly different feel to the rest of the series, though I personally preferred the style of the earlier books which were told mostly by Claire.
I know this review has so far sounded a bit negative, but there were plenty of things I loved about the book. The story was filled with bizarre coincidences and almost-forgotten characters from previous books reappearing when you least expected them, and although you had to suspend belief at times, I enjoyed this aspect of the book.
I also enjoyed the Roger and Brianna sections, as they began to read Jamie and Claire’s letters one by one in the relative safety of 20th century Lallybroch. Later in the book, though, Roger and Brianna’s story takes a more sinister turn, and they discover that they’re not quite as safe as they thought they were!
I had been looking forward to Jamie, Claire and Young Ian returning to Scotland again and being reunited with Jenny and Ian Murray – however, this didn’t happen until near the end of the book, and when they finally did get to Lallybroch, it certainly wasn’t the happy reunion I was expecting! From this point onwards, the plot suddenly started moving at a whirlwind pace. Apparently this was intentional (this section was even entitled “Reap the Whirlwind”). I think I’ll probably need to read the book again to be able to fully understand everything that was happening.
We were left with a lot of loose ends and cliffhangers, which wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t going to have to wait another 3 or 4 years for the next book! Still, Diana Gabaldon has given us plenty to think about, as there are now an infinite number of ways in which the various storylines could progress. Although this was not my favourite in the Outlander series, I still enjoyed it and am already looking forward to Book 8!
Genre: Historical Fiction/Pages: 820/Year: 2009/Publisher: Delacorte Press/Source: My own copy bought new