Sometimes I wonder why I’m continuing to read this series. This is the ninth Outlander novel and the last one that I really enjoyed was the sixth; since then, each book has felt longer and less substantial than the one before. In this book, the final sequence – 100 pages or so – is excellent, but to get there you have to persist through 800 pages of irrelevant subplots that seem to lead nowhere and minor characters we barely know suddenly given large storylines of their own. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, though, part of my problem is that I’ve never been a fan of the Lord John Grey spin-off series, and Lord John and his family have played an increasingly large part in these most recent novels when I would prefer to be reading about other characters. I don’t mind Lord John himself but have very little interest in Hal, Ben, Amaranthus, Dottie or Percy!
Anyway, if you’re new to the series, should you start with this book? My answer would be no – definitely not! Start at the beginning, when 1940s nurse Claire Randall first steps inside a stone circle in Scotland and finds herself transported to the 18th century, then read the books in order, otherwise you’re going to be very confused.
Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone picks up where Written in My Own Heart’s Blood left off. It’s 1779 and the Revolutionary War is drawing ever closer to Fraser’s Ridge, the settlement in North Carolina where Claire lives with her husband, Jamie Fraser. Although Jamie had resigned his commission in the Continental Army after the Battle of Monmouth, with tensions growing between his tenants on the Ridge he knows he won’t be able to stay away from the action for long. Elsewhere, Jamie’s son William is still trying to come to terms with the discovery of his true father’s identity while also continuing the search for his missing cousin, Ben.
Meanwhile, Roger is finally about to achieve his dream of being ordained as a minister, but he and Brianna are becoming convinced that they are being pursued by someone from another time and are questioning whether they’ve made the right choices to keep their children safe. We also catch up, briefly, with Fergus and Marsali, who are discovering that printing newspapers can be a dangerous occupation in times of war, and we follow Ian, Rachel and Jenny as they travel north in search of Ian’s first wife.
It may sound as though a lot is happening in this book, but the things I’ve mentioned above are not enough to fill 900 pages and there seems to be a huge amount of padding: Frances Pocock, the orphan rescued from a brothel in the previous novel, trying to adjust to her new life at Fraser’s Ridge; William’s friend John Cinnamon searching for his father; a young girl, Agnes Cloudtree, escaping from an abusive stepfather; Silvia Hardman, Jamie’s Quaker friend, making a shocking discovery about her husband; and the usual assortment of difficult births, medical procedures, hunting expeditions, and all the minutiae of daily life on the Ridge. The focus on Claire and Jamie and their immediate family members, the relationships that made the earlier books so compelling, has been lost and the new characters just aren’t as interesting.
With no overarching plot to drive the story forward, it’s not until near the end that the pace eventually begins to pick up and I was reminded of why I used to love Diana Gabaldon’s books. We end on a cliffhanger which gives me hope that the next book will get off to a more exciting start! Book ten is apparently going to be the last and I suspect we could have another very long wait (the previous one was published in 2014, a seven year gap). I’ll definitely read it – I couldn’t not find out how it all ends after coming this far! – but I hope it will be better than this one and will concentrate on giving the main characters we know and love the ending they deserve.
This is book 11/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.