I did quite a bit reading in October, all of it in two series. I finished up my reread of the Outlander series, which was largely entertaining. I also got caught up with Jasper Fforde’s Last Dragonslayer series. I don’t expect to come close to matching this pace next month, since NaNoWriMo will be taking up a lot of my free time. It is also why I am kind of phoning in these reviews. Let’s get on with it.
The Song of the Quarkbeast
I saw that a new Jasper Fforde book was coming out, which reminded me that I never read the one before it. So I bought both this book and its sequel. These are his Young Adult books, skewing a little younger than his other work, but they are still highly entertaining. Jennifer Strange is still leading the magic company of Kazam, with its founder, the Great Zambini, still missing. Now she is facing problems with the only other magical practitioners in the Ununited Kingdoms, meddling from the King, the reproduction habits of Quarkbeasts, and the mystery of what happened to The Once Magnificent Boo. She has to hold together Kazam in the face of a competition to determine who controls the future of magic itself.
Song of the Quarkbeast is another great Jasper Fforde book. It keeps the trademark humor and wit, but aims it at a younger set than something like the Thursday Next series. This book is funny. It also pulls the curtain back a little more on how the word of this series works. I liked this one more than the first one. It spends less time getting to know the characters; it just gets to the fun.
The Eye of Zoltar
I followed up book two with book three immediately. It is a similar thing. This time, Jennifer goes to a foreign country where magic is outlawed to rescue the Once Magnificent Boo, as well as look for a magical macguffin that may or may not exist, the Eye of Zoltar from the title. It is not a quest, though, those require regulations that Jennifer doesn’t want to deal with.
On its own, this is a fine story, but it is kind of a digression from the characters and setting that the previous two books established. The Eye of Zoltar is an excuse to the a few characters out of the way in order to set up the next (final?) book in the series. That would be a problem if this book wasn’t still supremely entertaining. It introduces some interesting new characters and some entertaining concepts. Again, I don’t like this series quite as much as I do Fforde’s “adult” books, but there is still enough wit and humor to make it worthwhile.
A Breath of Snow and Ashes
It had been a long time since I had read this book. I remembered snatches of events, but not the sequence or the totality of them. Much like Dragonfly in Amber, this book is one to close up all the lingering plot threads from the previous books and clearing the way for the next one. The community of Fraser’s Ridge in the back country of North Carolina is firmly established by now, and thing are moving rapidly to the start of the Revolutionary War.
This is a sprawling book, with tons of small stories, but no strong central one. There is the growing unrest in the colony, with Jamie, knowing the outcome, trying to balance safety and his other obligations, with not allowing them to get caught on the wrong side of history again. They also have to deal with Ian’s return from living with Indians and some troubling new tenants, along with a host of other problems. It does let the stories take their time in the telling. The tale of the Christies’ is a sad, strange saga, with Claire’s protégé Malve doomed by the regressive gender notions of the time as well as her father’s harshness. It ended the only way it could. Her attempts to pin her out of wedlock child on Jamie is a strange soap opera-esque note, mostly because there is no chance that it is true. The fact that dealing with that accusation takes up a good portion of the back of the book is somewhat disappointing. The big deck clearing decision is Roger and Brianna taking their family back to the future. It was necessitated by the heart condition their baby had, but seemed to be mostly an effort to focus the narrative of the next few books.
A Breath of Snow and Ashes is a somewhat weak book on its own, but as a part of the ongoing Outlander Saga it is a fine entry in the series.
An Echo in the Bone
Another Outlander book. This one deals with start of the Revolutionary War and, despite their best efforts to the contrary, Jamie and Claire’s participation in it. At the start of the book, Jamie and Claire attempt to go back to Scotland, both to visit his sister and to get his printing press, which is how he plans to aid in the war effort. However, their attempts to secure a berth on a ship lead to a series of misadventures that bring them right to the heart of the fighting. It is a story scattered all over colonial America.
It is a little too scattered. The sheer number of POV characters has gotten out of hand, and Gabaldon doesn’t stick with any one of them long enough for the reader to get comfortable. Especially with the frequent trips to the ‘future’ with Brianna and Roger. It is not that their portion of the story isn’t interesting, but it is completely divorced from the rest of the book. It also brings in Jamie’s son William as a major player in the story. He is still unaware of his paternity, but he and Jamie keep crossing paths. Ian also begins a romance with a young Quaker girl. Other than its inability to keep focused on one story for any length of time, this is a fine entry in the series, though it is clearly a part one with a part two coming.
Written in my Own Hearts Blood
I did another quick read through of the most recent Outlander novel after I caught back up. It reads a lot better when you know what happened to lead to the situation where the book starts. It also is a lot more of a focused book than either of the last two. While there is just as much Roger and Brianna stuff, it is kept to its own section, letting it stand on its own better and not interfere with the other part of the story.
This one lets the Revolutionary War part play out, but with everything at the end seems to be setting up could be the end of this series. Roger and Brianna are back, William knows who his Daddy is and the Frenchman is not letting up in his search for Fergus, who may or may not be heir to a French Lord. I don’t profess to have any clue about how it will play out, but it seems like it is leading to a conclusion.