Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 3, Episode 2

Season 3 is here! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.

Warning:

Spoilers

I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 302: “Surrender”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Hiding in a cave, Jamie leads a lonely life until Lallybroch is threatened by redcoats pursuing the elusive Jacobite traitor. In Boston, Claire and Frank struggle to coexist in a marriage haunted by the ghost of Jamie.

My take:

Major plot points:

Once again, the episode follows two separate times. We see Jamie’s world in 1752, and Claire’s in 1949.

  • Six years have passed since Culloden. Jamie is a silent, shattered shell of a man, living in a cave in the woods near Lallybroch.
  • Despite being in hiding, a legend seems to have sprung up about the “Dunbonnet” — a red-haired outlaw who covers his hair with a brown bonnet.

  • The redcoats come by Lallybroch regularly to harass the family and search for Red Jamie. They arrest Ian over and over again to try to force information from the family.
  • Things come to a head for Jamie when he’s nearly caught in the house soon after Jenny gives birth to Young Ian, endangering the entire family. Next, Fergus taunts the redcoats who follow him, until one cuts off his hand. Jamie rushes him to the house and his life is saved, but Jamie feels terrible about the horrible danger the family is in because of him.
  • Finally, he decides that Jenny should turn him in to the redcoats, so that the family will collect the reward offered for his capture and clear themselves of any further suspicion.
  • The night before this plan goes through, Mary McNab brings Jamie a final meal in his cave, trims his hair and shaves his beard, and invites him to sleep with her as a last comfort before he goes to prison.
  • The next day, Jamie and Jenny put on a performance for the British, who show up during Jamie’s supposed homecoming and take him off to prison.
  • Meanwhile, in Boston, Claire continues to dream of Jamie. While she’s resumed a sex life with Frank, she does so with her eyes shut, and Frank realizes that she’s still with Jamie in her heart and in her head.
  • Brianna is about a year old, and although Claire has thrown herself into motherhood, she misses having something meaningful to contribute to the world.
  • By the end of the episode, we see Claire attending her first anatomy class at Harvard Medical School, where the professor scornfully remarks that between her and the “Negro” student, they’ve become very progressive. The other students (white, male) act like jerks, but Claire and Joe Abernathy, the sole African American student, introduce themselves, and it’s clear that this will be the start of a lasting friendship.

Insta-reaction:

This show. Really. They are just ON this season, and it’s glorious.

Poor Fergus. The actor playing him is so adorable and sweet, although I believe this is the last time we’ll see him. By the time we focus on Fergus again (assuming more or less the chronology from the books), years will have passed and we’ll have an older actor playing the character. Meanwhile, though, this Fergus has grown up a bit since season 2 — he’s taller and his voice is deeper! Such a sweetie. The scene with the British officers was horrible*, although I appreciate how faithful to the book the scene was where Fergus and Jamie talk afterwards, and Fergus reminds Jamie that he’d once sworn to support him for the rest of his life if he ever lost his hand while in Jamie’s employ, a very real possibility for a pickpocket. (How ironic that he finally suffers this fate after “going straight”, no longer a pickpocket but just a boy working on a farm.)

*Does it strike anyone else as implausible that the soldiers would pin Fergus down and chop off his hand? Why would they do this? Maybe they’d beat him or take him away, but really, cut off his hand? It seems so out of place. In the books, it’s accidental. Same perpetrator (British soldier), same outcome for Fergus, but a little easier to accept than an act of outright brutality that’s just a bit too out there.

Jamie is so shattered in this episode. It’s painful to look at his face and realize that his life is just completely empty. He loves Jenny and her family, but as Ian points out, Claire is Jamie’s heart, and now his heart is gone. Gotta love the Dunbonnet look on Jamie, with the long hair* and scraggly beard. Such a wild man! The scene where he brings home the deer to feed the family and silently butchers it shows Jamie’s awful, continuous pain so clearly.

*Although if the point of the “dun bonnet” is to cover up Red Jamie’s signature hair, it’s not very effective. Those glorious red locks flowing past his shoulders are not exactly inconspicuous.

I did feel that the episode should have shown the world beyond Lallybroch in the Scotland scenes. Based only on the show, you might assume that the Fraser/Murphy family is specifically being targeted, when in history, we know that this was the time of the Clearances, when the British army ravaged the Highlands, destroyed the clans, and left the people starving and under constant threat of imprisonment and worse.

Meanwhile, the Claire and Frank scenes are an odd mix of hopeful and hopeless. There is a spark, such as when Claire and Frank coo over Brianna (and it doesn’t hurt that Frank is clad only in a towel at the time). Claire is a sex-positive woman, and there’s only so long she’s going to go without. In the two sexual encounters between Claire and Frank (as well as in the scene of her pleasuring herself while Frank sleeps), Claire takes the lead and does what feels good to her. Frank is too astute not to get what’s going on. No matter how much he loves her and wants her, he recognizes that she used to look at him while they made love, and now she keeps her eyes closed. Not very subtle, Claire. At the beginning of the episode, they’re sleeping side by side in the same bed — but by the end, they say good-night and sleep in twin beds, in the same room but with empty space between them. This marriage is not doing well, no matter the happy faces they put on for company.

On a positive note for Claire, I’m thrilled to see her starting medical school (where I’m sure she could run circles around all those awful people in her anatomy class — how many of them have performed amputations and sewn up battle wounds, hmmm?). However, I would have liked to have seen some discussion of this between her and Frank. Was he supportive? Did he realize she needed something in her life besides house and baby? Or is he just so defeated already by her distance that he sees this as maybe a way to ground her in her life a bit more? I know a one-hour episode can’t possibly include everything, but I feel like there’s something missing as background to Claire’s showing up in anatomy class.

Jamie’s interlude with Mary McNab was sweet and nicely done. She’s a kind woman who appreciates what Jamie has done for all of Lallybroch and knows how he’s about to sacrifice himself. Her offer of comfort and healing is something Jamie needs, even if he doesn’t think he wants it. It’s been too long for him since he’s allowed anyone to really reach him or touch him, and just for this moment, he’s able to make a connection.

The parallels between Jamie and Claire’s lives lie largely in the sexual encounters shown. Claire reconnects sexually with Frank, but always with Jamie on her mind  and in her fantasies. Jamie abstains from human contact, barely even speaks when he’s around people, and is thoroughly withdrawn from other people, living only in his mind and with his memories of Claire. He does finally allow himself to be touched by Mary, which perhaps is a first step for Jamie in accepting that his life with Claire is truly over.

By episode’s end, both Jamie and Claire have made life-changing decisions — Jamie by turning himself in and facing years, or possibly a lifetime, in prison, and Claire by enrolling in medical school. They’ve both been feeling trapped by what their lives have become, although Claire is opening a door to professional freedom and achievement, while Jamie will not be free for a long, long time.

The episode title, “Surrender”, is an interesting choice. Jamie has surrendered to the British, but I’d say he’s also surrendered his isolation and mourning, finally giving in to the reality of his life without Claire. He’s lived in limbo for all these years, but now he’s accepting that this is the life he has. Claire makes it clear that she’ll never give up her longing for Jamie, but she too takes steps in this episode to embrace living this new version of a life — and while she’ll never fully connect with Frank (could there be a wider gulf than the foot separating their two beds?), she’s surrendered to the need to find meaning where and when she is. A surrender is not a happy condition — it implies giving up and giving in — but there’s also an element of acceptance: The person surrendering can’t have what he or she truly wanted, and now they agree to move forward and accept the punishment or consequences, without what they desire most.

Such a sad way to think about Jamie and Claire’s lives. And no wonder adult Brianna feels that her mother was never truly present emotionally.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

A powerful, moving episode that’s quite faithful to the overall flow of the book, even keeping intact certain pieces of dialogue. I feel that the Jamie and Claire sections really flow together well, and the cutting from one era to another never feels jarring. The mood I get from all this is interconnectedness  — despite the distance and years between them, there’s still a firm tie between Claire and Jamie that can’t be undone or ignored.

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The Monday Check-In ~ 9/18/2017

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read last week?

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray: I finished the 3rd book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy. My wrap-up post is here.

I also read and reviewed two amazing novellas by Sarah Gailey, which are impossible to describe except as “Westerns with hippos”. Check out my post, here.

Outlander returns!

Was episode 1 great or what? My reaction post for the season premiere is here. Stay tuned for more — my reaction posts for each episode will most likely go up on Monday or Tuesday each week.

Here’s a peek at episode 2:

 

Fresh Catch:

One new book this week — can’t wait to get started!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
 

The Power by Naomi Alderman: I’ve read about half, and it’s pretty amazing.

End of Watch by Stephen King: I have a flight coming up later in the week, and for some reason I always enjoy reading Stephen King while I’m traveling. I’m saving the 3rd book of the Bill Hodges trilogy to keep me company on the plane.

Now playing via audiobook:

Venetia by Georgette Heyer: Almost done! Perfection — Georgette Heyer is always a treat, and Phyllida Nash does a superb job with the narration.

Ongoing reads:

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: My book group’s classic read! We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week.

Lord John and the Hell-Fire Club by Diana Gabaldon: Outlander Book Club is doing a Lord John readalong — we’ll be reading all of the Lord John novels and stories in story chronology. This week, we’ll be finishing up the first Lord John novella, Lord John and the Hellfire Club. Next up: Lord John and the Private Matter. Anyone who’s interested is welcome to participate, so let me know if you’d like more information on how to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 3, Episode 1

Season 3 has begun! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.

Warning:

Spoilers

I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 301: “The Battle Joined”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

After living through the Battle of Culloden, Jamie is at the mercy of British victors, until his past provides his only hope of survival. Meanwhile, a pregnant Claire attempts to adjust to life in 1940s Boston.

My take:

Major plot points:

We follow two separate plot threads, Jamie’s and Claire’s.

  • Jamie wakes on the battlefield in a heap of bodies, half-dead and with visions of the last day flashing before his eyes.
  • We see him at Craigh na Dun after saying good-bye to Claire, then arriving at Culloden, where Prince Charles still thinks he’s going to have a victory.
  • We see flashes of Jamie on the battlefield, carnage all around him, finally killing Black Jack Randall while receiving his own seemingly fatal wound.

  • Jamie’s life is ultimately spared by Lord Melton, older brother of John Grey, who considers there to be a debt of honor due to Jamie’s sparing of John’s life at Carryarick.
  • Meanwhile, Frank and Claire are beginning their life together in Boston.
  • Claire is not well-suited to the life of a faculty housewife, expected to look pretty, stay quiet, and prepare dinner on a modern-day stove.
  • Claire can’t allow Frank to touch her. Things are tense.
  • Finally, Claire goes into labor, and delivers a healthy baby girl. Claire and Frank declare themselves ready for a new beginning, which is immediately tested by a nurse asking where the baby got her red hair. Oops. Loaded question.

Insta-reaction:

Such a beautiful episode. Really, I couldn’t have asked for better.

Book readers will know that while Voyager starts with Jamie lying wounded on the battlefield, wondering if he’s dead already, we never actually see the Battle of Culloden. It’s quite effective that it’s shown, with all its horror and carnage. The Jacobites are running with swords into the line of fire from guns and cannon, and they just don’t stand a chance.

And that blasted Prince Charles, still dreaming of victory as he shows off his pretty silver cups while the men devoted to a Stuart restoration rush to their deaths. So terribly, needlessly tragic.

Jamie’s vision of Claire on the battlefield is lovely. She’s all he can see, and he has nothing without her.

I enjoyed the brief moments of Murtagh during the battle and the quick interchange between him and Jamie. His fate, at least on this episode, is unknown, although I think it’s safe to assume that he met the same end here as in the book. Or does he? Is the show leaving open the possibility that we’ll see him again? Murtagh’s death in the books was one of the hardest to take. A fan can hope, right?

(But how could he have survived Culloden? The British killed everyone wounded on the battlefield, and if he wasn’t wounded or dead, he would have found Jamie or died trying.)

Where’s Murtagh???

I know, I know… this really is probably just wishful thinking on my part. A key piece of the coming years of Jamie’s life is how alone he is. Having Murtagh there would change the dynamic and shift the story quite a bit, so I can’t really see the showrunners going in that direction. I guess I just don’t want to say good-bye to him. I do love the character!

Rupert plays a heroic role, looking after the few survivors as they await their turn to be executed, before making his own good-bye to Jamie and facing death. I love that he stepped up and acted as a leader in these scenes, and that his parting with Jamie was full of affection, not dwelling on Jamie’s killing of Dougal. It must be nice to have the belief systems of these Highlanders — Rupert takes comfort in the idea of being with Angus once again. (Are we crying yet?)

Hal, Lord Melton, is a book favorite of mine, and while I don’t expect to see him again this season, I felt his portrayal and his handling of the moral dilemma presented by Jamie was quite good. And it was great seeing Jamie end up back in Jenny’s loving care by the end of the episode.

As for Claire — well, this housewife role is clearly not for her. It’s almost painful to see how voiceless and powerless she is as a woman in 1948. This is a woman who advised kings and chieftains, engaged in high-level political scheming, and performed amputations, battlefield medicine, and more. And yet when she offers an opinion at the Harvard faculty club, she’s treated as impertinent and out of line, with nothing of value to say because she’s a woman, and a pregnant one at that. And then later, when the doctor asks Frank about her contractions instead of Claire, and then sedates her against her will — infuriating! We assumed when Claire first arrived in the Highlands that she’d be shoved into a powerless role because of her sex, yet it’s really here in the late 1940s that Claire is more pigeon-holed than ever before.

It does seems an important point that she mentioned that Harvard Medical School began admitting women just a few years earlier, giving a hint of her own next step. Claire is a woman whose calling in life is to be a healer — sitting home making dinner, staying quiet, and not worrying her pretty head about anything absolutely isn’t her.

Likewise, if we really think about it, Claire has never been a housewife before. From the opening of episode 1, season 1, we know that Claire has never had a home of her own. She and Frank married and then were separated by war, which she spent on battlefields and hospitals. They no sooner reunite than they’re separated again by Claire’s trip into the past, where she certainly wasn’t a housewife, instead involved in non-stop action and called on time and time again to use her remarkable skills as a healer. She’s never had a home or the expectation that home was where she was meant to be. It’s so not Claire! Ugh, 1948, you’re the worst.

Poor Frank. I’ve never been all that fond of him, but he does seem to be getting a pretty raw deal here. It still doesn’t really make sense to me that he and Claire chose to remain together and stay married. How can they ever expect to get past the three years they were apart, and the fact that Claire fell passionately in love with another man? I’m not sure either of them is being realistic about the deep layers of hurt and sorrow between them.

Oh, that moment in the hospital when Claire wakes up and says “where’s my baby?”!! Stunning. Such a beautiful and powerful throwback to the tragic stillbirth of her first child. In the moment when Frank brings her newborn daughter to her, we can see hope finally beginning to shine in Claire’s eyes.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

A stellar beginning to season 3! Kudos to the cast — their emotions are so raw and spot-on. Kudos as well to the production staff, especially in regard to the staging of the battle and its aftermath. Simply breathtaking and devastating.

And furthermore…

I’m just so damn glad that Droughtlander is over! It’s been a long time, but worth every moment of waiting if the full season promises to be as great as its first episode.

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The Monday Check-In ~ 9/11/2017

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read last week?

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby: I started this one a couple of months ago as an ARC, but the formatting was so bad that I couldn’t enjoy it. I’m so glad I found it at the library and decided to give it another shot! A terrific read — my review is here.

In audiobooks, I finished listening to Rebel Angels by Libba Bray. I have very conflicted feelings about this series, but now that there’s just 1 book left, I think I need to finish.

Outlander returns!

Outlander is back! Season 3 premiered last night, and the first episode was wonderful, of course. I’ll be doing reaction posts for each episode, as I did last season. Stay turned for my episode 1 post, coming today or tomorrow.

Fresh Catch:

Two new books this week, both via Book Depository.

I’m so excited for both of these!

Elsewhere on the blog:

Make sure you check out this terrific guest post by Sarah Zama of The Old Shelter blog, all about fantasy writers and the worlds they create.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
 

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray: Book #3 of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, and it’s HUGE. I have to admit that the size (800+ pages) is a turn-off — I’m not that committed to the story to want to spend quite so much time on this book. But, I did decide to read this trilogy this year, so I might as well finish.

Now playing via audiobook:

Venetia by Georgette Heyer: Is there ever a bad time for Georgette Heyer? Her works are candy delights. I’ve just started this audiobook, and it’s already lifting my spirits.

Ongoing reads:

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: My book group’s classic read! We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week.

Lord John and the Hell-Fire Club by Diana Gabaldon: Outlander Book Club is doing a Lord John readalong — we’ll be reading all of the Lord John novels and stories in story chronology. Our current read is the first Lord John novella, Lord John and the Hellfire Club. Anyone who’s interested is welcome to participate, so let me know if you’d like more information on how to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 9/4/2017

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read last week?

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford: Gorgeous book. My review is here.

The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy: Techno-horror — my review is here.

Fresh Catch:

Have I mentioned yet this week that I love my book club? Well, I do. We do several secret exchanges during this year, and this week I received my summer book swap package in the mail from a lovely member of the group. So many goodies for me to enjoy!

And here’s a close-up of that awesome bookmark:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
 

I’m trying to decide which of two library books I feel like starting right now:

  • South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby: I started this one a couple of months ago as an ARC, but the formatting was so bad that I couldn’t enjoy it. Figure I’d give it another shot in hard copy form.
  • The Waking Land by Callie Bates: Isn’t that a gorgeous cover?
Now playing via audiobook:

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray: Book #2 in the Gemma Doyle trilogy — getting close to the end. This book seemed to drag a lot more than the previous one. I may skip the audio for #3 and just zip through it in paper format instead — not sure that I want to devote another 20 hours of listening time to this series.

Ongoing reads:

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: My book group’s classic read! We’re doing two chapters per week. Really enjoying it so far.

Lord John and the Hell-Fire Club by Diana Gabaldon: The wonderful and lovely Outlander Book Club is starting its Lord John readalong, in which we’ll be reading all of the Lord John novels and stories in story chronology. We’re kicking things off this week with Hellfire! Anyone who’s interested is welcome to participate, so let me know if you’d like more information on how to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 8/28/2017

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read last week?

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: My book group’s pick for August. My review is here.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann: Fascinating and disturbing non-fiction. My review is here.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: The highlight of my week! My review is here.

And in audiobooks:

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: I finished the audiobook over the weekend, and really enjoyed it. I’ll wait until I finish the trilogy before I write up some thoughts.

Elsewhere on the blog:

Want to save money on e-books? I put together a blog post about how to find e-book price drops. Check it out, here.

Pop culture goodness:

I’ve been absolutely drooling over the newest issue of Entertainment Weekly. Why? Well, here’s a wee clue:

From Entertainment Weekly: Outlander
Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan photographed on the Outlander set in Cape Town, South Africa on March 8, 2017 by Ruven Afanador

Click here to see the full gallery of photos on the EW website, or here to see what I posted yesterday.

The end of Droughtlander is nigh! Outlander season 3 starts in LESS THAN 2 WEEKS.

Apologies in advance… my Outlander obsession seems to be kicking back into high gear, so expect plenty of Outlander-related posts for the next several weeks.

Fresh Catch:

Two new graphic novels this week:

Plus an ARC and one more little book that I think looks amazing:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
 

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente: Just getting started.

Now playing via audiobook:

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray: Book #2 in the Gemma Doyle trilogy — continuing on with the series after finishing A Great and Terrible Beauty.

Ongoing reads:

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: My book group’s classic read! We’re doing two chapters per week. Really enjoying it so far.

So many books, so little time…

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Three new stories by Diana Gabaldon

Well, June was quite a month for fans of Diana Gabaldon, who has graced us with with not one, not two, but three new stories! Actually, that should probably be 2 1/2, since the 3rd is coauthored. No matter! We fans will take what we can get.

Most excitingly, for Outlander readers, is the publication of Seven Stones to Stand or Fall, a collection of stories set in the Outlander-verse. Five stories have been published previously in anthologies and as stand-alones:

  • The Custom of the Army (a Lord John story)
  • The Space Between (about Fraser relations, Master Raymond, and the infamous Comte St. Germain)
  • A Plague of Zombies (more Lord John)
  • A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (about Roger’s parents during WWII)
  • Virgins (about Jamie and Ian as young, virginal mercenaries in France, prior to the events of Outlander)

Having read all of these previously*, I’ll just focus on the two new pieces from Seven Stones:

A Fugitive Green: A 100+ page novella about Hal and Minnie — that would be Lord John’s distinguished older brother Harold, Duke of Pardloe, and his beloved wife Minnie. This is their origin story, of sorts. In A Fugitive Green, we get the tale of how Minnie, the daughter of a spymaster and book dealer, met and ended up married to a young, newly widowed British officer on the verge of utter disgrace. Minnie is sent by her father from Paris to London to carry out some book deals as well as some espionage, with the ulterior motive of getting her a rich and well-placed husband along the way. Meanwhile, Hal is dealing with the aftermath of a scandalous duel and his wife’s death, and Hal’s best friend is busy trying to get Hal cleared of any guilt related to the duel. When Minnie and Hal meet, sparks fly. We’ve certainly seen both of these characters as adults and gotten a taste of their fiery marriage, and their unusual meeting and marriage has been spoken of, but here we see it first-hand (and yes, the famous hearth rug too.) It’s all quite delicious, and I enjoyed seeing Hal in his 20s, with a certain amount of romance and vulnerability that his older, more hardened self rarely (if ever) displays. Hal has become a favorite of mine over the course of the main Outlander series as well as in the assortment of Lord John novels and novellas, and I appreciated getting this new view of Hal and Minnie and the start of their relationship.

 

Besieged: In which Lord John, wrapping up his governorship of Jamaica, is informed last minute that not only is his mother Benedicta unexpectedly in Havana, but that the British fleet is about to invade Cuba. What’s a devoted son to do but sail off with his trusted valet Tom Byrd and rush to the rescue? I’ll be honest — despite my love for John and my joy at another adventure with Tom Byrd, this story left me cold. It was mostly people (well, John) rushing from place to place, lots of military talk, and not a whole lot of character depth. The action felt a bit mind-numbing after a while — haciendas and forts and rushing around — and I just didn’t enjoy it. Sure, it’s wonderful to spend time with John, but I would have liked to see him interact more with his mother and Tom rather than being caught up in an action story the whole time. There’s also a very sad development, if you’ve read the Lord John novels and are familiar with John’s extended family, but other than that, I actually found Besieged rather skippable.

 

And finally, a Gabaldon story that’s only kind of a Gabaldon story. In the new anthology MatchUp, bestselling authors are paired up — one male, one female — to create stories together featuring some of their well-known characters. For those who are into these type of stories (crime thrillers), I’m sure there’s lots to enjoy from authors such as Sandra Brown, Charlaine Harris, etc etc etc. For me, I picked up MatchUp at the library strictly for the sake of Herself.

In MatchUp, Diana Gabaldon is paired up with Steve Berry, and together they’ve written a story — Past Prologue — centered around Berry’s lead character, Cotton Malone. In Past Prologue, Malone is in Scotland (to be clear, that’s modern-day, 21st century Scotland) for a private book sale. When he wanders away from Ardsmuir for a walk across the moors, he finds himself at a stone circle… and then, poof! finds himself in the year 1755. And for those who know their Outlander history, that means that Ardsmuir is a prison housing Scottish rebels, among them a tall red-haired man who stands out in a crowd. Malone ends up meeting the one and only Jamie Fraser (pausing here for hearts to melt). The plot of the story isn’t that important, but the Jamie moments are a lovely little treat, with a lot of heartbreak squeezed into one small conversation.

Past Prologue isn’t essential to the Outlander canon, but for fans, it’s a fun way to get a glimpse of familiar characters and settings. Not a bad way to pass the time!

 

*If you’re an Outlander reader but haven’t yet read the five already-published stories, I’ll just say that my two favorites are A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows and Virgins.

**Further note: As always, I’ll mention that the audiobooks are a great option for enjoying the Gabaldon novellas. Jeff Woodman is particularly wonderful narrating anything related to Lord John, and I really enjoyed the Virgins audiobook as well.

***I’ve written about a few of the these stories/novellas in other posts. Check them out:
A Trail of Fire
Virgins

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Dramatic plot vs. happily-ever-after: The perils of emotional investment

Fear. Anxiety. Dread.

And it’s all the fault of fictional characters.

I have a tendency to binge when I get into something new, TV or books, and then — oh my stars — it’s so hard to separate. Because what happens when you fall in love with characters, but then have to witness them going through hell? All I want to do is scoop them up and keep them safe, but that’s not the way good stories work.

Clearly, I have a problem.

Take my newest obsession, The Walking Dead. Yes, I am super late to the party, but thanks to finally getting Netflix (again, super late to the party), I’ve been indulging. I started The Walking Dead, season 1 episode 1, in mid-May, and apart from a couple of weeks while I was out of town, have been watching the series straight through. So here I am, a month and a half later, slightly past the middle of season 6, and while I can’t wait to see what happens next, part of me wants to just walk away.

[SPOILERS AHEAD! FOR EPISODES THAT AIRED OVER A YEAR AGO, BUT STILL — SPOILERS!]

I’m at a place in the story where, as usual, the characters’ lives were hanging by a thread. Their supposedly safe haven, where they can finally build a life for themselves and plan for the future, has been overrun by hordes of the undead. All seems doomed, but finally, there’s this totally awesome battle scene (truly, a thing of beauty), and the good guys win! What follows is one of the most chill episodes ever, taking place a few weeks later, where everyone is safe again, rebuilding, relaxing, and starting to make things better.

Guys, they’re smiling! Rick and Daryl are out on a supply run and it’s actually funny! There’s even a sexy, romantic scene! (No, not Rick and Daryl.)

Man, I’m loving this show. I adore Rick Grimes. I want to cuddle Daryl Dixon (after a good bath, maybe). Carl is the cutest. Michonne is a total bad-ass with a heart of gold. And this is where my over-investment comes into play.

Because part of me wants to turn off the TV, pretend that’s the last episode, and walk away. Because then THEY’D ALL LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. And I wouldn’t have to watch all these people I love get tortured again and again. No going hungry. No machete-ing walkers through the brain. No fighting off evil human attackers.

Imagine the possibilities, though, if everyone got to stay happy. The Walking Dead could become a sitcom, with charming little conflicts — uh oh! Craziness ensues when Carol’s favorite knife goes missing! Little Judith’s first word is “walker”, and it’s adorable! Abraham runs a fitness class, and Eugene is his best student! And don’t get me started on Rick Grimes and all the possibilities for him as the cool dad whose teenage son has an attitude.

Anyway…

This can’t be, obviously. Dramatic tension is necessary for good storytelling. If everyone on The Walking Dead remained safe in Alexandria behind secure walls, with enough food and medical equipment to lead healthy, safe lives, the story would be over. It’s wonderful for the characters, of course, but there would be nothing further to keep the show going.

Likewise in books. Let’s take my favorite series, Outlander (duh). These characters never get a break. Yes, there are plenty of happy moments, and plenty of swoonworthy scenes of Claire and Jamie basking in each others’ arms after a blissful night of lovemaking… but things just never go well for long. These folks are in the middle of a war, always. There’s always some bad guy or another lurking around the corner, ready to kidnap, shoot at, plot against, or otherwise cause harm to our beloved characters.

[SPOILER AHEAD — MILD — FOR OUTLANDER SERIES]

Book #7 in the series, An Echo in the Bone, ends with not just one, but 4 or 5 major cliffhangers. The agony of waiting years for the next book while pretty much everyone is in jeopardy! Flash forward a few years to Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (book #8), and after 145 chapters, everyone we care about ends up in a pretty good place. Yes, there are some small questions left unanswered but (spoiler) Jamie and Claire and Brianna and Roger and Ian and Rachel and, well, everyone, are safe and happy and together!

Part of me wanted to just say to Diana Gabaldon — okay, great! Stop now! Let these people live out the rest of their days in the peace and comfort and love they all deserve!

But no. I need and want and crave more of the story, and book #9 is in the works… and what would an Outlander book be if everyone was safe and happy all the time? So while I can’t wait for a publication date to finally be announced, I’m also dreading diving back in and finding out what hideous new dangers await my beloved Claire and Jamie and the rest of their family up on Fraser’s Ridge.

So, am I crazy for wanting my favorite characters — TV or books — to just get a chance to be happy?

We all love happily-ever-afters, right? But they just don’t make for great storytelling. There’s a reason most fairy tales don’t continue past the HEA. We can be happy for people who find happiness, but stories are driven by tension, suspense, conflict, and crisis. If there’s no obstacle to overcome and everybody just enjoys mundane daily lives, what more do we need to know?

Sigh.

I know that great drama demands all of the above. As for The Walking Dead — well, hell yes, I’m going to keep going. And I’ve stumbled across enough spoilers before I started watching the show to know that VERY BAD things are coming soon for characters I care about, and I’m going to end up heartbroken once again.

In the choice between walking away at a happy moment or continuing with a story I love despite the unhappiness to come, there’s no question — I’ll always choose to continue.

But isn’t it nice to daydream about a life in which Carl Grimes’s greatest worry is about impressing a girl, and not fighting for survival while covered in zombie guts?

Outlandish updates

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So maybe you’ve noticed that I’m a bit of an Outlander fan.

Oops, wrong fandom.

Oops, wrong fandom.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about Outlander, so I thought — on this rainy Saturday morning — I’d gather up the bits and pieces of Outlander-world news that have come up in the last few months.

First, from the world of books:

sadSadly, it would appear that we’re not getting the 9th book in the main series in 2017. I know. I know. It’s hard. Diana Herself has made it clear that it takes as long as it takes, and it’s going to take a while. At least we have a title: Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone.

What does the title mean? From Diana Gabaldon’s website:

Talking to your bees is a very old Celtic custom (known in other parts of Europe, too) that made it to the Appalachians. You always tell the bees when someone is born, dies, comes or goes—because if you don’t keep them informed, they’ll fly away.

What does this imply for our beloved characters? Discuss amongst yourselves.

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In other book news, there are a couple of new releases to report.

img_4030First, there’s a new hardcover edition of the story Virgins now available! Virgins was originally released as part of an anthology (Dangerous Women, edited by George R. R. Martin, published 2013). Early this year, Virgins was released as a stand-alone e-story. And now, finally, I have my very own, very shiny new copy to place on my shelves!

Chronologically, Virgins takes place prior to the events of Outlander, telling the story of Jamie and Ian as young mercenaries (and virgins) in France. It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling, and I encourage fans of the series to check it out.

Unfortunately, the hardcover isn’t available directly from US sellers, but I got mine from Book Depository — and since they ship worldwide, it really wasn’t a problem. (And shipping is free, so the price was reasonable too.)

i-give-youSecond, especially for those who write, or those who want to write, or simply for fans, Diana released an e-book entitled “I Give You My Body…”: How I Write Sex Scenes, which is pretty much just what the title says. It’s Diana’s explanation of her approach to writing sex scenes, with tips and excerpts. The book is also available as an audiobook, narrated by Herself — always loads of fun.

 

 

 

 

Finally, here’s yet another reason to cheer! While we’re not getting a Big Enormous Book (as DG calls them) in 2017, we will have a new release to gobble up. Coming in June, Diana is releasing a collection of stories from the Outlander world.

seven-stones-lgSeven Stones To Stand or Fall is now available for pre-order from Amazon and other online sources, with a projected release date of June 27, 2017. The collection includes seven stories, some new and some previously published. The stories are…

Previously released:

  • The Custom of the Army
  • The Space Between
  • A Plague of Zombies
  • A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows
  • Virgins (yes, again!)

New (!!!)

  • A Fugitive Green: A story about Hal and Minnie and how they first met.
  • Besieged: About Lord John and his mother Benedicta

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From the world of the Starz TV production of Outlander…

Season 3 filming is underway! No word yet on the air date, other than sometime in 2017. There are endless number of fan sites dedicated to the show, with countless behind-the-scenes tidbits and photos, so I won’t bother tracking them down here.

I do want to share the major casting updates of season 3, for those who haven’t seen them yet. New additions to the cast include:

Cesar Domboy as Fergus (all grown up):

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Lauren Lyle as Marsali:

lauren-lyle

David Berry as Lord John:

david_berry-original

John Bell as Young Ian:

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Wil Johnson as Joe Abernathy:

wil-johnson

Hannah James as Geneva Dunsany:

geneva

Tanya Reynolds as Isobel Dunsany:

tanya-reynolds-isobel

Who else is excited for season 3???

Here’s hoping our long and painful Droughtlander ends soon!

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