on November 28, 2007
The good news is that we didn't have to wait long after Gabaldon's fine work Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade: the bad news is that we are going to have to wait a while for Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner [Jamie Fraser, I presume]. Hand of Devils is 3 independent tales of John Grey from 1756 to 1758: two novellas and a long short story. All three tales have very different flavors: I'd give the first two a solid 4 stars, and the third 5 stars. Those who enjoyed Brotherhood of the Blade should enjoy this book as well, those who found parts of Brotherhood offensive will not find as much to offend here.
Hellfire Club is the first story, the shortest (less than half the length of the other two) and the most conventional. Succubus, set in Prussia, has, by and large, a similar feel to the part of Brotherhood that also take place in Prussia, but Succubus certainly takes some strange turns, and there are some very funny scenes centering on how the soldiers try to ward off the succubus. Haunted Soldier is the most satisfying of the three tales: it has the best historical flavor and interest of the stories. You learn about the making of gunpowder, some of the politics, military life, and morality of the time. There's a wonderful line here--when Lord John goes before a 3-man investigatory commission: "All three of them looked suddenly at him as one, like a phalanx of owls eyeing a mouse". Great writing!
Brotherhood of the Blade is a fine historical novel: Gabaldon had the leisure to develop an excellent sense of time and place--manservant Tom was always busy cleaning the ubiquitous grime of London off Lord John's clothes. The stories in Hand of Devils do not have quite the same leisure to achieve a similar depth. There is a fine historical flavor to the stories, but it's not as rich as that in Brotherhood. It's still a very worthwhile book: I put aside the other two books I was reading in order to finish it, and it was with considerable reluctance that I left for work and left the book unfinished. When I got home, supper had to wait until the book was done. Entertaining and enjoyable!
on December 3, 2007
The book contains 3 short stories about Lord John, two of which were published previously. The first, "Lord John and the Hellfire Club," previously appeared under the title, "Hellfire," in the anthology "Past Poisons" (Headline, 1998). It's the shortest at about 37 pages. In the chronology of Lord John books, it comes first (before "Lord John and the Private Matter").
"Hellfire" takes place in 1756, shortly after Lord John's return from Ardsmuir (the prison that held Jamie Fraser in "Voyager"). It deals with the murder of a young man invited to meet with the secretive Hellfire Club. No one knows much about it. But John receives a sobbering induction, is framed for murder, and saved by Harry Quarry (his predecessor at Ardsmuir) all in the space of about 8 pages - a major feat for Gabaldon.
The second story, "Lord John and the Succubus," is clever. It previously appeared under the same title in the anthology, "Legends II: New Short Novels by the Modern Masters of Fantasy." In the chronology of Lord John titles, it falls between "Private Matter" and "Brotherhood of the Blade."
The story takes place during 1756 and 1757, when England was at war against France and Austria. While serving as a major in the English army, Lord John investigates rumors and deaths attributed to succubi.
I can't speak to the story's cleverness without giving it away, but suffice it to say that the "devils" in this story are quite human and the hand controlling them quite present today and since the beginning of time.
The third, "Lord John and the Haunted Soldier," is an original publication. In the chronology, it comes after "Brotherhood of the Blade." It takes place in 1758.
Lord John has recently returned from the battlefield to respond to an inquest about a cannon that blew up under his command, killing several soldiers. The intrigue involves investigating the cause of the explosion. Lord John struggles with feelings of guilt and memory lapses (In the midst of a crisis, who can say what really happened?).
Consequently, a request that he investigate the disappearance of a local young woman comes as a welcome distraction. Little does he know how the two - the disappearance and the explosion - relate.
Of the 3 stories, I enjoyed Succubus the most. I like Gabaldon's writing style and her imagination, so I'll read anything she writes. But Succubus is a cut above the other 2 stories. If you haven't read it, it alone is worth the price of the book.
For Jamie Fraser fans, you'll find references to him in all the stories. But he is most apparent in the "Haunted Soldier."
For others, you might find this collection easier to follow, if you read the other 2 Lord John novels as well as the first 3 Outlander books. Gabaldon is truly a gifted storyteller in that she can retell episodes from earlier works from the viewpoint of another character. It's quite well done and I'm amazed that she does this without planning for it.
Unfortunately, while Diana Gabaldon as a writer is possessed of many talents, short stories are not among them. And the shorter the story is, the worse it is. Thus the three stories in "Hand of Devils" progress from baffling and banal, to vaguely interesting but ultimately unfulfilling, to something that at least approaches the genius and intrigue of "Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade."
All the crybabies who were scarred for life after being forced to read a gay sex scene in BotB can calm their fluttering hetero hearts, as there is nary so much as a stray embrace here. Which is a shame, really, as the absence of physical passion makes for remarkably dry and dull relationships overall. It also highlights an issue that is slowly driving me barking mad: Gabaldon's tendency to drop mysterious and ominous hints about various men in Grey's life, with the apparent expectation that we'll know exactly who she's talking about, regardless of the fact that the last time they were mentioned was three novels ago. No, we don't need a recap of every single thing that's happened. But the first time you introduce a character in a particular work - whether it's a novel or a short story - how about at least reminding us who he is and where we've met him before?
In the intro to "Lord John and the Succubus," Gabaldon informs us (rather long-windedly) that this story was originally written for a fantasy anthology. She self-deprecatingly admits that she had never written a fantasy story before. Well, I hate to break it to her, but she still hasn't. Despite it's promising premise, "Succubus" fails to deliver on every count. "Lord John and the Haunted Soldier" also brings up a supernatural subplot, only to drop it with no explanation. Gabaldon has done this before - remember the Highland ghost all the way back in "Outlander"? - but it's not getting any better.
"Haunted Soldier" is the longest and the best of the three stories in this collection, more of a novella. It follows immediately upon BotB, and again, I wished for more continuity with that book. Still, it is much more what we've come to expect from Gabaldon, and I found myself enjoying it. I can't promise that it justifies having to plow through the first two stories, but in my mind, at least, it was a redeeming feature.
I don't know how much more can be wrung out of Lord John. If anything, these stories highlight the limitations of both character and author, while at the same time hinting at the still unplumbed possibilities that might await us.
on November 29, 2007
The three stories that make up this book are a nice mix of settings and mysteries,(though the device of having the villian explain all at the end is a little repetitive- and the only reason I refrained from giving this book a full five stars). There are many lovely historical details and nice turns of phrase, but the real highlight of the book is simply the character of Lord John Grey. He is wonderful to spend time with and to root for through the murders, hauntings and political machinations. Aside from possessing the requisite bravery and intelligence of a hero, he also has a dry sense of humor and a deep, often unspoken, compassion for his fellow human beings.
I can only hope he'll have more adventures and perhaps a romance of his own.
on December 1, 2007
The middle novella, "LJ and the Succubus," is delightful. A riveting premise, entertaining characters, smooth and witty narration, vivid setting. Lord John really emerges here as a protagonist who deserves some novels of his own, which he subsequently got. It's the strongest piece in the book, and as a novella, I'd be delighted to give it four stars, perhaps even five. I'd also have been pleased to see it developed into a novel.
However, the other two novellas get a much more equivocal reaction from me.
The third novella, "LJ and the Haunted Soldier," is a good story, and it's pretty well written. But it refers to and relies on various events and characters in the novel LJ AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, without sufficient backstory, simply assuming the reader has read the novel (which I have) AND remembers everything that happened in it (which I don't). Better-conveyed backstory would have made this novella a better read.
Finally, the first novella, "LJ and the Hellfire Club," is weak and sketchy-- and the first few scenes make no sense if you haven't read VOYAGER (I did, but years ago and don't remember much).
So, overall, one excellent novella, one okay one, and one pretty weak one. Fun for LORD JOHN fans, but uneven as a collection.
on November 8, 2013
True to form, Lord John Grey once again finds himself in the middle of a fracas. It's humorous to me how he always stumbles upon these things and finds himself knee-deep in some sort of scandal or investigation. In this novella (originally published in 2004 in the anthology Legends II: New Short Novels by the Modern Masters of Fantasy, edited by Robert Silverberg), it is the fall of 1757, and Lord John is stationed in the town of Gundwitz, Prussia as the English liaison to the Prussian army. As liaison, he is forced to mediate a dispute between an English soldier, a Prussian tavern owner, and a gypsy prostitute. This begins his adventure, which involves investigating the mysterious deaths of two soldiers, thought to have been killed by a succubus. The rumors of a female demon preying on men in their sleep passes like wildfire throughout the troops and soon the camps are in an uproar. Everyone is too afraid to sleep, so the soldiers fight to stay awake (using various interesting tactics), and their performance in the line of duty is thereby compromised. Lord John is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, having every confidence that there is a logical explanation for the deaths.
As always in the Lord John stories, there are one or two references to Jamie and Claire Fraser, but they are brief and do not shed any new light on the adventures of your favorite Outlander couple. This is not Gabaldon's best work, as I believe she writes best when not constrained by time or word count. But the humor and lightheartedness of John Grey still shines through, and there is even a bit of a shocking revelation about his past toward the end. I love Lord John and will continue to read more in his series.
on January 29, 2016
I enjoy the Lord John books and stories, because I like Lord John! He's a likeable fellow with a dangerous way of life. Not that one precludes the other, but in the 18th Century Sodomites, as they were called, faced a death sentence if found out. Lord John Grey is an urbane, attractive, adaptive and quick-witted man who happens to be what we call "Gay" in the 18th century. These 3 stories may not please all, but they are worth reading because they add to the body of knowledge about Lord John. They don't need to be read to enjoy the larger (in every sense!) Gabaldon books, but they do form part of the body of work and have their own value. That said, I think I liked "Lord John and the Succubus" best for the character development of some of the Other characters in the story, and shows us the cleverness of Lord John in a ... well, clever way! Highly recommended!
on March 30, 2015
Anything Diana Gabaldon writes can be assumed to be well worth reading. She's exceptionally gifted. She creates Lord John as a respectable character but with an overwhelming attraction towards other men, yet the reader rather finds himself/herself reading with tongue in cheek, anticipating Lord John buckling before his preference, even as Lord John himself realizes his preference for "sexual partners" is overpowering. How Gabaldon manages to make this character so completely likable--for his integrity clearly shines through--yet succumbing to his "attraction"--is a work of art. In her other writings, Jamie Fraser, an alpha male, tells Lord John just what HE thinks of him--and it's surely not flattering; but Jamie tells it like it is . . . this book I found to be hypnotizing reading, for sure; and the settings of which Diana Gabaldon writes just fit right in--absolutely perfect. This book, as are all of her writings, is a page turner. I think she had a good time writing it, probably chuckling to herself at times. (I indicated in this review that it was written in the third person--I read it some time ago, can't really remember. I do know in OUTLANDER Series, Claire is written in 1st person, as I recall--so perhaps I have that all mixed up--no time to check right now.) One can't help but like Lord John, and rather wish he can stay "out of trouble,." yet we anticipate his putting his "hand in the cookie jar" helplessly. The man's respect for others--male or female--comes across as being beyond reproach. One could trust him with one's bank account . . . but, his vocation and sexual preference does present some interesting and exciting confrontations!!!
on April 29, 2016
IMHO, Diana Gabaldon cannot write a bad story. That said, I've liked some of the books in the Outlander series better than others. The same is true in this combined series of three novellas.
Of the three I liked the third one, Lord John and the Haunted Soldier, the best because it touches briefly and indirectly on the deeply poignant feelings that Lord John has for Jamie Fraser. It also highlights several admirable aspects of LJ's character in a story that is a very good and entertaining read. For me, Lord John is the absolute best of the Outlander secondary characters and I will read any story involving him. He absolutely touches my heart.
on November 10, 2015
Having read the Outlander series, I feel these books are a fill in between each of the series books itself. I did enjoy reading about Lord John Grey and his adventures away from the Fraser's. I have only read the novellas so far but enjoyed them no less. He has a very distinct personality and you can actually understand him and why he is who he is, he mentions Jamie at times, and Claire. But they are very separate stories on there own. His funny adventures and the very strange stories surrounding him come from a wonderful talented writer/author. I recommend these books during this dry time, Missing the next book in the series. I just can't get enough of the series or the Frasers and even more about the beautiful places described in the Outlander Series.