Top critical review
160 people found this helpful
on November 19, 2001
First of all, I love the series. I picked up Outlander by chance soon after it came out in paperback when I was looking for a "trash novel" -- something engrossing and historical yet light and disposable. I was sucked in to an amazing degree and I still think Outlander is the best of the series. Not only is the narrative strong and the level of detail amazing, but the characters are compelling and author has a wonderful prose style and does a remarkable job of communicating emotion and motive. Whenever I'm asked for a "good read" I automatically recommend Outlander. I DON'T read "bestsellers" by those corporate factory-production authors, so this is a rare departure for me.
As far as The Fiery Cross goes, I will say I'm disappointed. I don't think it was a total waste, and a lot of the things the some of the negative reviewers have complained about (details about daily life, descriptions of Jamie's hair, etc. ;) ) are actually some of the things I enjoy about these books. There are certainly some heart-stopping moments, and the obligatory murder mystery is fairly interesting. The last line made me tear up. Still ... still ...
The motivations (for the villans) don't seem to be as crisp as in previous books, mostly because we don't have a clear picture of who they are. Also, the plot just doesn't have the urgency that the rest of the books have. I also spotted a plot complication a MILE away, something that never happened in the previous books, and it's now painfully obvious that when a character "disappears" we'll be sure to see them later on in a "surprising" circumstance. It also doesn't help that I've never been especially fond of Brianna. Can't say why, but she doesn't have the life that most of the other charachters have, and I just don't find her appealing. So, the fact that much of this book, like Drums of Autumn, are about her and Roger makes me skim so I can get back to Claire & Jamie. (Although I DO like wee Roger quite a bit, and sometimes am brought close to tears at all the misery he's put through.) The author is also very good at creating interesting minor characters, but The Fiery Cross lacks any to measure up to Murtagh, Raymond, or Mr. Willoughby.
I enjoyed the fact that one of the previous books had significant parts of the story told from Jamie's point of view. As the series progresses, though, we get less and less of Claire's narrative (and less of Jamie, even) and more from Roger & Bree. While the author may have found this switch in perspective necessary to get the story across, I find it increasingly disjointed. Claire's perspective remains the heart of the story, and her voice is strongest by far, with Jamie coming in second. Occasional shifts might not be so bad, but you now have 4 voices telling the same story, sometimes within the same scene, and it's overkill. And ... what happened to Fergus?? He's barely in this book! It's like watching a TV series where one of the main actors has left the show, but comes back for the occasional token scene.
It's been clear from the second book that the author is strongly drawn to write about children and motherhood/parenthood. It's a topic that gives a lot of depth to the stories. Yet, I think the theme has been beaten to death by now. It would be OK to be reminded of it, or to have a few shining passages, but I believe the repetition drags down the narrative. Also, as with Drums of Autumn, there are about a million threads that are left dangling, some from several books back. I have a hard time seeing how they will all be tied together in one final book. Technically, I found a host of typos, one of which (a discussion of blood types and heredity) is at a rather crucial point. This is very unusual for a novel from a major press, but I understand from the author's web site that the book was a bit rushed to press (those fall book lists, don'tcha know.)
I've met Ms. Gabaldon and read many interviews with her. She's very nice and I greatly admire her talent. This series has sort of grown into a monster, though, and The Fiery Cross feels not exactly like a contractural obligation, but a project she wasn't very enthusiastic about. I hope the next (last?) book will see her with revived energy and more Claire & Jamie in the narrator's chair. I know this sesms like an overwhelmingly negative review, but I AM glad I read it. If you have read all of the series so far, this is still worthwhile, but it's just not quite up to the usual standard.
P.S. One final note -- contrary to what another reviewer said, this book CANNOT be read alone. If you have not read all of the previous books, much of this one will not make sense. This is one series you HAVE to read in order.