Yarn Along

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My English rib sweater is coming along nicely – I’d say I have about six inches of the back finished. I love working with sturdy wool yarn after spending so long on the tank sweater (which is wonderfully soft, but I’m a sweaters-are-for-winter kind of person at heart).

I’m still reading a variety of books at once. The novel I’m writing includes a brief but important scene that takes place during the “Crucible” component of Marine Corps boot camp, and I’m reading a book about this training exercise, which is like a cross between a ropes course and the Stations of the Cross (these are my similes, not the author’s). The fact that the exercise is designed to emulate the actions of specific Congressional Medal of Honor winners makes it a great Memorial Day weekend read, although the fact that I was reading it this weekend is a coincidence. The writing is slowly paced and assumes the worst about the intelligence of its readers, with any number of statements like “Firing week is the week when recruits learn to fire their weapons,” but overall the writing is not as abysmally bad as some books I’ve encountered in my military research. This is a good resource for writers and others who want to learn more about Marine boot camp than one can learn from Full Metal Jacket, Jarhead, and, of course, the collected works of PAT CONROY!!!!

As always, Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her lovely blog, Small Things.

Posted in Yarn Along | 7 Comments

Thoughts on Part I of Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son (by Bethany)

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At first my plan was not to write a progress report on this book, since there are all kinds of complexities going on and I am not 100% sure what is “real” (within the framework of the fictional novel) and what is not. But this book is just too good to keep quiet about, and the idea of trying to capture it in a single review is daunting. Today I’ll focus on Part One, which is 177 pages long and titled “The Autobiography of Jun Do.” I’ll close with some speculations about where Part Two is going, at least as far as I can discern on page 249.

The orphan master’s son of the title is Pak Jun Do, who grew up in an orphanage. His mother was beautiful (which, because the novel is set in North Korea, means that at some point after Jun Do’s birth she was kidnapped by the government and taken to Pyongyang to become an actress or singer). Jun Do’s father was so devastated by the loss of his wife that he 1) became a drunk and 2) applied for a job as an orphan master so that his son could be raised among orphans. His rationale is that if his son blends in with the orphans, he will not have to confront the daily shame of having his wife taken away from him. This sounds like spotty logic to me, but it worked for him.

Like just about every other subgroup in North Korea, orphans are stigmatized and abused. They are not given names of their own, but instead are assigned one of 114 pre-existing names belonging to “Grand Martyrs of the Revolution.” This assignment of special names for orphans reminds me of the designated names for “bastards” in the Game of Thrones series. Both systems seem to have similar purposes: to mark these individuals as “different” and/or shameful not just in person, but administratively as well. In the North Korea of this novel, orphans are reviled because they did not grow up with their parents and therefore were never taught the concept of loyalty. The state believes that orphans under duress will always sacrifice others to save themselves because they have never experienced parental love and self-sacrifice. Jun Do, of course, is not an orphan, but because he grew up with orphans and is named after one of the Grand Martyrs, he carries the stigma of orphanhood just the same. As the son of the orphan master and the oldest “orphan “in the unit, Jun Do has the job of assigning these names to the orphans as they arrive. He also assigns each orphan to his sleeping arrangements and does other administrative tasks for his father, who is usually drunk. When orphans are “adopted,” it is usually by factories, and you can guess how that turns out. In the meantime, “anyone who could feed the boys and provide a bottle for the Orphan Master could have them for the day” (8), so Jun Do and the rest of the orphans get farmed out to do all kinds of grisly tasks, like filling sandbags, breaking the ice off the river, and shoveling up the chemical waste from paint factories. When Jun Do is grown, he is required to join the army and becomes a “tunnel soldier, trained in the art of zero-light combat” (9). He and the other tunnel soldiers are taught that their enemies – mainly the South Koreans and the Americans, although vague references to “imperialists” could mean others as well – are weak because when they fight in tunnels they use headlamps and/or night vision goggles, and the North Koreans are the only true heroes because their tunnel soldiers are trained to fight in pitch dark without any equipment (when the reality is that their army can’t afford lights and night vision goggles because they spend too much on bubble bath and prostitutes for the Dear Leader – but I digress). This experience of fighting for one’s life in pitch darkness is, of course, a metaphor for everything else that happens in this novel and in North Korea in general.

One day, without warning, Jun Do is told that he is no longer a tunnel soldier. His new job is to sneak into neighboring countries (usually South Korea and Japan) to kidnap beautiful women, who will be taken to Pyongyang to be singers or actresses (or, I assume, prostitutes). He is vaguely aware that he is participating in the same process that stole his mother away from him, but he never considers the possibility of refusing this assignment or subverting the process in some way. Among this novel’s many strengths is the way Johnson renders Jun Do’s state-inflicted disordered thinking.

Jun Do does well at his new kidnapping job and is sent to language school as a result. Language school is considered to be the pipeline to a cushy assignment – or at least to an assignment as cushy as assignments can get in the North Korean army. He studies English and is trained to operate radio equipment, and his job is to monitor radio frequencies on the Pacific Ocean. He is assigned to a small fishing boat called the Junma. On the ship he has a tiny windowless room filled with radio equipment, and at first he doesn’t have much contact with the other personnel on the ship. This isolation is yet another manifestation of the symbolic resonance of Jun Do’s earlier career as a tunnel fighter. Jun Do tends to get insomnia (I can’t imagine why) and often stays up late listening to frequencies other than the one he is assigned to monitor. In particular, he is captivated by two American women who are rowing across the Pacific Ocean. One woman rows all day, and then her partner rows all night, and they broadcast updates about their experiences at regular intervals.

The fact that Jun Do is marked as an orphan and is also not married is remarked upon often. In North Korea, it seems to be common practice for fishermen who are at sea for long periods of time to have images of their wives tattooed on their chests. I didn’t get a sense for whether this is required or if it is something the men do on their own. Single people are distrusted for the same reason orphans are – because they have not “learned to be loyal” – plus there are mentions made of the fact that in North Korea no one is allowed to go to sea or to any other location from which it is possible to defect unless there is some key person back at home that the citizen loves more than he loves himself or the chance at freedom. Jun Do seems to have slipped through the cracks of this particular resolution, as he has gone on kidnapping missions in South Korea and Japan and was given a great deal of autonomy on these missions.

One day some Americans board the Junma. The crew has received an order for a specific kind of shrimp that Kim Jung Il likes to eat while it’s still alive and wriggling (!), and since this kind of shrimp is scarce during this particular time of year, the captain has taken the boat out of North Korean waters. As a precaution, the captain removes the boat’s flag and also declines to respond to distress calls and other communication from other ships. When they ignore a signal from an American navy ship, the Americans board the Junma and search it. They recognize that Jun Do is not a fisherman and assign him to perform some basic tasks involving the boat’s nets and traps – his lack of skill in these areas confirms what they already know. Next, the Americans start playing around in the Junma, sending goofy messages from Jun Do’s radio (“This is a person-to-person message to Kim Jong Il from Tom John-Son. We have intercepted your primping boat, but can’t locate your hairspray, jumpsuit, or elevator shoes, over” [60]). Finally they take the boat’s framed pictures of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and other items as “souvenirs” and return to their own ship.

After the Americans leave, the crew on the Junma agrees that Jun Do needs to learn more about fishing and blend in among the fishermen more, so they convince him to let the captain tattoo a woman’s face on his chest. To appease Jun Do, the captain promises to “give [him] the most beautiful wife in the world” (72), and the woman he chooses is Sun Moon, the most beloved actress in North Korea (again with the beautiful actresses – Jun Do’s life is once again crossing paths with the North Korean practice of kidnapping beautiful women and deploying them as actresses and singers. We’re not told for sure that Sun Moon was kidnapped in this way, but Jun Do thinks of it, and I did too).

I’ve written almost 1500 words of plot summary, and I’m sure some readers are annoyed that I have given away so much of the novel’s story. But look at the page references for the quotations I’ve used: everything I’ve summarized takes place in the first 72 pages of the novel. This novel moves quickly and effortlessly through Jun Do’s experiences, and please be assured that there is a lot of plot that I haven’t included above. When I write my final thoughts on this novel, I’ll do more analysis than summary, and I wanted to familiarize readers now with these introductory plot events. For now, though, I’ll end on a few quick points that are important as the novel progresses.

First, the tattoo of Sun Moon on Jun Do’s chest becomes supremely important in what becomes, more and more, a novel about identity. Sun Moon’s husband is a man named Commander Ga, a high-ranking government minister and trusted confidante of Kim Jung-Il. He is important as well as the novel progresses; Part II of the novel is called “The Confessions of Commander Ga.” The novel continues to cycle through various iterations of the themes of operating in the dark, of love and loyalty, truth and falsehood, and of kidnapping and hijacking not only of people but of their images and their identities. I am officially in awe of this book. Johnson does a fantastic job of capturing the weirdness and terror of the world he creates here, and I can’t wait to finish the book and tell you more.

Posted in Adam Johnson, Authors, Fiction - general, Fiction - Important Award Winners, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Bethany | 1 Comment

Happy Birthday, Postcards from Purgatory!

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Today our blog turns three. Postcards from Purgatory can draw a circle, walk in a straight line, and climb stairs easily, using alternating feet. It still has tantrums. It’s reliably toilet-trained, but sometimes when it is stressed or overwhelmed and can’t express these feelings in words, it crouches in a corner and poops in its pants. It is beginning to show signs of empathy. Its artwork contains recognizable subjects and 75 percent of its speech is comprehensible to others. It holds crayons in its fingers rather than in its fists, is afraid of monsters, and is able to make choices between two things. Its favorite activity is pretending to be a princess.

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Coincidentally, we are on track to make today our most-visited day ever! If everyone who reads this post clicks on a couple of categories along the sidebar, we’ll stand a pretty good chance of meeting our goal. Want to know what the big deal is about PAT CONROY MONTH!!!? Click here. Wonder what we mean when we talk about “man books” and “woman books”? Click here. Better yet, just scroll down the categories list and find an author or topic that appeals to you. Want to share our site on your own social media pages? Go right ahead! Thanks for helping to make today a third birthday to remember, and – as always – for reading our blog.

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Final Thoughts on Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber (by Jill)

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I finally finished it! And it was glorious. I skipped multiple opportunities to exercise over the past few days in favor of working through Dragonfly in Amber, and though I have a twinge of guilt about the hours of 2:30 to 5:50 on Thursday, as well as the hours of 9:00 to 10:20, which is the time I spent reading (I also read for about forty five minutes while I was sitting under the dryer at my hair appointment. And bless you, Tania, for letting me read for a while longer today. It’s awesome to have a hair stylist who’s a book person too.), rather than walking the dog or doing a Jillian Michaels workout DVD. At this point, poor Bailey thinks she’s never going to get to go for a walk again, and is wandering around the house picking up a variety of her toys in an attempt to let out some of her pent-up energy. But where was I? Oh, yes, that’s right. I need to tell you about the last four-hundred pages of Dragonfly in Amber.

At the end of my last post, Jamie and Ian were choosing Lallybroch men to go to war on behalf of Prince Charles. The rest of the novel is devoted to said war. This war is, of course, what the first five-hundred pages of this book, and all of Outlander, have been leading up to, so it makes sense to spend a good chunk of time there. There is one major battle, at Prestonpans, at the start of the conflict, which is described in detail. The Jacobites win this conflict, though it is not without casualties on both sides. Claire puts herself in charge of the hospital, and Jamie distinguishes himself on the field of battle. Afterwards, the couple find themselves in Edinburgh attending Prince Charles. A bit of the Paris intrigue and gossip returns to Claire and Jamie’s lives during this interlude, but somehow under the backdrop of a war of rebellion it’s less tedious.

While in Edinburgh, Collum and Dougal MacKenzie, Jamie’s uncles, show up. Collum’s presence is twofold: to ask Jamie’s advice in choosing sides in the conflict, and to procure poison from Claire for himself. His condition has made him continuously painful, and he is ready to end his suffering. He wants to declare his clan for one side or the other, and then take his own life. Jamie tells Collum to not side with Prince Charlie. Unfortunately, Collum dies on his own before having a chance to use the vial of cyanide Claire gave him, leaving Dougal in charge of Clan MacKenzie, and coming down strongly on the side of the Jacobites.   Jamie is sent to request troops from his grandfather, Simon Fraser, who he has never actually met. You see, Jamie’s father, Brian Fraser, was an illegitimate son of Simon Fraser, and as such had minimal contact with his father. Claire goes along, of course, and there’s a very amusing interaction involving Simon’s false teeth and a fireplace. Then there is the battle of Falkirk, during which Claire and Jamie get holed up in a church with Dougal and some of his men. In the morning a group of British troops captures them and mistakes Claire for an English prisoner of war. They “rescue” her and take her to quite a few places, eventually ending up in the Duke of Sandringham’s country estate. The Duke remembers Claire from their time in Paris, and proceeds to interrogate her for a while. Then Jamie rescues her, and they get back to Edinburgh, only to find out that all of the Lallybroch men have been arrested for desertion because Jamie told them to get the heck out of Edinburgh when he and Claire left town to visit Simon Fraser. Jamie manages to orchestrate their release just in time for everyone to head off to the fateful battle of Culloden.

All is not well at the front lines—everyone is starving and tensions would be high if anyone could muster up the energy to be tense. The English have been chasing the Scots army north for several months and no one is doing well. Claire suggests to Jamie that maybe they should consider using the vial of cyanide to murder Prince Charles, as that might stop the impending battle at Culloden. Jamie decides not to do that, and Claire is glad of it. Unfortunately, Dougal MacKenzie overhears their conversation and in the heat of the battle that ensues, Jamie kills Dougal, and one of Dougal’s men walks in on the melee. Jamie begs his kinsman for an hour to get Claire safely away before he returns to face his punishment. And he takes Claire to Craigh Na Dun. He says that she’s pregnant, he knows it, and lists the reasons why he knows it. Claire hadn’t even realized these changes were happening to her body but she knows that he is right. He begs her to go back to the twentieth century, to Frank, as he is going to die one way or another—either in answering for the killing of Dougal, or in the battle of Culloden in the next few days. He needs to know that she and their child are safe. And so she goes, and as she does Jamie is facing down a group of British soldiers.

The last forty or so pages take place back in the twentieth century, with Claire trying to convince daughter Brianna of the truth of her story. Bree throws a poker through a window and generally acts like a crazed Highland warrior; I really hope that scene is included in the next season of Outlander on Starz because it would be quite entertaining. Claire’s goal is to try to track down Geillis Duncan in 1968 because this is the potential year she travels back to the seventeen hundreds in order to advance her Jacobite cause. Claire knows her daughter well enough to know that she needs proof of Claire’s story with her own eyes, and the best thing Claire can think to do is to have Brianna watch Geillis go through the stones and disappear. So that’s what they do. Geillis’s real name is Gillian Edgars, and she is possibly insane based on the research notebook of hers that Claire finds and reads. She gets it in her head that she will need a sacrifice to open the portal in the stones, so she kills her alcoholic husband and sets him on fire out at Craigh Na Dun. And then the biggest bombshell of them all: Roger Wakefield thinks he has found proof in one of his history books that Jamie didn’t die at Culloden—there is a brief blurb in one of them that says that a group of officers survived the battle and holed up in a house nearby only to be shot and later buried at the edge of the battle field. One of the officers was a Fraser of Lovat’s regiment (that’s what Simon Fraser, Jamie’s grandfather’s, title was), and he escaped this slaughter. Which explains why they found Jamie’s tombstone far away from Culloden. And that’s where the book ends.

I must confess that had a very hard time not running and starting Voyager, the next book in the series, today. I did get it off the shelf, and looked to see where it starts and how quickly it will answer my questions, which are many. It looks like that book will jump back and forth from Jamie in the eighteenth century to Claire in the twentieth century for a while, as well as back to when Claire first returns home to Frank. I know Bethany doesn’t love when Gabaldon keeps the major characters separated over space and/or time, so much as I want to continue on in Claire and Jamie’s world, I’m also somewhat concerned that I won’t enjoy the next book as much as I’ve enjoyed the first two. I am looking forward to seeing how things go with Frank and Claire after she returns home. Some allusions are made to their relationship being fairly rocky in Dragonfly in Amber, for example Brianna yells that Frank never loved Claire when she is having her tantrum that ends in the fire poker going through the window.  But for now, I’m taking a break from Gabaldon’s world. I had what some people call a “book hangover” on Thursday after finishing this book, and I need to spend time with some different fictional characters for a while, I think.  But never fear; I’ll be back with Jamie and Claire sooner rather than later.

Posted in Diana Gabaldon, Fiction - general, Fiction - Historical, Reviews by Jill, TIME TRAVEL | 8 Comments

Yarn Along

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A weekend with no plans + a Mad Men marathon = one tan tank sweater that is DONE!! By “done,” I mean that it’s off needles. I still need to weave in the ends, and yes, for the first time in my 20-year knitting career, I will need to block it. Maybe sometime soon I’ll devote a Yarn Along post to my research into the world of blocking – we’ll see. Photos to come.

A free weekend plus a Mad Men marathon ALSO equals a knitting hangover. Does anyone else get these? I felt awful on Monday morning! I estimate that I knit for about nine hours on Sunday – nearly nonstop, though I tool a 45-minute break at one point. The right side of my body was stiff and throbbing from my temple down to my rib cage – and I must have been furrowing my brow too because I woke up on Monday with a nasty headache.

After I finished the tank, I cast on an English rib pullover for moi. This pattern is an old favorite, but I’ve never made one for myself. Don’t ask me where the idea for two brown sweaters in a row came from. I normally never even think of brown as an option for sweaters. Maybe I should see my doctor and have her up the dosage on my antidepressants? Just kidding, of course. Brown appeals to me these days. It’s stately and dignified and almost forty, just like I am.

I’m reading Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son and enjoying it – and yes, I’m still trying to focus on finishing all the books I’m in the middle of – but I also have a confession to make. I started A Storm of Swords. I really didn’t mean to, but I was talking about the series with a college-aged acquaintance who has read all the books and spends time arguing with other George R.R. Martin megafans on various websites, and one thing led to another and the next thing you know I was reading it. I’ll try not to review it until I know for sure whether I like it or not. I think my posts on A Clash of Kings made me seem a little indecisive.

Knitters… has anyone read a novel called Wool by Hugh Howey? It’s one of the many, many post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels to hit the shelves in recent years – and it ALSO happens to be organized around a series of knitting metaphors. Its chapters all have titles like “Casting On,” “Binding Off,” etc. I’m very curious to see how the author bridges the worlds of knitting and post-apocalyptic fiction.

Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things.

Posted in Yarn Along | 2 Comments

A Compelling Thorn: Final Thoughts on George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings (by Bethany)

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I kicked and screamed my way through the last two hundred pages of A Clash of Kings, and guess what I did when I finished? I immediately picked up A Storm of Swords and began scanning through it – not reading it exactly but flipping through the pages to see who the point of view characters will be and reading the character lists in the appendix. I like this series almost exactly as much as I hate it. I am forcing myself to take a break from Martin’s world for a while, but I’m still desperate to know what happens when winter comes (and no, I don’t want you to tell me).

It’s becoming harder and harder to tell who is alive and who is dead in this novel. Hints of some kind of resurrection process have been present since Book 1 – generally concerning the “wildlings” north of the Wall – but now it seems possible that even Renly may have come back from the dead, and he lives all the way down in Highgarden. Renly was killed in the first half of the novel in the presence of Catelyn Stark and Brienne, one of Renly’s guards who happens to be female. In the book I understood Renly to have died from an assault of some kind (I visualized an arrow) that came from an unknown assailant in the distance. In the TV series (more on this in a moment), Renly is killed by something that resembles the smoke monster from Lost – which also resembles the creature (or substance?) that Melisandre gave birth to (I swear this happens earlier in the TV series than in the book). Melisandre is part of Stannis’ court, so we can assume that the killing was done on Stannis’ orders or on his behalf (in neither the book nor the TV series is anyone especially curious about who committed this murder). Later, during the battle that takes place in King’s Landing at the end of the book, some of the knights report having seen “Renly’s ghost” fighting among the other knights. So one of the many, many speculations I am carrying around in my head right now is whether being killed by Melisandre’s black smoke baby is what makes it possible for someone to come back to life.

Somewhat more interesting is the widespread news in the last quarter of the novel that Bran and Rickon Stark are dead. After Theon Greyjoy declared himself Lord of Winterfell, they escaped with Osha – their ‘wildling’ companion, plus Hodor and two other children who were fostered at Winterfell. Theon mounts a search, returning with the bodies of two children, whom he covers with tar and hangs from the battlements at Winterfell, declaring them to be Bran and Rickon. This news travels fast around the Seven Kingdom (the birds that deliver messages in this quasi-medieval world are faster than the DSL at the boarding school where I used to work – but that’s a story for another day), and Catelyn Stark is soon on the warpath, while Robb sends his knights out to bring Theon back to him. Because I like to flip ahead to see which chapters will be told by which characters, I knew that the very last chapter would come from Bran’s point of view, so I was considering several options: 1) that Bran (and presumably Rickon) was not dead – that the corpses belonged to other children; 2) that Bran had been killed and come back to life, 3) that Bran had come back as a ghost, or 4) that Bran’s consciousness had somehow entered his direwolf’s body – which is something that happens sometimes in Bran’s dreams. The correct choice (spoiler alert!) turns out to be #1 – the least interesting option in my opinion. However, I’ve scanned the character lists in A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows and know that Bran and Rickon are listed as “presumed dead” in both installments – which could lead to some interesting plot twists (and more absolute torture for Catelyn Stark, who may be one of the most aggrieved mothers in literature).

I have watched all but the last two episodes of Season 2 of the TV series, and either the series is veering from the book more than it did in season 1 or I am even more of an inattentive reader than I thought. One of the reasons I’ve always eschewed fantasy novels is that I have a terrible time visualizing characters, places, and situations that do not look like the real world. My imagination is good in some ways, but not in this one. I know for a fact that I missed details in this novel that will be important in the remaining books. However, I do think the TV series is starting to take some liberties. First of all, Daenerys is barely present in the book – she gets a total of maybe five or six chapters in all of the 969 pages. She does undergo some interesting experiences – including a rite of passage of some kind in the city of Qarth, in which she has to enter a house and find her way around and decide which doors and staircases to take. In the book, I sensed that George R.R. Martin had been reading Joseph Campbell and realized that he had to get the “belly of the whale” part of the mythic archetype into the story somehow – and I also enjoyed this scene, though I didn’t entirely understand its implications. In the series, Daenerys has been present more often than in the book (she’s in Qarth, trying to find someone to give her some ships to invade Westeros and surrounded by people who want to marry her and/or steal her dragons, desperate to figure out whom to trust) but so far she has not entered the creepy house.

In the book, Catelyn Stark visits Jaime Lannister in his prison cell and learns the truth about how and why Bran fell from the tower back at the beginning of Book 1. However, in A Clash of Kings, Catelyn – and her ‘sworn sword,’ Brienne – actually breaks Jaime out of his cell and takes him as her personal prisoner, presumably to use as a negotiating tool in her struggle to get Bran and Rickon back from Theon Greyjoy (at this point in the book, Catelyn has received word that Bran and Rickon are dead – in the TV series she doesn’t know this yet).

This is not a very insightful review, I know – I am a neophyte in the world of fantasy literature, and my mind does have a tendency to wander when books get slow (as this one often does) – plus I probably made my task harder than it had to be by watching the series concurrently with reading the book. I’m still trying to piece together the ‘who, where, when, and why’ of the series (both versions of it) and therefore don’t have much to say on an analytical or subjective level. But it means something, I think, that the first thing I wanted to do when I finished was pick up the third book in the series and start reading it right away. I’m going to force myself to stay away until at least mid-June, but I have a feeling that this series is going to be a gigantic thorn in my side – albeit a compelling one – until I finish it.

Posted in Authors, Fiction - Fantasy, Fiction - general, George R.R. Martin, Reviews by Bethany | Leave a comment

And now for something completely different… An actual progress report on Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber (by Jill)

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This is akin to a miracle for my reading habits this year: I have actually had time to sit and read the past couple of days and have gotten pretty far in Dragonfly in Amber! I’m about two thirds of the way through it right now, and the pace has definitely picked up from the slow days at the beginning of Claire and Jamie’s residence in Paris. Our two protagonists have returned to Jamie’s land, Lallybroch, in the Scottish Highlands and the time of the last Jacobite uprising is fast approaching.

When last I posted, not a whole lot had happened. Now, I actually have a few interesting plot-points to share, and I’m really excited about it. Claire begins to have some bleeding, and at the point she is at in her pregnancy this could be concerning for miscarriage. So Claire puts herself on modified bed-rest, and waits to see what happens next. In the midst of this, Jamie hatches a plan to intercept a ship full of wine on its way to be sold on the behalf of Prince Charles, and divert it for his own profit/the Prince’s detriment. It’s very clever: he has Claire figure out a way to simulate the symptoms of smallpox, and plants Murtagh on the ship as a reason to sell off the cargo before getting to port. See, Jamie’s plan is to meet the ship while at sea somewhere, and offer to take the cargo off the captain’s hands since it’ll get destroyed once the harbormaster sees that they have someone with smallpox on board. The ship departs from Lisbon on an unknown date. The plan is for Murtagh to send a letter to Jamie on the day the ship leaves port, so he can plan his interception. Shortly after Murtagh leaves, Jamie is summoned to a brothel to pay off a debt owed by his warehouse manager, and he leaves. And then doesn’t come home. Claire overhears two of her lady friends talking about Jamie challenging a British captain to a duel “over a whore,” and knows immediately who the British captain is. The last time Jamie tried to challenge Jack Randall to a duel Claire made him promise to spare Randall’s life for a year, for the sake of Frank’s future. Obviously, Claire is furious, and she goes against her self-imposed bed rest to track down where the duel is happening and to go there to stop her second husband and her first husband’s ancestor from killing each other. When she finds the duel, it has already begun. She screams at Jamie during a break in the action, then falls over and begins to hemorrhage and miscarry.

Claire wakes up a few days later in the hospital where she volunteers, septic after the miscarriage. The strange frog-like Master Raymond comes and does some weird magic-y stuff to heal her and then has her scream out Jamie’s name so she could harness her innermost power to finish the healing process. It was odd. Anyway, after she leaves the hospital, and goes to her friend Louise’s (also known as Prince Charlie’s mistress and future mother of his illegitimate child) country estate and lays around for a few weeks missing Jamie and mourning her child. Eventually it comes out that Jamie has not abandoned her after killing Jack Randall; in fact, he’s in the Bastille for dueling. This comes out the same day Claire receives her mail forwarded from the Paris house, and finds the letter from Murtagh telling Jamie when the ship sailed from Lisbon. Claire realizes that their entire plan to keep Charles from making a profit that he can put towards the attempt at restoration. Because if he can’t mount “the ’45,” thousands of Highlanders won’t die for a cause destined for failure. She knows that no matter what her feelings are about Jamie right now (she blames him for the miscarriage and feels that he abandoned her to exact revenge that he had promised to delay for her sake), that she must get him released from the Bastille as soon as possible. Otherwise their plan will fail.

This is how Claire finds herself going to Versailles for a private audience with Louis XV. You can imagine what happens there…. Well, yes, that, and also a trial over which Louis makes Claire preside: a trial of sorcery, with the Comte St. Germain, Jamie’s great business nemesis, against Master Raymond, the man who healed Claire. The end of that interesting story is that Jamie is released, and pardoned of his false crimes in England, and told to get the hell out of France. So Claire and Jamie head back to Scotland, but not before there is a very interesting interlude between Claire and Jamie and some nettles.

Back at Lallybroch, time passes pleasantly enough. Jamie’s sister Jenny is pregnant again. There are potatoes to harvest, and wool to dye, and sheep to round up when fences break. These seem to be the most peaceful months of Claire and Jamie’s marriage. And then…. The world interferes again. The Fraser family learns that Jamie’s name is on the list of Clan chiefs who have promised themselves to Prince Charles, who is arriving on the coast of Scotland any day now. A letter arrives at the same time (mail delivery being spotty at best in the Highlands, a whole month’s worth of mail can arrive in one day) from Prince Charles telling Jamie that he didn’t have time to track him down, but that he just went ahead and forged Jamie’s signature on the contract, and he figured that’d be cool, and he’ll see Jamie when the ships land. And that’s kind of where I am right now. Jamie is preparing to leave, and he and Ian, his brother-in-law, are choosing which of the men of Lallybroch should come with him and which should stay home.

I see the time Claire and Jamie get to spend at Lallybroch as the peaceful center of their marriage. I know they aren’t going to make a whole life at Lallybroch, despite their desire to do so at present. I know that soon they are going to be parted for more than twenty years, give or take an additional two hundred. I sort of want to live with them in these months forever because they are so blissfully happy. But then, would it still be an Outlander book if all that drama were gone? Probably not. But I’ll take six hundred pages of Lallybroch over three hundred pages of Paris Court intrigue and gossip any day.

I think that I’ll be able to burn through the rest of Dragonfly in Amber this weekend. I’ve got a long car ride in my near future, as well as a seven mile jaunt across San Francisco on Sunday morning (that’s right, I’m doing the Bay to Breakers!) to budget time for as well.

Posted in Diana Gabaldon, Fiction - general, Fiction - Historical, Reviews by Jill, TIME TRAVEL | 4 Comments