Diana Gabaldon’s Lord John books serve a number of purposes in the Outlander world, none of which are especially important. First, they fill in backstory about what happened in Gabaldon’s universe during the twenty years that are missing from the Outlander plot. At times these revelations are interesting and contribute meaningfully to our understanding of Jamie, Claire, and the other characters in the series. More often, though, they are tangential to the extreme. In the context of Gabaldon’s primary series (i.e. the really, really thick books), Lord John is a good enough character. He’s first introduced in Dragonfly in Amber when, in an attempt to impress his older brother, he tries to “rescue” Claire, whose accent he recognizes as English, from Jamie and the rest of the Scottish Highlanders. His plan is foiled, and he ends up 1) tied to a tree, 2) eventually being released unharmed, and 3) madly in love with Jamie Fraser. The story continues from there for about eight million more pages. Lord John’s character is well developed and complex. He manages to be a supportive friend and confidante to Jamie while keeping his passions under control and also – long story – raising Jamie’s illegitimate son. He manages his awkward and uncomfortable relationships with his various family members, and he’s never entirely happy but manages to inject happiness into the lives of others, making him a highly sympathetic character. And sometimes he wanders around injured and disoriented for fifty pages, but we don’t need to rehash that.
The separate Lord John series, though, is just silly. One book is centered around a chancre that he sees on the penis of a man he is checking out in a public restroom. In another one, he delivers a baby in a stairwell. And in this one, he gets attacked by zombies – but keeps himself and others safe by just being a gosh-darn good guy.
In Voyager, Jamie and Claire meet Lord John when he is assigned to a position of some authority in Jamaica during their own Caribbean years. They also have a “final” confrontation with Geillis Duncan (now remarried and named Mrs. Abernathy). A Plague of Zombies is set around this same time period. Lord John has been sent to Jamaica to investigate why the “maroons” (Caribbean slang for escaped slaves) keep burning sugar cane fields and otherwise conducting acts of terrorism against their fine British imperial overlords. The novel opens with an absurdly long scene in which Lord John, his valet Tom, and a slave named Rodrigo with whom Lord John is infatuated all fight off a series of tropical creepy-crawlies like cockroaches, spiders, and snakes. This scene is pure slapstick comedy and totally ridiculous (“Tom and the black servant uttered identical cries of horror and lunged for the creature, colliding in front of the dressing table and falling over in a thrashing heap”), and it takes up a full 15% of the book, according to my Kindle, but it also foreshadows the equanimity with which Lord John will eventually extricate Tom, Rodrigo, and some British soldiers from the place in the jungle where they are being held captive by a “maroon” leader who likes to outsource his torture to a zombie wrangler named Ishmael (who, in a totally unnecessary aside, introduces himself to Lord John with the words “Call Me Ishmael”). And Geillis Duncan is in this book, which made me happy – though she doesn’t do anything especially interesting.
You don’t really need me to tell you more, do you? It’s a comic zombie book with masturbation and anachronisms in it, but you’re going to read it anyway because it’s by Diana Gabaldon and everyone is all atwitter about Season 2 of Outlander, and that’s why I read it first and wrote my thoughts down here