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An Echo in the Bone by Diana GabaldonTitle: An Echo in the Bone
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Narrator: Davina Porter
ISBN: 978-1-4561-1082-6
Audiobook Length: 45 hours, 58 minutes
Genre: Historical Fiction; Romance; Fantasy
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 22 September 2009
Bottom Line: This series has officially jumped the shark.

“Jamie Fraser, former Jacobite and reluctant rebel, is already certain of three things about the American rebellion: The Americans will win, fighting on the side of victory is no guarantee of survival, and he’d rather die than have to face his illegitimate son – a young lieutenant in the British army – across the barrel of a gun.

Claire Randall knows that the Americans will win, too, but not what the ultimate price may be. That price won’t include Jamie’s life or his happiness, though – not if she has anything to say about it.

Meanwhile, in the relative safety of the twentieth century, Jamie and Claire’s daughter, Brianna, and her husband, Roger MacKenzie, have resettled in a historic Scottish home where, across a chasm of two centuries, the unfolding drama of Brianna’s parents story comes to life through Claire’s letters. The fragile pages reveal Claire’s love for battle-scarred Jamie Fraser and their flight from North Carolina to the high seas, where they encounter privateers and ocean battles – as Brianna and Roger search for clues not only to Claire’s fate but to their own. Because the future of the MacKenzie family in the Highlands is mysteriously, irrevocably, and intimately entwined with life and death in war-torn colonial America.”

Thoughts: After seven books, thousands of pages, and hundreds of audiobook hours, anyone reading or listening to An Echo in the Bone soon realizes that the Outlander series just is not what it started out to be. Gone are the witty dialogue, sensual and heart-melting romantic scenes, and fast-paced, thrilling narrative that made the first book so exciting. Instead, one is left with a plodding story, a hugely inflated cast of characters, horrifying descriptions, and sex scenes that are more about scratching an itch than an expression of love. It is a sad state of affairs indeed.

Making matters worse, Jamie and Claire are no longer the central characters of the story. In fact, readers see more of Willie, Young Ian, Lord John, Bree, and Roger than they see of Jamie and/or Claire. It is a shift in focus that may not sit well with fans, as Jamie and Claire are the Outlander series in ways none of the other characters will ever be. Given how many words Ms. Gabaldon devotes to the creaking or aching of their bones, the greying of their hair, and the like, one gets the distinct impression that she is trying to pave the way for the next generation of Frasers, McKenzies, and Murrays to take over the story. It will be interesting to see if that is indeed the case, or if she will end the series upon either Jamie’s or Claire’s death. Of even more importance is whether fans will also follow the next generation or will end their following with Jamie and Claire.

Causing further injury to the series are the poor writing, the excessive melodrama, and the pedantic pacing of the story. Ms. Gabaldon’s reliance on metaphors and similes for descriptions is tedious, while the metaphors and similes she uses are absolutely cringe-inducing and, most of the time, highly inappropriate for the scene being described. She uses these devices so often that a reader begins to dread any descriptive passage in fear of the next horrible metaphor she presents.

There has always been a high level of melodrama in each of these stories, but An Echo in the Bone seems to take it to whole new levels. The last 100-200 pages, or two hours on the audiobook, are particularly bad as Ms. Gabaldon rushes to create cliffhangers for each of her characters and set up interest in yet another Outlander book. The situations are somewhat predictable and mostly comical and just plain weird. If anything, they are good for a good eye roll and snicker of amusement.

Other than the last 100-200 pages, the rest of the story is agonizingly slow and anti-climactic, a trend that first appeared in book four. The story meanders from North Carolina to the high seas to New York, Quebec, Scotland, Paris, and back again, following one character and then another. None of what occurs in the middle of the story has any bearing on the ambiguous last scenes for each character, so it is not as if Ms. Gabaldon were building up to a big finish. Rather, the middle sections feel like exactly what they are – fillers and a chance for readers to get to better know the characters other than Jamie and Claire. One could almost read the first and last 100-200 pages and skip the rest without losing too much or becoming lost. In a novel that is well over 1000 pages, or 46 hours, that is just too much filler.

Of course, Davina Porter remains an outstanding narrator and one of the sole reasons to continue this series. Her performance is spectacular, especially as her voices never change from book to book, and her approach to the narration is conversational in tone. She makes it so easy to forget that she is performing a two-dimensional story. One just wishes she had better material with which to work.

Unfortunately, the multiple endings of An Echo in the Bone make it impossible for long-time readers to obtain the closure they seek. Multiple cliffhangers and open-ended plot lines for all of the major characters mean that their unknown fates will entice readers to continue with the series no matter how readers feel about it. After seven books, fans want to know whether their favorites will live happily ever after, and Ms. Gabaldon makes that impossible with the way she set up the ending. If she used most of the novel to build up for the next book, then a reader might be more excited about continuing. As it stands, fans know they will get answers to the cliffhangers, and the rest of the next story is a complete guess. One can only hope that book eight will finally end this long-winded series and give fans the closure they deserve.

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