Title: The Fiery Cross
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Narrator: Davina Porter
Audiobook Length: 55 hours, 34 minutes
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Bottom Line: The weakest of the first five books, it is definitely a filler novel – one that bridges the gap between the previous action of the first four novels and future action – I hope.
“The year is 1771, and war is coming. Jamie Fraser’s wife tells him so. Little as he wishes to, he must believe it, for hers is a gift of dreadful prophecy – a time-traveler’s certain knowledge.Born in the year of Our Lord 1918, Claire Randall served England as a nurse on the battlefields of World War II, and in the aftermath of peace found fresh conflicts when she walked through a cleftstone on the Scottish Highlands and found herself an outlander, an English lady in a place where no lady should be, in a time when the only English in Scotland were the officers and men of King George’s army.Now wife, mother, and surgeon, Claire is still an outlander, out of place, and out of time, but now, by choice, linked by love to her only anchor – Jamie Fraser. Her unique view of the future has brought him both danger and deliverance in the past; her knowledge of the oncoming revolution is a flickering torch that may light his way through the perilous years ahead – or ignite a conflagration that will leave their lives in ashes…”
Thoughts: Claire and Jamie Fraser have been through wars, hurricanes, political and slave uprisings; they’ve dined with kings and fended for themselves in the harshest of environments. They have more than earned a respite from danger on their homestead on Fraser’s Ridge in the backcountry of North Carolina in 1771. As the country begins to prepare for war, however, the Frasers once more find themselves making choices regarding political sides while eking out a life in the wilderness. Such is the premise of THE FIERY CROSS, the fifth novel in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.
There is a tremendous focus on body parts that became quite repetitive and almost funny by the end of the novel. Breasts and buttocks are mentioned all the time. Brianna’s breastfeeding is described in great detail in almost every scene she is in, and if there is not a discussion about the fullness of her breasts, then it is her nipples. If it is not Brianna’s breasts or nipples, then someone else is breastfeeding and exposing her breasts or else Claire is evaluating her own breasts or feeling her nipples harden. This is in addition to the overt appreciation of the human posterior, as seen by the multiple times Claire and Jamie place their hands on the other’s derriere. The entire novel is highly sexualized in a way that the first four novels were not.
One of the things that make OUTLANDER such a strong novel is that the sex is not gratuitous. There is a purpose to each sex scene that drives forward the story. That is not so with THE FIERY CROSS. If anything, they became the main story if only because the rest of the novel was nothing more than a series of vignettes without an overarching crisis. The sex scenes became filler or at least an oft-used way to end the narrative. It is as if Ms. Gabaldon sacrificed plot to increase the sexual connection between the main characters, when it is not necessary to do so. Any fan of the series understands how deep Claire and Jamie’s, as well as Brianna’s and Roger’s, love is for each other. Showing their physical intimacy as often as she does is redundant and frankly quite disappointing.
Brianna Ellen Randall Fraser MacKenzie is my least favorite character of the series. I don’t know if it is Ms. Porter’s vocalization of her or if it is her character as she is written, but I find her relatively spoiled, selfish, and whiny. There is also a smug, know-it-all aspect to her character that drives me batty. The scenes narrated from her point of view are the most tedious, and I drew a deep sigh of relief every time the narrator shifted. Considering fully half of the novel is from her point of view, this had a definite impact on my overall enjoyment of the novel.
Speaking of narrators, Davina Porter is absolute gold, as always. Her ability to differentiate between men, women, black, white, Indian, Scot – Highlander, Lowlander, and Glaswegian – Irish, Caribbean, Russian, German, French, American, old, young, and everything in between is an absolute marvel and yet so essential to the overall story given the large cast of characters. Her performance makes these audiobook behemoths so enjoyable and well worth the time spent listening.
THE FIERY CROSS in general is just weak. Jamie and Claire are always enjoyable, and their scenes remain the strongest in the novel. However, it is apparent that Ms. Gabaldon hopes to shift the romantic focus to the younger generation, namely Roger and Brianna, by utilizing their third-person narratives to tell portions of the story. This means not enough Jamie and Claire and too much of everyone else. The shifts in narrator, from first to third and back again, are confusing as well as jarring, and surprisingly, there are plot elements that are mentioned but never discussed again but somehow mysteriously resolved. It is almost as if Ms. Gabaldon forgot they were there in the first place. There were certain aspects of the story that contained the same intensity that made the first few novels so thrilling, but the scenes were interspersed among the more mundane storylines. One can only hope that future novels have more of that same magic/action/intensity and less of the filler storylines.