The Scottish Prisoner is the first Diana Gabaldon book I’ve read. So it was tricky to get into the story which involves characters well developed in her many earlier books. And there was the matter of timeslip, mercifully I was clued into that one so I wasn’t entirely lost. The friend who assured me I would love Gabaldon’s historical fiction is herself writing an excellent historical romance. It includes the same type of timeslip–maybe a convention of the various historical fiction genres? In any case, I caught on and the book caught me so I tackled its 500+ pages in one afternoon/evening. Worth it.
The novel is a complicated eighteenth century spy thriller. Plot is tangled upon plot and Gabaldon skillfuly unravels the twisted yarns as she examines the minds and hearts of the men who march around foiling terrorists and getting themselves bloodied. There is a lot of physical violence, mud, dirt, horrible weather, lack of shelter, acute seasickness and smashed brains. But as much introspection, heartache, desperate attempts at honor and rough friendship. I had not encountered Lord John Grey before nor Jamie Fraser. They head a cast of very colorful characters who covet strange treasures found in a bog, write poems in the old language that are really code for uprisings, betray each other for the slightest reasons at every turn and rush into battle on any pretext. Grey and Fraser have a knotty history. They don’t like each other at first, don’t trust each other ever, don’t hesitate to risk their lives for each other and end up acting more like brothers–if exceedingly contentious ones–than mortal enemies. All for good reason, it turns out.
It’s a doable one-day read, if not a sensible one. I can sum the book up at this late hour by saying The Scottish Prisoner is a terrific story. It is complicated enough to keep you guessing and larded with so much period detail you can taste the mud and the flat ale. I can’t indulge myself in reading many more of Gabaldon’s hefty tomes in one gulp without abandoning the rest of life completely so I may have to wait before attempting another one. But I will explore more of them. 1760 was a very good year for a conspiracy plot and the adventures it took to spoil it. I wouldn’t mind spending more time in that world–a kind of timeslip for the reader who can travel back to the messy pages of history trapped in the mesmerizing pages of a book.
The Scottish Prisoner: A Novel (Lord John) Diana Gabaldon | Delacorte Press 2011