Julianna's Reviews > Dragonfly in Amber

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
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it was amazing
bookshelves: desert-island-keepers, historical-fiction, read-2009, time-travel-romance, historical-romance
Recommended for: Anyone Who Enjoys Historical Fiction or Historical and/or Time Travel Romance
Read 2 times. Last read March 24, 2009.

Reviewed for THC Reviews
Dragonfly in Amber is no ordinary romance novel. In fact, in spite of its romance and paranormal elements, it is far more of a historical novel than anything else in my opinion. This book basks the reader in lush descriptions of 18th century European history, from the political intrigue in the courts of King Louis XV of France, to the everyday life of a merchant, to the inner workings of hospitals of that time. Then it sweeps the reader along, back to the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and eventually into the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 in which Bonnie Prince Charlie tried unsuccessfully to retake the throne of both Scotland and England. The author made liberal use of real historical personages from King Louis and Prince Charles to their courtiers, advisers and Scottish clan chieftains. Diana Gabaldon constantly amazes me with how she can realistically weave fictional characters into real historical settings and bring it all to life in such a way that it is a joy to read and never a bore. Even everyday things become special in her world. I was especially fascinated with the insights into medical treatment in that era, including the use of plants and herbs for healing. Claire works for a time, at an indigent hospital in Paris where all manner of “healers” volunteer their time and “medical services” to the patients. In many ways, it is amazing to see just how far we've come since then, but I was also intrigued by the use of what appeared to be acupuncture in one scene and the use of a small dog to sniff out infections in another. Of course, both of these are still quite useful in medicine today. There is also a tangled web of ancestral ties that will certainly keep readers on their toes. All in all, Diana Gabaldon simply has a wonderful way with painting word pictures that just swept me up in the story and made me feel like I had indeed been transported back in time.

Just because I think that Dragonfly in Amber is stronger as a historical novel, does not mean that the other elements were in any way lacking. It still has the beautiful romance of Jamie and Claire at its core. These two characters have simply enthralled me in a way that many characters in traditional romance fail to do. Jamie and Claire are absolutely perfect for each other, and in this story have settled into a very comfortable marriage in which it seems like they have been together much longer than they have. To me, this has always been part of the beauty of their relationship, in that they are the best of friends while still being passionate lovers. Even when they talk about the mundane things of life or engage in fun lighthearted bantering it expresses a deep intimacy. Jamie and Claire trust each other implicitly and even when that trust seems to have been compromised, they still find their way back to each other. This is a couple who epitomize the word, soulmate, and who would literally live and die for one another, and theirs is a love that spans both space and time and will never end. In my opinion, this is what true romance is all about, but for anyone seeking hot steamy love scenes, they won't really be found in this book. Most of these parts are fairly non-explicit and don't contain a lot of detail, but that certainly didn't matter to me, as the relationship is always the most important thing for me in any romance. There are even a couple of side romances in the form a heartbreakingly tragic relationship between a couple of Frank Randall's ancestors and a sweet budding connection between Brianna Randall Fraser and Roger Wakefield, who are very important characters in later books.

The other element that was incredibly well-done is the time travel. Diana Gabaldon has written a scholarly article outlining her own theories of time travel, and it certainly is borne out in this book. I found Jamie and Claire's attempts to alter history to be very intellectually engaging. It presents a didactical argument as to whether it would be possible to change history if time travel were a reality, something which I love to ponder. It also asks the question of whether a person could cease to exist if that history was revised. There was also a great little rabbit trail where Claire mulls over the effects of time travel on germs and disease which I found to be a fun thing to speculate about too. The one thing I would not have wanted to do, is hold the fate of so many people in my hands the way Jamie and Claire did, due to their knowledge of the future. Many times over the course of the story they had to make really difficult choices, and even did some things that might be considered somewhat immoral or unethical, and contemplated doing far worse for the sake of the greater good. Of course, they never came to these conclusions lightly, and I love how Ms. Gabaldon brought out all the gut-wrenching emotions that were associated with that decision-making process.

Jamie and Claire are two characters I won't soon forget, and I greatly look forward to reading their further adventures. Jamie is the ultimate hero who is both brave and vulnerable, and a fierce warrior but a gentle lover, a man who Claire calls “the sun.” He is selfless and chivalrous, willing to sacrifice himself for those he loves including the men under his command, and his word is his honor, something he would never dream of breaking no matter what. I love that Jamie has a sensitive heart underneath his tough exterior and isn't afraid to cry or show his true feelings. Sometimes he says some of the sweetest, most beautiful things that make me swoon. With his wry, teasing humor, he is also one of the funniest characters I have ever read. Even in the midst of the most dire circumstances, he can often make me laugh. It was absolutely hilarious (although extremely fortuitous) the amount of mileage he got out of his La Dame Blanche story about Claire, as was his confrontational “conversation” with the little dog at the hospital where Claire worked. At the same time, Jamie is still a very tortured hero who is frequently tormented by demons, both real and emotional, as a result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Jack Randall in the first book, which led to some very intense moments in the narrative. Claire, for her part, is probably the strongest heroine I have ever read. She is an incredibly intelligent woman who always uses her wits to survive and who isn't afraid to stand up to anyone including clan leaders and even royalty. Because of her modern sensibilities, she sometimes bucks the convention of the time, but by maintaining a strong backbone, she also manages to garner the respect of nearly everyone who meets her. Still, since the book is told primarily in first person from Claire's point of view, her vulnerabilities are readily apparent to the reader. There are moments when she is truly afraid and when her emotions even get the best of her, and of course, she wears her undeniable love for Jamie on her sleeve. Claire and Jamie are just so well-matched that I could hardly bear the times that they were apart in the story, and when they came back together it was like electricity shooting off the page. Their final scenes together in Dragonfly in Amber were some of the most beautiful and poignant, but also the most heartbreaking ever to be penned. They literally left me in tears, which is a somewhat rare effect for a book to have on me.

There are just so many things to love about Dragonfly in Amber, I don't think I could possibly name them all, and there are even a few things that were a bit bothersome. On the up side, there was a widely varied and diverse cast of supporting characters from the real-life players who were mentioned earlier to plenty of fictional ones as well. Jamie's sister and brother-in-law, Jenny and Ian, who I love, appeared again along with their family. Even though he rarely has much to say, the dour Murtaugh is always a welcome addition. Jamie also takes in Fergus, a young pickpocket with the heart of a lion, although I have to admit that the historical realities for a child like him left me feeling extremely heartbroken. Jack Randall's younger brother, Alex, and Mary Hawkins, a teenage girl who Claire meets in Paris, also play important roles, as does Master Raymond, a mysterious little man who runs an apothecary shop. In addition to the strong character palette, there is plenty of intrigue that should keep readers guessing, as well as lots of adventure and excitement. On the down side, there is a quite a bit of sometimes rather gruesome violence, including sexual assault, and some vivid depictions of various war injuries which some readers may find cringe-worthy, though certainly nothing that was out of place for the time period. Most of these things did not bother me, but there was one graphic description of hanging, drawing, and quartering which left me with a queasy stomach, so sensitive readers may want to skip that part. The early parts of the book move at a rather languid pace, but there were always little side stories that made it interesting and held my attention. Overall, though there was nothing I could say I truly disliked about the book, and in fact, it was even better the second time around as this was a re-read for me.

Unlike Outlander which can be a satisfying read by itself, there is a cliffhanger ending to Dragonfly in Amber, so new readers of the series will probably want to have a copy of the next book, Voyager, on hand before starting. When I first read books 1-3 over a decade ago, I don't think I could have waited for the sequel to come, so I'm glad I didn't discover the series until the first three books had already been published. Dragonfly in Amber has forever earned a place on my keeper shelf next to its predecessor, Outlander. I can't wait to read the remaining books in the series, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes, as well as An Echo in the Bone, the newest Outlander book which is due to hit store shelves this September. With her amazing talent and enthralling writing style, Diana Gabaldon has also earned a place among my favorite authors.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 23, 2008 – Shelved
February 26, 2009 –
page 16
2.15% "Already feels like I'm visiting old friends."
February 27, 2009 –
page 48
6.46% "I love the humor and the budding relationship between Roger and Brianna. Had forgotten about Roger's ancestral ties."
February 28, 2009 –
page 71
9.56% "Claire recounting her story to Roger and Bree brought it all back to me.:-)"
March 1, 2009 –
page 86
11.57% "I love that Jamie isn't afraid to be vulnerable. Sometimes he says the most sweet, beautiful things. "
March 2, 2009 –
page 102
13.73% "Diana Gabaldon really has a way with painting word pictures that really bring the story to life."
March 3, 2009 –
page 120
16.15% "All the historical details are fascinating as is Jamie and Claire's attempts to alter history."
March 4, 2009 –
page 142
19.11% "It's neat that Jamie & Claire can talk about ordinary things yet it isn't boring. Love their lighthearted banter too."
March 4, 2009 –
page 159
21.4% "I love that Jamie can be so fierce, yet is so gentle toward Claire."
March 5, 2009 –
page 199
26.78% "I think it's great that Claire trusts Jamie so much."
March 5, 2009 –
page 210
28.26% "Fergus is so sweet and it about broke my heart that Jamie had to beat him so the boy could save face.:-("
March 6, 2009 –
page 224
30.15% "Jamie can be so hilarious. Loved his confrontation with the nun's little dog.:-)"
March 9, 2009 –
page 278
37.42% "Into part #3 now. There's plenty of mystery and the pace has picked up a little."
March 10, 2009 –
page 309
41.59% "Very intense!"
March 11, 2009 –
page 346
46.57% "Graphic description of hanging, drawing and quartering. Ewwwwwwww!"
March 12, 2009 –
page 380
51.14% "So much sadness and hurt. I miss Jamie. Lots of excitement, mystery and intrigue building though."
March 14, 2009 –
page 412
55.45% "Jamie and Claire's reunion was so beautiful. I love how she called him "the sun.""
March 15, 2009 –
page 429
57.74% "Home to Lallybroch at last.:-)"
March 16, 2009 –
page 458
61.64% "Fascinating day-to-day interactions, more examples of the mundane made special by a talented author."
March 17, 2009 –
page 512
68.91% "The Scottish rebellion has begun."
March 18, 2009 –
page 551
74.16% "Decisions, decisions! I definitely would not want to hold the fate of so many people in my hands like Jamie and Claire do."
March 19, 2009 –
page 615
82.77% "I love the way that Claire stands up to old Lord Lovat.;-)"
March 20, 2009 –
page 653
87.89% "Oooooo! The intrigue and excitement are heating up, and secondary characters are coming back to play a role in it."
Started Reading
March 24, 2009 –
page 705
94.89% "These last couple of chapters have ripped my heart out and made me cry, especially the end of part 6."
March 24, 2009 –
page 720
96.9% "Oh the tangled web we weave...;-) Yet another character with mixed up ancestry, and more tough decisions to make."
March 24, 2009 – Finished Reading
March 25, 2009 –
page 743
100.0% "Another fabulous read in this series. Review coming soon."
March 30, 2009 – Shelved as: desert-island-keepers
March 30, 2009 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
March 30, 2009 – Shelved as: read-2009
March 30, 2009 – Shelved as: time-travel-romance
March 30, 2009 – Shelved as: historical-romance

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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Kathrynn I loved the first three books in this series! Haven't seen this book cover before. Interesting.

Julianna I bought the first three books through a book club many years ago. I rarely see these covers anymore either.

message 3: by Auntee (new)

Auntee Well said, Julie.:)

Kathrynn I know what you mean about "needing" the next right after this one ends. Mercy! Glad I started this series when the first 4 or 5 were already out, the cliffhanger at the end of this one would have had me chomping at the bit...

message 5: by Julianna (last edited Mar 31, 2009 10:36AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Julianna Thanks Auntee.

Kathrynn, I probably would have been tearing my hair out if I hadn't had the third book to read immediately. Although the earlier books were released about once every two years instead of the once every four years for the last few. Still it would have been a long time to wait. I'm not sure if she has any more books planned after An Echo in the Bone, but maybe I should read the rest of the series very slowly so I won't have to wait long for any potential new releases.:-)

message 6: by CaliGirlRae (new)

CaliGirlRae Awesome review, Julie! I love the first two books as my faves. :-D You said everything I was feeling while reading Dragonfly!

Julianna Thanks Rae.

Ronda  Tutt Well stated in your review - I just have to say that I kept expecting Clair or her daughter Brianna to go back though the stones but it never happened. I think the best thing that happened in this book is that they found out that Jamie didn't die in "45". I was so excited when I read that at the end that I couldn't wait to start the third book Voyager. The other thing I loved about this second book was it had a lot of funny parts in it and It made me laugh out loud at some of the things they experienced.

One part I loved was when Jamies men were gather around the fire picking the lice off themselves and scratching themselves and their ideas of remedies of how to get rid of the lice. My favorite of course was the part of shaving half of your crotch and then take the torch and smoke them out the other half of the crotch and as the run to the other side use their dirks to pearce them (kill them). I about died laughing when i read that part.

My husband just looked at me like what is so funny and I had to tell him, he thought it was pretty humorous too.

Did you have any favorite parts?

message 9: by Julianna (last edited May 17, 2009 06:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Julianna Thanks for the compliments Ronda. I was heartbroken to think that Jamie might have died at Culloden, but I just knew there had to be more to the story. I read the first three books over a decade ago, but on that first read, I too went directly on to Voyager.

I agree that the humor in these books is wonderful. It's difficult to pick favorite parts, because I love the whole book, but I think my favorite funny scene was when Jamie was having his one-sided conversation with the nun's dog in the hospital. That one had me in stitches.:-)

message 10: by Dana (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dana Well said, Julie. I just finished the book today. The way the book started made me upset that Jamie might die, so the glimmer of hope at the very end was very appreciated. Jamie and Claire's relationship is also the highlight for me in these first two novels. I read both books while my husband has been away doing fieldwork abroad, and the love flowing in Gabaldon's pages made me miss my soul mate even more. Isn't it amazing how good books can increase the love and appreciation you have for the people in your life?

I also love being transported to the Scottish highlands, and being immersed in the culture. I will usually listen to one of my favorite CD's "Scottish Moors" while reading these books as a auditory background.

Ronda, I also read my husband that de-lousing scene because it was so funny!

Ronda  Tutt LOL Dana, I just re-read what I said and laughed out loud again - and got a funny vision and I am still grinning. I know that I will definitly be reading these books again sometime in the future.

Julianna Dana wrote: "Well said, Julie. I just finished the book today. The way the book started made me upset that Jamie might die, so the glimmer of hope at the very end was very appreciated. Jamie and Claire's relati..."

Thank you for the compliment, Dana. Yes, I often do find that reading romances enhances my appreciation for my husband. I'm so glad you liked the book.:-)

Howard Meyer In this sequel to Outlander, Claire, a twentieth century nurse, and her eighteenth century husband, Jamie, go to France to try to stop a highland uprising which they know is doomed to failure. As they find themselves caught up in the flow of history, the must come to grips with the fact that they know how events will turn out, and their love is repeatidly tested. Finally, caught up in a wave of events that they can no longer control, Claire and Jamie face the threat of being separated forever.

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