I’m back! I’m finally back! Have you guys missed me? Cos I’ve missed you.
The past few months have been a tad challenging. I got fired for the first time. Ever. But I managed to get a new job, that I love, within two weeks. Plus, uni is a little brutal this semester, which is a tad worrying seeing as I’m only three weeks in. And apparently I actually have somehow built myself a social life. No idea when that happened, but it’s kinda nice. All of this means that I’ve had less time to read than I usually do. Which is my excuse as to why it took me nearly a month to finish Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.
But enough about me. Onto the review!
Well, maybe not a proper review. Outlander is the very first “grown up” series that I ever read. I read Cross Stitch when I was fifteen, and I’ve been in love with the series ever since. I love everything about the series. World-building, dialogue, and the characters. Holy God, the characters. Like, seriously. All of these characters feel so real that I have actually tried to Google them to find out if they were, in actuality, factual.
Spoiler: they are not.
What I’m trying to say is that I am not at all neutral when it comes to this series. You all should know this before jumping in. But let’s continue.
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood follows the same trend as the rest of the later Outlander books in that there doesn’t seem to be an obvious narrative through-line. There is so much going on, with an incredibly diverse cast of characters, that not everyone can contribute to the one story. In actuality, Outlander is a little like a collection of short stories where all of the stories are inter-connected. A lesser author could not pull this off. But Gabaldon is methodical and precise and takes three years to write each book, so she is a cut above the rest. What makes this convoluted kind of storytelling possible is that Gabaldon truly knows her characters and they all have their own distinct narrative voice. Which is incredibly handy given that there are nine POV characters:
- Claire (of course. She is still the only POV that is written in the first person. I think this keeps the reader reminded that without Claire going back to Jacobean Scotland back in Cross Stitch, none of the rest of the stories would be possible).
- Lord John Grey
- Rachel (a little)
- Dottie (even less)
What’s interesting to note is that the number of POV characters has grown in each novel. Claire’s voice was the only one we had in Cross Stitch. In Dragonfly in Amber we had Claire and Roger. Voyager was Claire, Jamie, and Roger. Brianna was added in Drums of Autumn. Ian in The Fiery Cross (or it could have been A Breath of Snow and Ashes). Lord John Grey was introduced in An Echo in the Bone which, I believe, was released after at least one of the Lord John Grey novellas. And then, finally, we added William in Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.
Just reading that list makes me tired. But Gabaldon pulls off this cast flawlessly in her books. She throws in the all of the verbal, mental, and physical quirks of each character to ensure that each voice is unique.
What makes this instalment different to the others is that there are three different time periods at play: Claire and Jamie’s time, the 1980s with Brianna and Roger, and then the early 1700s where we meet a young Jenny Fraser and Jamie’s father, Brian. Which adds just a little more complexity. But each time period is just as rich as the others. Nothing feels contrived or thoughtless.
I’ve read complex novels. I did a writing degree for God’s sake. But in the majority of them, I was constantly flicking backward and forward to make sure I was following the right characters or that I hadn’t missed anything in the plot when I started feeling lost for one reason or another. This never happens in Gabaldon’s stories.
The only thing I will say is that there is constantly so much going on in every single scene of an Outlander story that it can be hard to keep track of where each character is situated. I have a distinct memory of Jamie being fast asleep with his head on Claire’s lap and then on the next page he was sitting at the table eating with Ian. And yes, I checked. Jamie didn’t wake up and have a midnight snack. It is just one of those tiny details that would have been missed while checking for other continuity errors. Also, I’m not even sure whether that was a scene from Written in My Own Heart’s Blood or whether it was from Echo in the Bone. But my point still stands.
I can’t really talk plot of this book because it will make no sense without the background of the preceding seven novels. But what I can do is plug the absolute hell out of this series. Gabaldon is a rare author who really does bring her characters to life. She puts them in scenarios that are so gritty and real that you forget that none of it actually happened. She never infodumps, never patronises the reader, but you always know exactly where, when, and who you’re with.
There’s a reason that Outlander has been picked up as a TV show. If you have watched the show, I implore you to read the books. No matter how loyal a TV show is to its source material, there are always cuts made to accommodate a TV audience. Think of the book as almost like a behind-the-scenes type deal.
Also, more Jamie Fraser? You can’t go wrong.
I, of course, give Written in My Own Heart’s Blood: