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 -- 1743 -- 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....
The story of Jamie and Claire continues, October 1770 through October 1772. Jamie and Claire, along with Brianna, Roger, Fergus, Marsali and assorted other Scottish immigrants, have established their settlement at Fraser's Ridge. The book opens with a Gathering of the region's Scottish folks, where marriages are celebrated, children baptized, and news of the wider world exchanged and discussed. Tensions are growing between the colonists and the English government as shown by some of the things that happen at the Gathering. Jamie's continued possession of his land is dependent on remaining in the good graces of the governor, so he finds himself responsible for leading local militia if it is needed.
Major events for the book: A trip to River Run for his aunt Jocasta's wedding finds Jamie and Claire involved in a murder mystery where Claire's medical expertise discovers the how but not the why. Jamie's leadership is called on when the militia is required to stop a rebel group called the Regulators. Jamie attempts to stop the battle before it can happen, instead Roger ends up in a traumatic situation that nearly kills him, and alters his life as he knows it. A hunting trip nearly turns deadly for Jamie. Jamie and Roger continue their attempts to track down Stephen Bonnet, and Ian returns to the Ridge.
Interspersed with the major events are the details of daily life in Colonial America. The descriptions are vivid enough that I could easily picture the scenes as I was reading. Some of them were pretty funny, such as almost anything dealing with pigs.
In this book, the relationship between Brianna and Roger continues to strengthen and grow. Their wedding is both funny and very emotional. Both of them are still adjusting to life in the eighteenth century, though Roger sometimes seems to have a harder time of it. Though the true paternity of Brianna's son Jemmy is still not known, Roger works his way through his own feelings about it. After the events of the battle with the Regulators, Roger has to find his way through his depression to find his new reality. I really enjoyed seeing he and Jamie grow closer. Roger is moved by Jamie's confidence in him at various critical points in the book, which does good things for his confidence.
As always, the love that Jamie and Claire have for each other burns bright and strong throughout the book. They have settled into their lives on the Ridge, with each one contributing their individual strengths to the process. I loved their support of each other, even when they didn't agree. Jamie's protectiveness is always foremost in his mind, but he knows when it is a losing battle to argue with her. Likewise, Claire knows that asking Jamie to be anything but the Highland warrior he is would be asking him not to be himself. But for all his toughness, there is the romantic in him that he expresses so beautifully: “When the day shall come, that we do part," he said softly, and turned to look at me, "if my last words are not 'I love you'—ye'll ken it was because I didna have time.” It is that love that brings him back from the edge in the frightening episode with the snakebite. There are also times when the things he says are laugh out loud funny, such as when he sees his sperm in Claire's microscope:
“He bent and kissed me briefly, then headed for the door. Just short of it, though, he turned back.
"The, um, sperms ..." he said, a little awkwardly.
"Can ye not take them out and give them decent burial or something?"
I hid my smile in my teacup.
"I'll take good care of them," I promised. "I always do, don't I?”
Also running through the book is the continuing search for Stephen Bonnet. The grief that he has already caused for the family, plus the threat of his continued existence, makes it vital for him to be dealt with. As they learn more about his activities, it becomes obvious that he is a far larger threat than they had previously thought. Jamie holds himself responsible for Bonnet's freedom, and he and Roger have a plan to resolve it. Claire says it best when she states “While the Lord might insist that vengeance was His, no male Highlander of my acquaintance had ever thought it right that the Lord should be left to handle such things without assistance.” A scary encounter between Bonnet and Claire, Brianna, and Marsali has an unexpected ending, but leaves the issue hanging to be continued in the next book.
The issue of time-travel comes up when Ian returns to the Ridge at the end of the book, bearing a gift for Claire from the old Mohawk woman. It is a notebook that had belonged to the one known as "Otter-Tooth". Its revelations are eye-opening and frightening and give the family quite a lot to think about. Out of it all, my favorite part is "Mmphmm," Ian said, and his face lighted with an expression of profound satisfaction. "I knew ye weren't a fairy, Auntie Claire!"
As frequently happens with Gabaldon's books, what appear to be minor characters move in and out of the story, often for little apparent reason. But it is a rare occurrence when one of these characters doesn't have a purpose, even though it may not be known for another book or two. I have learned not to dismiss anyone as unimportant.