‘Written in My Own Heart’s Blood’ is Gabaldon’s eighth installment to the Outlander series and is set during the American Revolution. It is best categorized as historical fiction. My parents both read it. My dad, the professor, who has taught history enjoys them. He does not read romance. I say this because I think people get overly focused on the romantic bits of her books. People who don’t read romance end up missing out on some pretty amazing historical writing. We get to learn all about George Washington’s wooden teeth, having wounds packed with French Blue Cheese and putting honey in eye wounds to stop infection, utilizing marijuana for asthma, and making ether out of vitriol. I would love to have a human guinea pig to try these remedies on, but I will not be it. Should I get shot please take me to a hospital. I don’t want anybody stuffing french cheese into any bullet wound I might receive. You will not feel that you are reading a textbook. This would be banned – those romantic bits I spoke about are graphic.
I’m only giving basics about the story because if you are a Gabaldon fan you really don’t care – you have already decided to read it. I don’t want to create spoilers for those considering picking up this long, but in my opinion, fulfilling series.
Gabaldon ended ‘Echo in the Bone’ with a cliffhanger and left us on tenterhooks for years. ‘Written in My Own Heart’s Blood’ starts right where she left off. Jamie had just shown up on Lord John Grey’s doorstep after he was supposed to be dead. I read the first chapter of this book when it was first published and stopped. I didn’t trust my memory of the series events. I started over with the series but got to ‘Drums of Autumn’ and stopped. It was just to large of an undertaking, and while I had no fear that she would publish another book before I finished, I became impatient.
Gabaldon takes us on new historical and scientific adventures. In her afterword she discusses her inclusion of prominent historical figures. Her key to historical fiction is to have those goliaths not be the center of the story. Keeping them on the fringes allows history to remain accurate with little novelistic license. Through her books, Jaime and Claire find themselves in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s and Louis the IX’s company. In this story it is Benedict Arnold, George Washington, Henry Clinton, Baron Von Steuben and the Marquis de Lafayette they meet. The key battle for this book is at Monmouth – 1778. It was Washington’s first opportunity to see how the rebel army could perform large-scale. It was such a bloody and confusing event no one knew who actually won. It was important historically not because the rebels won but because they didn’t lose. It showed the people, specifically the English, that the rebels were a worthy enemy. Gabaldon has the Fraser family fighting on both sides of war and puts them through the same complications families at that time suffered. The beauty of her writing is her ability to bring life to these events in all their messy glory. There is none of the mythological elementary school nonsense children are raised with. We get George Washington’s wooden teeth instead of the “I never told a lie” fable. I’m perfectly happy with this trade since he was extremely instrumental in starting the revolutionary counterintelligence program.
What is this book about intrinsically? Life doesn’t end at thirty. We are still following the adventures of Claire and Jaime who are well into their fifties – greying and scarred. Oh, we also follow the young ones in the family. The love and turmoil of nephew Scottish-Mohawk Ian Murray keeps us in impetuous danger and adventures. Claire’s story is also juxtaposed against Brianna’s in Scottland during the 1980’s trying to find her son Jem, and Roger’s story in Scottland about 15 years before Claire’s original trip in Outlander. Gabaldon expolores interesting questions about what would happen if Roger altered key events. Would his son he is looking for be born, furthermore, would his wife Brianna be born? Would Claire and Jaime meet? Gabaldon focuses on perspective change reflected in the prologue,”…old women see, young women are…” I couldn’t help but smile. It is nice to see older characters that remain just as adventurous and passionate as when they were young. I’m very interested to see how Starz will tackle the age change that comes with the third book let alone this one. It doesn’t match Hollywood’s portrayal regarding mature sexual relationships.
Sex is a controversial topic in the series. Her sex scenes have always been graphic but that isn’t what causes concern. Consternation stems from the type of sex depicted. Concerns have been raised about the reality regarding every characters very enthusiastic sex drive. Gabaldon addresses sex from a fictional and erotic perspective. I will say I can’t remember a moment when anyone wasn’t in the mood except in instances of violent and traumatic rape. This book doesn’t delve as deeply into these issues as in her other books, but the aftermath of rape is discussed for both the victim and spouse. Gabaldon also addresses sex in historically accurate scenarios. The role of women in relation to men is very different during the 18th century than it is now – for that matter Claire’s role in the 1940’s is very different from now. How characters deal with rape, sex, and gender roles seems wrong. It is not how I would want a person to have to deal with it but her characters aren’t contemporary. The question becomes is she writing erotic fiction, a bodice ripper so to say, or is she writing sex from a historical accurate perspective. Are your pirates having voluntary sex with virginal women? Does the pirate fall in love and is he gentle and caring, or are your pirates sleeping with each other and whores? Is the sex paid for and/or violent leaving every one riddled with sexually transmitted diseases? The way authors address sex is very different between these genres. Her choice not to limit herself leaves her open to criticism for writing fiction that depicts violent sex as erotic and tantalizing. It confuses the message she is sending about sex and gender roles. She does not stick to either camp. You will have to read her books to determine how you feel about this. She doesn’t give you a nice little fence to pick a side to stand on. It is very grey and she will also throw everything at you including the kitchen sink.
Gabaldon created a beautiful book with ‘Written in My Own Hearts Blood.’ It tugged at my heart-strings and reminded me exactly why I keep coming back to this series. Davina Porter’s narration is superb and enhances the experience if you enjoy the audio format. There are parts, however, that could have been edited out. Gabaldon creates drama I enjoy, but there were times I questioned if I was listening to a telenovella. On the opposite side of the coin there were times she described detail of towns, medical procedures, and historical information that could be considered excessive. I enjoy detail but there should be a reason to include it. I can’t say every detail had a purpose. What I will say is if you like detailed, complicated kitchen sinks Gabaldon and her Outlander series are for you. I clearly enjoy them.