Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5) by Diana Gabaldon

Jamie and Claire, along with Roger and Brianna, have settled into a routine of living at Fraser's Ridge. With her knowledge from the future, Claire is all to aware how close they are to the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Still, having committed herself to this life and her marriage with Jamie, Claire is determined to do her best to weather storm in front of her, no matter what may come.

This review is a tough one to write to be perfectly honest. The other books in The Outlander series are filled with horrendous tropes, gratuitous rapes, homophobia, child abuse, and of course racism.  The Fiery Cross is the least offensive book in this series to date; however, it is also the most boring book to date.  Absolutely nothing happens.  There is no plot to speak of and in fact, instead of a plot we are given:
  • adventure's in changing Jemmy's diaper (for the women at least because men don't do diaper duty) and Jemmy gets potty trained
  • Medical procedures which Claire must perform
  • Claire makes penicillin from mold 
  • A brief run in with the Regulators
  • Jamie gets bitten by a poisonous snake (pointless because Himself's life is never actually in jeopardy)
  • Ian comes back
  • Roger is almost hung as a traitor but of course lives, though he does lose his voice
I kept waiting for some plot to arise and for the story to somewhere.  You would think that since this novel is 1326 pages long and covers about a year in time that eventually, Gabaldon would get around to have the characters actually do something.  For as much as the other books were offensive,  at least they has some sort of discernible plot. Had I not determined to read the entire Outlander series, this is a book I would most certainly have DNF'd, as calling it tortuous is being kind.

I suppose the best I can stay is that at least the characters remained the same horrendous people I have gotten to know.  Claire, who made such a big deal about not approving of slavery, certainly has no problem with the noxious idea that if the slaves quarter are good and the slaves were owned by someone she likes, this horrible institution is not so bad.
She frowned at Jamie’s back, as he paused at the foot of the stair, listening before stepping onto the landing. It was easy enough to think that the misery of slavery might dispose one to suicide. At the same time, honesty compelled her to admit that Jocasta’s house servants lived reasonably well; better than any number of free individuals—black or white—that she’d seen in Wilmington and Cross Creek.

The servants’ room was clean, the beds rough but comfortable. The house servants had decent clothes, even to shoes and stockings, and more than enough to eat. As for the sorts of emotional complications that could lead one to contemplate suicide—well, those weren’t limited to slaves. (page 600)
Keep in mind that Claire was alive in 1968, and as such, has a full idea of exactly the deprivations of slavery.  This is after all her reason for not wanting to own slaves in the first place and yet since she cannot possibly condemn Jacosta, suddenly slavery isn't so bad.  I suppose part of her turn around is the fact that having slaves around is just so convenient.  They are there after all at the beck and call of a White person and cannot, if they fear for their lives, reject an order or even fight back.  Claire is not even remotely reflective enough to recognize the lengths that she has gone to in not only her acceptance of an institution she had heretofore claimed to hate, but her easy justification of it by stating that it's not so bad.

It was Bree who first discovered the comfort of having slaves, though she like her mother, apparently believes that slavery is wrong.  Bree, being from 1968 might lead one to believe that she would have a more enlightened point of view because Bree would have lived through, or at least had occasion to witness via media:
  • Non violent civil disobedience in the form of sit-ins and boycotts (Montgomery Bus Boycott, Greensboro sit-ins, Selma to Montgomery marches )
  • 1964 Civil Rights Act
  • 1965 Voting Rights Act
  • The Rise of the Black Power Movement
  • Mississippi Freedom Summer
  • Freedom Rides
  • March on Washington
The list of things that both Bree and Claire would have witnessed is immense and still yet, when it comes to Black people, though they have interacted and even claimed some as friends, at least in this per-Revolutionary period, they both espouse some extremely harmful rhetoric .
 I wasn’t sure it was a matter for democratic process, but I was inclined to agree with her.

 “Here’s another thought,” she said, looking round. “What if it’s this little black man who’s responsible for some of the half-eaten people? Aren’t some of the African slaves cannibals?”

Peter Bewlie’s eyes popped at that; so did the Beardsleys’. Kezzie cast an uneasy look over his shoulder and edged closer to Josiah.

Jamie appeared amused at this suggestion, though. “Well, I suppose ye might get the odd cannibal here and there in Africa,” he agreed. “Though I canna say I’ve heard of one amongst the slaves. I shouldna think they’d be verra desirable as house-servants, aye? Ye'd be afraid to turn your back, for fear of being bitten in the backside."(pg 956 -957)

How is it that Jamie, I repeat, Jamie, is the voice of reason and not these two women who have seen first hand the results of White supremacy on African-Americans?

The Fiery Cross is the first novel in this series not to include some kind of gratuitous rape, but it does have slut shaming.  Wylie gets the impression that Claire is flirting with him, so he contrives to make a pass at her.  Wylie ignores Claire when she kicks him but finally does stop when she makes it verbally clear that she is not interested in an affair.  Wylie justifies his actions by claiming that Claire was flirting with him, a fact which she steadfastly denies.  When Jamie learns that Claire has been on the receiving end of unwanted attention, does he become sympathetic,or concerned that his wife might be hurt?  None of these things. 

Oh, aye? Ye asked him to let ye try his bawbee on for luck, then?” He waggled the finger with the black patch under my nose, and I slapped it away, recalling a moment too late that “make love to” merely meant to engage in amorous flirtation, rather than fornication.

“I mean,” I said, through clenched teeth, “that he kissed me. Probably for a joke. I’m old enough to be his mother, for God’s sake!”

 “More like his grandmother,” Jamie said brutally.

“Kissed ye, forbye—why in hell did ye encourage him, Sassenach?”

 My mouth dropped open in outrage—insulted as much at being called Phillip Wylie’s grandmother as at the accusation of having encouraged him.

 “Encourage him? Why, you bloody idiot! You know perfectly well I didn’t encourage him!”

“Your own daughter saw ye go in there with him! Have ye no shame? With all else there is to deal with here, am I to be forced to call the man out, as well?” (page 611)
If Wylie came on to Claire, it absolutely had to be her fault because heaven's knows, no man ever got the wrong impression and thought that his advances were warranted; it's always the woman who is responsible for the man's behaviour.  Even after explicitly being told that Wylie acted in a way that Claire did not desire, Himself (read: Jamie), is still only concerned about his reputation and not whether or not Claire feels violated.
“Why, indeed? Perhaps because everyone saw ye flirt with him on the lawn? Because they saw him follow ye about like a dog after a bitch in heat?” He must have seen my expression alter dangerously at that, for he coughed briefly and hurried on.

 “More than one person’s seen fit to mention it to me. D’ye think I like bein’ made a public laughingstock, Sassenach?”

 “You—you—” Fury choked me. I wanted to hit him, but I could see interested heads turning toward us. “‘Bitch in heat’? How dare you say such a thing to me, you bloody bastard?”

He had the decency to look slightly abashed at that, though he was still glowering.

“Aye, well. I shouldna have said it quite that way. I didna mean—but ye did go off with him, Sassenach. As though I hadna enough to contend with, my own wife . . . and if ye’d gone to see my aunt, as I asked ye, then it wouldna have happened in the first place. Now see what ye’ve done!” (page 611-612)
Isn't he a winner folks? Claire must be as pure as Caesar's wife, lest it reflect badly on Himself.  Wylie doesn't have to worry about what other people think, though he is the one forcing himself on a woman. More importantly, this scene is written by Gabaldon as something Claire brought on herself for not following Jamie's orders to the letter.  It's telling that each time Claire does something not explicitly approved of by the great Scot, something negative happens.

With the death of the two antagonists and John Grey missing from this book, except for  written communication, The Fiery Cross is blessedly free of GLBT characters.  Normally, this is something I would frown upon but given the homophobia in Gabaldon's previous attempts of inclusion, it is a relief to say the least.  It's worth noting that though we don't have any gay characters in this novel, Gabaldon still has time to throw in a anti-gay slur.

When there is some question about Duncan's inability to achieve an erection, Jamie assure Claire that he wouldn't let his aunt marry a "sodomite." (pg 579) On page 628, Jamie refers to Forbes as a "sodomite."   When Claire comes across a love letter from Forbes to Valencia, Claire realises, "Jamie's casually insulting references to Forbes as a sodomite were likely inaccurate." ( page 857) Claire isn't disturbed that Jamie is using a homophobic slur, only that the term does not accurately describe Frobes's sexuality.  Even if we accept the justification that Jamie is a man of his times, what is Claire's excuse?  Given that Jamie claims to esteem John Grey, who is himself a gay man, one would think that he at least should know better than to use anti-gay slurs.

In terms of marginalized characters, the only shining star is the highly capable Jacosta.  She has lost three husbands and several children and yet she continues on with the running of her property, outsmarting the men who come for her hand in marriage.  Claire however believes that though Jacosta is a Mackenzie, she cannot be as wily as Dougal or Collum.  I am happy to state that at the end of the novel, we learn such is not the case.  Jacosta is not only brave but cunning and is more than able to keep her own counsel.   Jacosta does not let  blindness stop her from anything and though she is at times sad about her lost sight, those who interact with her, often forget her blindness because of how extremely capable she is.  I know that in many ways, Jacosta amounts to a super crip character but given that there is so little good representation of marginalized characters, Jacosta is a breathe of fresh air.

Well, five down and three to go.  While The Fiery Cross doesn't have nearly as many faults as the previous books in this series, it is far a joy to read.  It is absolutely long winded.  I don't think we needed the continual tortuous description of the sun hitting Jamie's hair, the way people smelled, or the way Claire smiled.  Enough already.  It's almost as though Gabaldon packed in such trivial nonsense because she had no real plot for this story.  It's overly padded and I cannot help but think that The Fiery Cross missed getting a good hard edit.  Sometimes, and definitely in the case of this novel, less is more.