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In 12 days Diana Gabaldon’s new novel “The Scottish Prisoner” will be published in Europe and I can’t wait to read it. Why? Well, I admit, first and foremost because I will finally meet my favourite fictional character again: Jamie Fraser (from the Outlander series). This new novel was originally supposed to be titled “Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner” like most of the stories from the mystery series which feature Lord John Grey (also from the Outlander series) as main character. But obviously Jamie claimed his 50% of the story and was awarded with this stand-alone-title. Nicely done, Mr. Fraser!

My infatuation with everything Outlander-related aside, I think “The Scottish Prisoner” might be an enjoyable read even for those who don’t know anything about the whole Outlander saga so far. In fact I’m pretty sure it’s going to be worth reading for anyone who likes complex, interesting and likeable characters. Who likes reading tales of complicated, passionate relationships. Who likes the occassional awkward moment caused by a lot of unresolved tension. Who likes historical fiction. And who likes a writer who has the guts to start a novel with “It was so cold out, he thought his cock might break off in his hand” Getting interested? Well, you should be, allthough I think, there probably won’t be more sex than that in this novel :-).

Even though this new novel is part of the Outlander saga, I think it’s safe to say that it won’t be necessary to have read any or all of the seven Outlander novels or any of the Lord John stories to understand and enjoy this one. After all it’s not the next book of the series, but instead takes place much earlier in the Outlander canon.
From what I know of the plot and have read in excerpts like the #DailyLines, Diana Gabaldon (aka@Writer_DG) tweets regularily, the characters’ background and their relationship to each other will be explained as the story progesses. Like it’s supposed to be in any good novel anyway. But of course those who have read the Outlander series have the advantage of a more detailed knowledge of the background and especially will know how things between these two men will turn out in the long run.

“The Sottish Prisoner” is set in 1760, a time, which is only a tiny tiny part of “Voyager” (3rd Outlander novel), which in the first 250 (out of the overall 1059) pages gives account of what happened in the 20 years since Claire and Jamie seperated in 1746. Jamie’s life between January 1758 and September 1764 for instance is covered in only two pages. A few more moments are described in some of the Lord John stories, which are set between 1755 – 1764, but most of these six years still remain in the dark, which of course is a perfect opportunity for Diana Gabaldon to shed some light on it now. As the avid Jamie fan that I am, I can’t wait to read every single additional piece of information about this time in his life. Yes I’m that crazy about him. I admit it!

So, what is it about these two complex, interesting and likeable characters and their complicated, passionate relationship, that I think will make it worth reading even for a Outlander novice? An overview about the characters and their situation might explain it. So, let’s travel back in time to April 1760 and meet the two protagonists:

James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser

  • Scot
  • fought against the English during the Rising of 1745
  • paroled prisoner of war
  • groom at Lord Dunsany’s estate Helwater in the English Lake District, where he was sent after years in Ardsmuir prison in Scotland
  • educated, smart, loyal, brave, honourable and kind, in short: a genuinely good person
  • married to Claire, the love of his life, who is lost to him, because he had to send her back to the safety of the 20th century
  • father of a 13 year old child, he has never met and knows he’ll never meet, because this child will have been born in the 20th century
  • father of a two-year-old son, he can never claim as his own, because the boy – William – was born as son of Lady Geneva Dunsany and the Earl of Ellesmere, who both died on the day the baby was born
  • Catholic, which in the 18th century gives him a specific set of moral values and ideas, including the strict damnation of homosexuality
  • has been tortured, abused and raped by sadist english Captain Jack Randall in 1743

Lord John William Grey

  • English aristocrat
  • fought as young soldier against the Scottish during the rebellion of 1745
  • was govenor of Ardsmuir prison in Scottland in 1755/1756, but returned to his army life afterwards
  • experienced as a soldier and officer, but also as diplomat and sometimes spy
  • educated, smart, loyal, brave, honourable and kind, in short: a genuinely good person
  • unmarried
  • homosexual, which in the 18th century he had to keep secret, because exposure would have meant being executed for sodomy
  • truly, madly and deeply in love with Jamie Fraser

The last item on each list probably explains best why the relationship between these two men is a complicated and passionate one :-)

John Grey and Jamie Fraser did not get along well, when they met in Ardsmuir prison where Jamie acted as spokesperson for the Scottish inmates in 1755. This was to be expected considering the opposed positions they both found themselves in. Later on though these two men, who do have a lot in common, were on friendly terms with each other and actually both enjoyed their weekly meetings to discuss various matters of prison life. Until one day during their regular chess game John Grey couldn’t stop himself from acting on his budding feelings and

…his hand traveled the short distance through the air, looking as if it knew precisely what it wanted, and set itself on Fraser’s, palm tingling, curved fingers, gently imploring.
The hand under his was warm – so warm – but hard and motionless as marble. Nothing moved on the table but the shimmer of the flame in the heart of the sherry. He lifted his eyes then, to meet Fraser’s.
“Take your hand off me,” Fraser said very, very softly. “Or I will kill you.”
The hand under Grey’s did not move, nor did the face above, but he could feel the shiver of revulsion, a spasm of hatred and disgust, that rose from the men’s core, radiating through his flesh.
(“Voyager”, © 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

And in that instance, what had been an unlikely friendship was crushed and any friendly feelings Jamie might have had for the English officer vanished and were replaced by hate, disgust, contempt and anger. Which didn’t come as a surprise considering Jamie’s history of sexual abuse by another homosexual 20 years earlier.
When the rest of the prisoners were deported to indenture in the colonies in 1756, John made sure to save Jamie from this fate and arranged for him to be sent to work as groom in England, much to Jamie’s despair and anger.

Fraser cast him an angry glance.
“Defeat – aye, that’s honorable enough, if nothing to be sought. But I am not nearly defeated, not only imprisoned by right of conquest. I am exiled, and made slave to an English lord, force to do the will of my captors.
“And each day, I rise with the thought of my perished brothers, my men taken from my care and thrown to the mercies of sea and savages – and I lay myself down at night, knowing that I am preserved from death only by the accident that my body rouses your unholy lust.”
(“Brotherhood of the Blade”, © 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The real tragic of it all is: John isn’t just physically attracted to Jamie. His feelings run much deeper. And no matter how hard he tries to get Jamie out of his head (and heart) John’s feelings remain the same.

But surely the effect should lessen, should disappear entirely, when he actually saw the man? Fraser was a Scot, a Jacobite, a paroled prisoner, a groom – no one that he would normally take notice of, let alone regard especially.
And yet, every time, it was the same, the bloody same. How? Why?
He would ride up the winding drive at Helwater, and his pulse would already be beating in his ears. He would greet Dunsany and his family, talking cordially of this and that, accepting refreshment, admiring the women’s gowns, Lady Dunsany’s latest painting. All in an increasing agony of impatience, wanting – needing – to go out to the stables, to look, to see.
[…]
And yet his excitement quieted at once when he was actually in Fraser’s presence. A calm descended upon him, a strange content. Once he had looked into those eyes, been acknowledged by them – then he could return to the house, go about his business, make conversation with other people. It was as though he was anxious, lest the world have changed in his abscene, then reassured it had not; Jamie Fraser still stood at it’s center.
(“Brotherhood of the Blade”, © 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

*deep sigh* Seriously, I get a bit teary-eyed just writing about it, because
a) I am a bit in love with Jamie Fraser myself and I don’t think anything could ever make me fall out of love and
b) I really, really, really like John and I feel for him everytime his unrequited love for Jamie is mentioned throughout the course of the Outlander narrative.

The fact that Jamie continues to act angry and hostile towards him makes John even hate Jamie for a while (yes, even though he loves him). Just as much as John hates that he can’t get Jamie out of his head. And that’s exactly the frame of mind in which we will find these two men in 1760, the time of “The Scottish Prisoner”.

If you haven’t read the Outlander novels (yet), you probably still might have guessed: they do manage to get back to be on friendly terms like they have been before and actually become close friends already during the forementioned “Voyager”.
I’m not quite sure if “The Scottish Prisoner” will actually show how their relationship will turn around, but I really really hope it will. I hope to at least seem some gradual change and to see Jamie finally realize that John doesn’t want to do him any harm. That would be a good start I think.

Some might consider it weird to write (or read) a novel that gets back in time within a otherwise chronologically narrated plot like the Outlander saga. But I don’t think it’s weird at all. I understand why these 20 years were only one small part of “Voyager” and that the story had to continue in “real time” from 1766 on.
But I’ve always wanted to know more about Jamie’s life in these 20 years. And as I have loved the one scene with 6-year-old William, I’m very much looking forward to read a bit more about Jamie and the 2-year-old boy. I know from the #DailyLines that there will be a few scenes and I can’t wait.
And at the end of this post I can as well be honest: I take all the Jamie I can get. At any place and any time in his life. Besides: “The Scottish Prisoner” will help to pass the time until the next Outlander novel will be published in 2013. And I for one am determined to enjoy every single page of this new Gabaldon novel…

[If you still need some more incentive, this preview of first pages might do the trick :-)]

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