Friday, June 6, 2008

Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon

Book Description:
Diana Gabaldon, the New York Times bestselling author of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade and the wildly popular Outlander novels, delivers three tales of war, intrigue, and espionage that feature one of her most popular characters: Lord John Grey. In the heart of the eighteenth century, here are haunted soldiers . . . lusty princesses . . . ghostly apparitions . . . dark family secrets. And here Lord John will face enemies who come in the guise of friends, memories in the shape of a fiery-haired Scot named James Fraser, and allies who have the power to destroy him with a single blow. . . .

In Lord John and the Hellfire Club, Lord John glimpses a stranger in the doorway of a gentlemen's club - and is stirred by a desperate entreaty to meet in private. The rendezvous forestalled by a sudden murder, Lord John will wade into a maze of political treachery and a dangerous, debauched underground society. . . . In Lord John and the Succubus, English soldiers fighting in Prussia are rattled by the nocturnal visitations of a deadly woman who sucks life and soul from a man. Called to investigate the night-hag, Lord John finds a murdered soldier and a treacherous Gypsy, and comes to the stark realization that among the spirits that haunt men, none frighten more than the specters conjured by the heart. . . . In Lord John and the Haunted Soldier, Lord John is thrust into the deadly case of an exploding battlefield cannon. Wounded in the same battle, Lord John is called to tesify and soon confronts his own ghost - and the shattering prospect that a traitor is among the ranks of His Majesty's armed forces.

Capturing the lonely, tormented, and courageous career of a man who fights for his crown, his honor, and his own secrets, Diana Gabaldon delivers breathtaking human drama. And in tales seething with desire, madness, and political intrigue, Gabaldon once again proves that she can bring history to life in a way few novelists ever have.

One of the problems with Diana Gabaldon's Lord John books is that they have weak endings. I hate to say it, since she is my favorite living author, but her mysteries just don't end well, they kind of fall flat and are anti-climatic.

I think one of her problems is that her writing style does not suit well with a short mystery novella. Let's face it, her Outlander books are lengthy tomes. She excels in writing long, wordy descriptions. It's one of the joys of her books, they're rich in explanation, full of nature, actions and reactions, thought processes and descriptions. But, as I was reading the three stories in this collection, this type of writing style of hers bogged the stories down so terribly that I could not concentrate and focus on what was actually happening in them. I was sidetracked all the time by the descriptions constantly going off on a tangent or by Lord John's inner musings. This is fine in a large book that you can sink your teeth into, but here it just doesn't work. By the time the mystery was solved, I couldn't care less about it, and usually I found it all to be uninspired.

The actual solving of the mystery seemed to be secondary, Lord John was her primary concern. I like Lord John, I find his homosexuality intriguing, I worry for him getting found out. I admire him for being an honorable gentleman. But I felt like I had wasted my time in reading this book. How dull.

I had already read Lord John and the Hellfire Club a few years ago, since it was tacked on to the end of my copy of Lord John and a Private Matter. It's very short and forgetable. In fact re-reading it was like reading it again for the first time, I barely remember anything about it, and I only read it about 2 or 3 years ago - I can't remember! We're in Lord John's head in these books, which isn't bad, but even though I like him as a character - he's secondary to me in the Outlander books. I just don't think he has the charisma to carry off a mystery series of his own and keep me interested. Let's face it, I'm only reading these books for any further insight in his relationship with Jamie Fraser. The brightest moments in Hellfire were the ones in which Jamie is referenced. I know I sound like a selfish fangirl who only cares about a certain tall red-haired Scot, but it's true! The page sparkles when Jamie is on it, the rest is filler. I hate to be so harsh, but it's how I feel. I rate Hellfire a 3/5.

The 2nd story in the book is a little longer, but not very interesting, scary or exciting. The premise sounded good, Lord John and the Succubus centers on Lord John on duty in Germany allied with the Prussians to fight the French and Austrian armies. Some sort of she-demon is scaring all the soldiers so they can't sleep at night and are dead on their feet, worried they will be the next dead soldier found with his britches down or with two bloody holes in his neck, lying in a pool of blood. Granted, I'm interested in this German officer, Stephan, that Lord John kind of has a thing for. (He's also in Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade which comes after this story chronologically.) John is not sure if Stephan is coming on to him or not. I found that more interesting than the scary succubus flying around. I won't go into the story in detail or spoil the outcome, but the ending was just so-so. I couldn't help thinking big deal, there's a war on - no surprise or great revelations, I'd already pretty much figured things out by the end. This I rate a 3/5 as well.

Lord John and the Haunted Soldier is the final novella and the best of them, but still I felt like I was grasping in the fog to understand what the mystery was. Lord John is back from being injured in a battle in Germany. He faces a formal inquiry in regard to this cannon that exploded and the death of a soldier, Philip Lister. Lord John winds up trying to find out what happened to the pregnant bride to be of Lister, while imagining he's seeing Lister's ghost, as well as another 17th century ghost outside the Arsenal. I found the whole plot somewhat convoluted and I found it difficult to keep track of who was who and why they mattered. The best parts were his therapeutic letters written to Jamie Fraser (which he never mails) and his trusty valet, Tom. Again, another anti-climatic ending in which we find out what's behind the exploding cannon. As far as the missing girl, well, that's a little more involved and farfetched, wrapping up in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. I give this one a 3.5/5.

Overall, this book of the three novellas is the weakest of all the Lord John books to date, the best being, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade. I think this book is probably a requirement for any Gabaldon die hard fan, but I can't say I liked this one, I couldn't wait to get it over with and felt it was more of a chore to get through than enjoy.

Overall rating: 3/5

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