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Seven Stones to Stand or Fall
by Diana Gabaldon
Delacorte Press, $30.00, 518 pp
Published: June 2017

To feed the need between the last epic novel “Written in My Own Heart’s Blood” and the next,  “Outlander” novelist Gabaldon has released a collection of seven novellas/short stories to keep us all going until “Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone” comes out…well, when she finishes it! This long period—without the TV show as well, is called “Droughtlander” by the series viewers and aptly applies to her readers, as well.

Five of the tales have been published in various anthologies; two pieces: “A Fugitive Green” and “Besieged” are brand new.

The first is “The Custom of the Army” which features Lord John Grey and the Battle of Quebec set in 1759. It opens with a wonderful description of Lord John attending an electric eel party in London and the consequences of that event. Who knew those were a thing? He ends up going to Canada and getting involved with his randy cousin and his offspring and presenting himself as a witness at a court-martial of good friend Charlie Carruthers. And—he gets to meet up and have a bit of a holiday with an Indian named Manoke. It is a delightful tale with the Battle of Quebec as the finishing touch. 

“The Space Between” deals with the mysterious Count St. Germain and what a surprise---time-travelling. The main characters besides the count are Michael Murray (Young Ian’s elder brother) and Joan MacKimmie (Marsali’s younger sister). Joan is leaving Scotland to go to Paris and be a nun because she hears voices that tell her things about people around her. She sometimes knows when a person is going to die. She figures a cloister is the safest place for her….no one will worry if she hears the voices there as they might be angels.

The Count St. Germain hears of Joan through a friend of Murray’s and tries to hunt her down as he is certain she is the daughter of La Dame Blanche (Claire—as she was known while she and Jamie were in Paris). And La Dame Blanche was certainly well-versed in arcane matters.  Joan just might be able to help the Count in his search to discover how it is that some can travel back and forth through time—as he seems to be able to do. This is one of the most out and out speculative fiction pieces Ms. Gabaldon has written and I really enjoyed it---and the conclusion.

The third is “A Plague of Zombies” which again deals with Lord John Grey. This story focuses on his brief stint as Governor of Jamaica…and his dealings with zombies. We get great info on how zombies were created—and why people thought they had risen from the dead and feasted on the living.

The fourth tale is the delightful “A Leaf in the Wind of All Hallows” about what really happened to Roger’s parents during the Blitz in London. It centers mostly on his dad as a pilot being trained for a secret mission to fly to Europe and get photographs of the German concentration camps which no one really knew about at the time (1941-43). This was a brief, bittersweet tale. And a lovely addition to the whole Outlander canon.

Number five is “Virgins,” a tale of Jamie Fraser who is nineteen and his friend Ian Murray who is twenty going to Paris to hire themselves out as mercenaries. And in the process they ponder the need to lose their virginity among the many choices of 1740’s France. They are hired out to take a young Jewish woman to meet up with her hitherto unseen bridegroom and fascinating shenanigans ensue. This story is the only one in the collection that focuses on Jamie.

 The sixth story is “A Fugitive Green” written for this assortment and deals with a used book dealer in France and his daughter Minnie who eventually marries Lord Hal, the Duke of Pardloe and Lord John Grey’s older brother. Minnie is a wonderful character. She’s only 17 at the start of the tale when she gets involved in discovering some very sensitive things concerning Hal and his previous wife. (Jamie Fraser makes a brief appearance).

The final piece, “Besieged” has us back again with Lord John Grey in the Caribbean. He’s done with being Governor in Jamaica, but before he can leave the area, he must rescue his mother the Dowager Duchess of Pardloe from Cuba along with assorted relatives before the British invade. Rodrigo, from the aforementioned “A Plague of Zombies” also makes a reappearance. A brief and entertaining tidbit.

Seriously, a wonderful book of bonbons to savor. What’s not to love? Perhaps, for the diehard fans, not enough Jamie (and or, Claire). But always a delight to be in the succinct and wonderful world of  “Outlander.”

Gabaldon also gives a timeline of all her published “Outlander” stories/novels, so the reader knows just when and where these stories occur. Very helpful. ~~ Sue Martin

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