Feature book: A Trail of Fire
This book is an anthology of four short stories from the Outlander universe (two of which have been previously published in multi-author anthologies and one which is just about to be so published). There are two Lord John Gray stories (The Custom of the Army and Lord John and the Plague of Zombies), as well as the story of Roger Mackenzie’s parents (A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows) and a short featuring Michael Murray and Joan MacKimmie (The Space Between). While there is an author’s note at the end saying that all of the short stories can be read as stand-alones, with respect, I’m not sure this is the case (with one exception). I have read all of the Outlander books except The Scottish Prisoner (it lingers on my TBR) and I think without that background, I would have been quite lost. As it was, because it has been so long since I have read the Outlander books and so very much happens in them, there were people and events I struggled to place (though that may say more about my memory than anything else!). I do think these stories are for fans of the series. I’m not sure they would hold any particular meaning without any of the background, but as ‘bulges’ (Ms Gabaldon’s description) they explore side trails not taken and maybe hinted at in the main books.
After reading an Echo in the Bone, I was even more curious about Roger Mac’s parents. A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows certainly provides more about their story but it was a fairly bittersweet one from a romantic sense and there is still much I would have liked to know about the pair.
The Lord John stories are mysteries with very little by way of romance (this is the ARRA blog so I feel romance should always get a mention) but they feel more complete for the most part and work better as stand-alone stories than the others do, in my opinion. The Custom of the Army was more the story of the taking of Quebec than anything to do with the court martial that brought Lord John to Canada in the first place and I thought that was a bit curious, but perhaps the matter will be further explored in another bulge or in one of the main books at some point.
The pick of the bunch in terms of story enjoyment was Lord John and The Plague of Zombies—Geilles Duncan makes a cameo (under a different name) but no real background to the series is required for this and the story wraps up fairly nicely. Also; zombies.
The Space Between has a hint of romance at the end between Joan and Michael—as Michael is recently widowed, it felt right that this wasn’t advanced much but I was pleased it wasn’t just in my imagination either. This is the one which most had me trying to place people and things in my mental ‘Outlander map’ and I must say, I’m not sure I did all that well at it.
I think fans of the series, particularly of the Lord John novels will enjoy this anthology but if you haven’t read any of the books I’d recommend you start with Outlander. (Sometime this year, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood will be released so maybe it’s time for all of us fans to re-read?)
reviewed by Kaetrin
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.