Monday, January 14, 2008

Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon

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, there 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...

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.
This is a collection of three short stories or more precisely I guess it is technically one short story, and two novellas. One of the things that I see quite often about Gabaldon is that she is extremely wordy, but with these novels she proves that she can write tight, shorter stories than we see in the Outlander books.

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...

At 23 pages, this is by far the shortest of the three stories in this book. It was actually written years ago, and I have had a copy of it for a good couple of years but I had never gotten around to reading it for whatever reason. When a man is killed in the vicinity of Lord John he feels compelled to try to find out more. leading him into a very shady and dangerous 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...

This is the story that I have read previously. In fact I bought the trade paperback of the Legends II anthology just for this novella and still, a couple of years later, I still haven't read anything else in the book! Luckily for me, there has been a significant enough gap in time so that I couldn't remember who did it, so while I did remember many of the events it was kind of new to me. I enjoyed it the first time, I read it, and I enjoyed it this time through to. As usual with Gabaldon, there are many layers and she even has time to do this in her short stories. In this there is the fear of the supernatural and the sometimes comical lengths that people will go to avoid the succubus of the title. We also see John in situations on the battlefield and also within the higher of echelons of society and how he has to sometimes walk a very thin line!

One of the more interesting aspects of this novella is the relationship between John and the Prussian major who John has been seconded to. Here we see a side of John's insecurity, or perhaps caution would be better, as to whom he can act on feelings of attraction to. I don't actually know how that would be, especially in an age when to be caught would mean death, but I think Gabaldon does a great job of portraying the carefulness required before making an approach, or even allowing an approach, to a possible partner.

In Lord John and the Haunted soldier, Lord John is thrust into the deadly case of an exploding battle field cannon. Wounded in the same battle, Lord John is called to testify and soon confronts his own ghosts - and the shattering prospect that a traitor is among the ranks of His Majesty's armed forces.

This is the new story, written just for this book, and the events follow on directly from the end of the Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, which I have read, but not yet reviewed.

Lord John is recovering from the wounds he received in battle when a cannon explodes killing several of the men operating it. Still having some pieces of shrapnel embedded in his body and suffering somewhat because of it, Lord John is called before a military tribunal where it soon becomes clear that he is to be the scapegoat in the inquiry to investigate the deaths.

Never one to allow himself to falsely blamed Lord John starts to investigate on his own to see what he can find out about the events leading up to the explosion, even though there appears to be a chance that his own older half brother may be implicated in treason. To further complicate matters, John is asked to try and track down the wife of one of the men who died...a young lady who does not seem to want to be found.

Despite the fact that these books are much shorter than the Outlander series, Gabaldon still manages to populate them with memorable secondary characters and quite a bit of historical detail from the time. There are, of course, references to Jamie from the original Outlander series, but they are references only. I think in the last book in particular we began to see the basis of the friendship between John and Jamie that readers of the later books in the Outlander will recognise - the honest exchange of views and news - even if at first John is not brave enough to actually send the initial letters off.

Of the secondary characters, I really love Tom Byrd, John's valet, and also Harry Quarry! Lord John is a man of impeccable honour, and could at time become something of a stuffed shirt, so the scenes with these two characters bring an earthiness and realness to his life and his friendships with them.

Just a note on the reading order. I have taken the book back to the library now so I can't check, but I believe the reading order of the Lord John stories is as below:

Lord John and the Hellfire Club
Lord John and the Private Matter
Lord John and the Succubus
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
Lord John and the Haunted Soldier

Once again, I sound like a total Gabaldon fan girl, but I truly can't help it!


  1. I've read 3/5 of the stories. She's an amazing writer. She just started a brand new blog- mostly about her graphic novel:

  2. I am interested to see how the graphic novel idea comes along. Looking at the picture of Claire, her hair isn't curly enough and I imagined her face to be fuller, but for the most part the depiction isn't too bad!

  3. I've just gotten into Outlander -- yes, I know I'm really, really late to join the fan club, but it is so nice to know how much more I have to enjoy! Will eventually get around to Lord John, but I must get through all of Outlander and its immediate successors.

  4. Good review and now I must get my hands on this book. I'm still re-reading Brotherhood of the Blade because I liked it so much the first go round and I don't want to say goodbye to LJ just yet. He's such an intriguing and multi-faceted man.

    jenclair, you definitely will have to read all of the lengthy Outlander tomes because once you get hooked you just can't stop! :) Enjoy!

    marg, I look forward to reading your review of Brotherhood of the Blade too (I assume a review will be forthcoming?)

  5. Eventually I am sure there will be! LOL!!

  6. Awesome review Marg! As you know, I am a new fan of Gabaldon. I have Brotherhood of the Blade and I think I will try that out for my first Lord John book.