One of the great peripheral characters in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is that of Lord John Grey. He is first introduced to the story when Jamie Fraser languishes in a Scottish prison following the Jacobite rebellion and became a recurring character. With this trilogy of novels, Gabaldon fills us in on Lord John’s background.
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade is the second novel in the Lord John series. It is set in 1758, during the Seven Years’ War. Lord John and his brother Hal are preparing to do battle when their mother announces she is remarrying. Their father died seventeen years earlier, of an apparent suicide with whispers of corruption. They are introduced to their new “stepbrother” Percy Wainwright with the request that they find a place for him in the company of soldiers going off to fight. While they are doing this, Lord John stumbles onto a mystery involving his late father and the possibility that he might have been the victim of a murder made to look like a suicide.
Time is of the essence as John investigates an incident he barely remembers as a child. It takes him back to Scotland, where he must talk to Jamie Fraser about his connections among the Jacobites. Jamie is working in the stables of the Dunsany family, and Lord John arrives shortly after the death of Geneva Dunsay. If you’ve read the Outlander series, you’ll know what that means. Fraser’s tone with Lord John is frosty, and it doesn’t seem as if he will come through for his friend.
Lord John has another danger. He’s a gay man living at a time when that was punishable by death, not to mention the added disgrace to the family. However, he has become quite taken with his new potential “stepbrother” and the feeling is very mutual.
I think I enjoyed Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade more than the previous novel, Lord John and the Private Matter. We have a strong protagonist here who happens to be gay. It doesn’t affect his ability to be a soldier or to move around in London society. At the same time, he has to be very cautious of being found out. He is an eligible bachelor that many women would vie for, although his brother is the one inheriting the title and who must provide an heir, so the pressure is off. John is never sure how much his family knows, and it’s not something he can open up to them about.
This isolation of sorts sets him up to let his guard down a bit when it comes to Percy. It’s a dangerous situation, especially when the three men will be going off to war together. Gabaldon has done a terrific job creating the world Lord John inhabits and crafting characters who have many dimensions to them. John’s family has been good at keeping secrets, and that’s something going against them all here. Everyone seems to be trying to protect the rest of the family from the repercussion of events that took place in the past, and none of them talk to each other openly. It’s one reason, though, that John is able to keep his sexuality a secret so well.
The attention to detail in the novel is very well done. I could imagine this era in Europe very well, even the battlefield scenes. There is a lot of action and suspense woven into an intricate story, but it all plays out quite well. I liked Lord John a lot in the Outlander books, and his having his own series of books to fill in his background works very well. The brief appearance of Jamie here is also a nice reward, especially considering I knew their lives would be intertwined around the late Geneva Dunsany.
I actually found that I liked Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade more than Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone, the last book in the Outlander series I read. It felt like a lot happened and nothing happened in that book. Here, with the setting in London, Scotland, and on the battlefield it felt like there was plenty to work with, rather than feeling that the characters were just being continued for the sake of continuing. Nearly everything that happened had a reason, even if that reason wasn’t apparent at the time.
If you’ve enjoyed the Outlander series either in book form or on Starz, I highly recommend reading this one as well.