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WesternSFA


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

For those addicted to Gabaldon’s Outlander series, it is a treat to have her various short stories – that had been published in great huge anthologies – to be collected in one place.  So the book contains a total of seven stories, five of which have been previously published and two brand-new ones.

The first is “Custom of the Army” which places Lord John Grey in several uncomfortable positions – he is accused of murder and then sent to Quebec to defend someone he knows who is being court-martialed, he meets a very attractive and cooperative Indian, discovers an unpleasant truth about his niece’s husband…and gets to participate in the conquest of Quebec.

“The Space Between” is probably the single most supernatural of all her stories.  The Comte St. Germain and Raymond, the apothecary, meet again.  And neither of them is dead.  We discover quite a bit more about St. Germain’s origins and we learn that Joan, Jaime’s step-daughter, has a particular gift of being able to see that someone is close to dying.  This, of course, challenges her sanity and she decides a convent might be the safest place for her … until she spent some time with Michael Murray.  Yes, from that Murray family.

The third story is “A Plague of Zombies” wherein Lord John Grey is sent to Jamaica to investigate a potential slave rebellion.  But what he really finds is a more upclose and personal experience with zombies. What he learns of the true nature of zombies is a defining moment.  Geillis Duncan makes a cameo appearance…how could she not?

In the fourth story, “A Leaf On the Wind of All Hallows” we learn what really happened to Roger MacKenzie’s parents during WWII.  It’s a sad, poignant little story which doesn’t add much to the overall story arc but does bring a bit of closure to Roger’s story.  And it has a delightful little cross-over piece from “An Echo in the Bone”.

“Virgins” is a cute piece telling what became of Jamie directly after his escape from Fort William, prior to the events in “Outland”.  Sore in both body and mind, unable to return home, he joins his best friend, Ian Murray, and the two boys go into the mercenary business – nevermind that neither of them has ever killed a man yet.  The first mission they are given to go alone is to guard and deliver a young Jewess to her new husband.  It doesn’t go well and they lose both the Jewess and her dowry.  In attempting to recover both, they learn that appearance aren’t always reliable.  And while one of them can finally lay claim to killing his first man, the other is able to finally lose his virginity.  I’ll leave it to you to discover which is which.

Then we come to one of the new pieces:  “A Fugitive Green” which is set in 1744-45 and relates an early story of Lord John’s older brother, Hal, and how he came to meet his wife, Minnie.  Hal is still reeling from killing his first wife’s lover and then losing her in childbirth.  His fortunes are in question as he tries to resurrect his father's regiment.  His path intersects with a certain young seventeen-year-old woman who trades in rare books and a bit of blackmail and intelligence gathering on the side.  It’s my favorite in this collection and makes me wish Diana had used such a character as Minnie in a mystery series.

And the last is also a new story:  “Besieged” featuring Lord John Grey again.  This time he is trying to rescue his mother and his niece, Olivia, and her family from Cuba which is about to be besieged by the Royal Navy.  It should be pretty straightforward as the occupying Spanish don’t yet know the two countries are at war.  But nothing is simple including Olivia’s husband, Malcolm Stubbs (whom we met in “Custom of the Army”).  Lord John actually finds himself in the unexpected position of respecting Malcolm while in dismay over being drawn into his intrigues. John’s experiences in Jamaica are put to good use when he attempts to direct a slave rebellion in concert with the Royal Navy’s impending arrival.  This was not a happy story but illustrates rather clearly how strongly John’s sense of honor and duty drive him.  ~~ Catherine Book

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