The fifteenth book I’ve read for the 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge is Diana Gabaldon’s second Lord John Grey mystery, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade. This book takes place in 1758 during the Seven Years’ War. Jamie Fraser is still in Helwater with the Dunsany’s working as a stable hand and still unaware that his wife Claire Randall is alive and has bore him a daughter, Brianna back in the present.
In this novel, Grey prepares to fight in the war under his brother Hal’s command and is faced with a scandal his family long thought buried. Now that his mother is to marry Lord Stanley, the death of his father, the Duke of Pardloe, and the circumstances surrounding it are threatened to resurface when Hal receives a page of their late father’s missing diary. The Duke had been found dead in the wake of being accused of being a Jacobite agent causing the family’s honor and good name to be tarnished. Desperate to save his mother the disgrace of having the scandal once again becoming the talk of society, and to clear his father’s name, Grey turns to the only Jacobite he knows for help – Jamie Fraser.
Fraser can tell many secrets—and withhold many others. But war, a forbidden affair, and Fraser’s own secrets will complicate Lord John’s quest. Until James Fraser yields the missing piece of an astounding puzzle—and Lord John, caught between his courage and his conscience, must decide whether his family’s honor is worth his life.
As much as I enjoyed the previous Lord John mystery, I have to say this one was far superior. By bringing Jamie Fraser into the mix (however briefly), Diana Gabaldon was able to shed some light on John and Jamie’s relationship during this time. True, Gabaldon does cover it in her Outlander series, but like Claire, I’ve always felt there was more to them then what was written in the other series. Now I know. I previously believed Jamie knew of John’s feelings for him, but thought that for the most part they laid unspoken (not including Jamie’s offer in Voyager). I was wrong. John and Jamie’s relationship has always been tense due to John’s feelings and Jamie’s aberration of John’s lifestyle, yet somehow they’ve become life-long friends in spite of these things. The two men have a fight that threatens to tear them apart, but also manages to make some sense of some of their scenes that occur later in the Outlander novels. Not only do we get a bit more John/Jamie action, we also get to know John’s brother Hal a bit more and are introduced to John’s lover Percy Wainwright.
Hal, Lord Melton, has refused his father’s title not wanting to be associated with Jacobitism and suicide. He’s a tough man who works his brother like the rest of his troops, and loves his little brother immensely. Throughout the two books it’s been insinuated that Hal may know of John’s sexual tendencies, but the two men never discuss it. Like most of the people in John’s life who seem to know of John’s predilections, Hal always tends to leave a lot left unspoken when the topic of John’s love life surfaces. In this novel, the subject of sodomites come up often as the first lead John and Hal find during their investigation is being executed for being accused of performing the act. Reading about John interacting with people who love him and yet he doesn’t feel comfortable with being his self was very fascinating, especially in light of his new romance with Percy.
Despite how John and Percy’s romance ended, I find I actually like Percy. He managed to bring out a side of John not previously seen, and I wanted them to be able to be happy. So much of John’s life appears to be about sacrifice, and it was wonderful seeing him have something for himself. What was engrossing about their relationship, was how it underscored how fleeting happiness seemed to be during the 18th century. So much of people’s lives were dictated by social standing and societal mores and beliefs that many people seemed to make do. Marriages were arranged and lives were put on a course constructed by their families. In John’s life, he has the disadvantage to be gay at a time when people were executed for it. If he was discovered to be a homosexual male, his family would be thrust into a scandal, his career would be ruined, and he would either be imprisoned or executed. John is always narrowly escaping exposure, and when he was with Percy it was easy to forget the danger the two men were in for being together. Little things like lingering stares or being seen leaving a party together could easily throw suspicion on either of the men, and it made clear all the things heterosexual people take for granted. Aside from John’s personal relationships, this book focuses more on John’s career in the military than Lord John and the Private Matter, and readers are able to see how John hides his sexuality during his time on campaign.
“You cannot compel love,” he said finally, “nor summon it at will. Still less,” he added ruefully, “can you dismiss it.”
In the Outlander novels it’s been implied that John has had lovers, but in the first six books in the series I’ve read thus far, John only appears to have eyes for Jamie. While I find his unrequited love for a married (and very heterosexual) man interesting, I’ve always wondered what John was like with someone who did return his favor. This book shows that, and it’s through his relationship with Percy that we see a more carefree John. I really enjoyed their romance and how the handled the fact they were going to be step-brothers. Since I’ve read most of the main series, I knew that their romance was doomed, but I wasn’t aware of the circumstances. Since Percy makes an appearance in the 7th Outlander book, An Echo in the Bone, I’m glad I took a break to read the Lord John series. In fact, now that I’ve read two books in this series, I would recommend any new reader to the Outlander universe that they read the Outlander and Lord John novels simultaneously. It’s not necessary, but I think it would help put Grey in a different light from how he often appears in the books. This John is a likeable guy, and unfortunately only glimpsed during his scenes with Brianna Fraser.