As I continued my quest in all things Outlander, I decided to pick up the next book in the Lord John Grey mysteries, The Custom of the Army. This book takes place right before the events in The Scottish Prisoner, and follows John as he journeys to the New World to aid a friend in need. Lord John is an honorable man in the main series who silently lusts after Jamie Fraser, but in his own series he’s a lot more fun. Though he still is an honorable nobleman, he tends to be a bit reckless and often finds himself in compromising situations. Thanks to this aspect of his nature, John’s journey abroad is basically due to him fleeing an embarrassing social situation. When John arrives, he continues to find himself in the middle of embarrassing situations that could prove difficult for him and his family if the secrets were to ever get out. In the synopsis according to Goodreads:
London, 1759. After a high society electric-eel party leads to a duel that ends badly, Lord John Grey feels the need to lie low for a while. Conveniently, before starting his new commission in His Majesty’s army, Lord John receives an urgent summons. An old friend from the military, Charlie Carruthers, is facing court-martial in Canada, and has called upon Lord John to serve as his character witness. Grey voyages to the New World—a land rife with savages (many of them on his own side) and cleft by war—where he soon finds that he must defend not only his friend’s life but his own.
What I liked about this novella is seeing John outside of his social circle at home in England and having to navigate the wilds of the Americas. The events in this novel continue to have an effect on John in the next novel, The Scottish Prisoner, and connect to the eighth Outlander novel, Echo in the Bone. John’s “uptight” demeanor has to do with his station as a member of the nobility, his military career, and his life as an 18th century homosexual male. This novella points out how apart John often feels living in the midst of soldiers who often find comfort outside of their wives’ beds out on campaign, while John seeking comfort if found out could resort in his court marshaling, imprisonment, and/or possible execution. The mystery that Charlie Carruthers poses to John at the heart of the story continues in the next John Grey novel. In fact, if I’m being honest, this book could almost be skipped as it’s mostly filler. The only real value is that reading it will help you understand what John is going through when The Scottish Prisoner begins. That, and the fact John is still chasing the villain from this novella in that novel. Bottom line: You don’t have to read this book to enjoy the next, but it’s worth it if you do.
What I didn’t like about this novella is essentially the same thing I don’t like about most of Gabaldon’s John Grey novels, the abrupt ending. It’s obvious she doesn’t know how to write short pieces, which the author admits herself, and it shows. Most of her shorter books go on really well, but then just end awkwardly. I find this is more acceptable in this novel as many of the events continue to plague John in the next book, giving this novel the feeling of being almost a chapter in that novel.
Previously I had stated that it wasn’t necessary to read the John Grey books to enjoy the Outlander series, but now that I have read Echo in the Bone, I’ve changed my mind. As stated above, I believe this one could be skipped as the events are mentioned in book 3, but now that John has been elevated to a major character in the main series, I feel these novels will be integral to understanding the Outlander novels from book 7 onward.
This is my seventeenth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge