Review of “Seven Stones to Stand or Fall” by Diana Gabaldon

Have you ever found a tv show on Netflix one day and just started watching until suddenly you realize you’ve just spent two weeks binging seven seasons?! That was me with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The first two books I read in print, which forced me to take my time as I was finding my way through several new careers and a new relationship, but then I discovered audio books and that was it for me. Over the next 6 months or so I devoured Diana’s series – commuting, in the background at work, during my workouts, in the shower on its highest volume. And you know what I realized? As much as you might enjoy a character or a story, you can get seriously burned out consuming media like that. In an age where everything seems to revolve around consumerism and electronic media, there is something to be said for unplugging – even just for a few minutes a day – and enjoying life at a slower pace, savoring rather than bingeing.

For me, that time was last Monday when I was finally off Annual Training for the Guard and picked up my pre-release copy of Diana’s latest book, Seven Stones to Stand or Fall. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a collection of novellas set in the Outlander universe that I had just about burned myself out on, but I was excited to trade in my audio books for the simple pleasure of a printed work and give it a chance. So I started where every good reader does: at the beginning.

Let me start by saying that this collection is over 500 PAGES LONG. That is a daunting task for anyone to tackle, let alone a young married professional such as myself, but I have enjoyed EVERY minute of it so far. I use the phrase ‘so far’ because – despite my best efforts – I am still only on page 132 (which, by the way, is still in the second of the seven novellas). Nonetheless, I wanted to share with my review of the collection so far, since I feel that what I have read is indicative of how the entire experience will be. I hope you will not hold that against me.

Diana starts this collection off with a sweet, humorous introduction that perfectly captures her unique voice (different than the voice she writes in when inhabiting her characters). She provides the premise for these novellas, many of which are pieces she had previously published as well as won awards for. What I found particularly helpful was the timeline she includes, placing her works in chronological order so that the reader can, at a glance, see exactly where the story they are currently reading falls within the larger scope of the Outlander universe. She does note than one does not need to have read any of her other works to understand and appreciate these stories, which I found encouraging since I haven’t read the Lord John Grey series yet. Based on my experience, I find her assertion to be true.

Before each novella, Diana includes a brief introduction to that piece, giving further insight into the inspiration and motivation behind each. As a writer, I enjoyed seeing this small window into the author’s world and appreciated that personal touch. Of the two novellas I have (mostly) read so far, one was a story about Lord John and the other was about the younger of Jamie’s stepdaughters, Joan, and his nephew Michael Murray. Lord John is a character any reader of the Outlander series knows well (and is probably excited to see in adult form in the upcoming third season). Despite being familiar with the character, she developed an interesting narrative that would both introduce him to a new reader while avoiding boring a long-time fan. In comparison, Joan and Michael are not characters that we have extensive experience with, and she is able to immediately invest you in the personal journeys both characters are taking. Having read the original series, the stories told here were (and are) still highly engaging, and yet I could see how someone who had no previous experience with the Outlander universe could pick up this collection and quickly have their appetite wetted for more.

Overall, I think this book is well worth the small investment (which in my opinion isn’t much compared to other hard cover books this size), whether you have read and re-read every bit of the Outlander work a hundred times or are brand new to it. Diana has brought a fresh voice to the series by allowing us insight into the lives of characters we have both seen a great deal, and have barely touched on. For me, it was particularly refreshing because I could still experience the beauty and magic of the Outlander world while essentially getting a “break” from the main characters and/or story line (though believe me, I am eagerly anticipating both the third season of the show and the ninth novel of the main series). I hope that you will also give this collection the opportunity to enchant your life and experience the magic that is Outlander from a different point of view. What better way to tide yourself over until that next fix of Jamie and Claire arrives?

By Johanna Field