Loved it. After such a long wait, "Bees" arrived on my kindle. With a trans-Atlantic flight ahead of me, I waited to start until I was on the plane. I've never had a flight pass so quickly as that one did. Of course, I came nowhere near finishing the book, and in a great test of willpower, spread the reading over the next week. This allowed me to savor what I'd read before moving on to the following chapters. The book never disappointed me, though I admit to a few bouts of frustration while reading. One of the biggest things I noticed about this book is that it doesn't move from one crisis to another as many earlier books did. It is more character-driven, with time spent watching those characters grow, change, adjust, and generally deal with day-to-day life and life-changing situations.
The story picks up where the previous book left off, with the return of the MacKenzies to Fraser's Ridge. Claire and Jamie's happiness is evident, but so is their concern over what the future holds. Though Jamie resigned his commission in the Continental Army after Claire's injury in MOBY, they know that the war will eventually spread to their area. Jamie already sees the writing on the wall, as residents of the Ridge are split between Rebels and Loyalists. One particular resident, Captain Cunningham, will prove to be especially troublesome. It falls to Jamie to ensure the protection of his people, and he forms a militia company to do so. I loved the descriptions of his efforts to train them, including a hilarious riding lesson.
I've seen complaints from other readers that the relationship between Jamie and Claire is lacking in this book. I'm afraid I have to disagree. It is perhaps a little quieter but no less intense. Claire knows him well enough to understand when she needs to worry about him and when she can write his actions off as business as usual. At the same time, Jamie knows when to stay out of the way of Claire's medical work and when he can offer a bit of guidance. Jamie certainly knows that leaving her behind when he goes to fight is not an option. Both are haunted by the ghost of Frank Randall, thanks to his book that Brianna brought with her from the future. Knowledge of the upcoming battle at King's Mountain hangs over their heads.
Other happenings involving friends and family:
With the return of the MacKenzies, Brianna, Roger, Jem, and Mandy must readjust to life in the 18th century. Roger found his calling with the ministry and finally pursued his ordination as a Presbyterian minister. Religious life on the Ridge is as much entertainment as spiritual, and nearly everyone attends all services, including the Quaker meeting led by Ian's wife. Some of those scenes are pretty funny and go a long way toward encouraging tolerance of others' views. Brianna continues her work as an engineer helping her father and as an artist. Thanks to Lord John, she receives a commission to do a portrait in Savannah. I enjoyed the descriptions of her subject and the challenges she faced. It also put Brianna in the right place for an unexpected and frankly somewhat creepy portrait request. The descriptions of that event were so vivid that I felt as though I was there.
While in Savannah, Brianna had the opportunity to spend time with her half-brother, William. I liked his protectiveness toward his sister and his support during that weird portrait session. Brianna is aware of the strain between William and Jamie and uses the time to talk about Jamie. I laughed out loud when she told William about that particular sound he makes ("mmphm").
William matures a fair amount in this book. While he still hasn't quite come to terms with the truth about his parentage, he is getting closer. He is still just as determined to renounce his title and corrects anyone who refers to him by it. Since resigning from the British army, he's been at loose ends, so he takes on the investigation into his cousin Ben's reported death. This includes dealing with Ben's widow, Amaranthus. I freely admit that I do not like her or her hold on William. The shocking information he discovers about Ben could destroy the family, and her part in it made me dislike her even more.
I liked William's friendship with John Cinnamon, the half-Indian, half-white man he met while visiting the family's Virginia property. John was an interesting character, and his connection to Lord John made for some tense moments until the whole story came out. I loved Brianna's part in John's story and its effect on him.
During Roger and Brianna's trip to Savannah, they stopped briefly in Charles Town, South Carolina. The visit served a dual purpose. First, they returned Germaine to his parents, Fergus and Marsali. He lived on the Ridge while they all recovered from Henri-Christian's death. Fergus and Marsali run a successful printing business, working solidly on the side of the Americans. Fergus's connections make him the perfect person to help Roger and Bree acquire rifles for Jamie's militia. The descriptions of everything involved in this undertaking were, at times, scary and hilarious. There were some intense moments when Loyalists made their unhappiness with Fergus and his views plain. The danger motivates Fergus and family to relocate. Fergus also has another encounter with someone claiming to know the truth of his birth.
Other residents of the Ridge also have their challenges. Frances (Fanny), the girl William rescued in the previous book, lives with Jamie and Claire. It takes a long time for her to believe that she is safe with them and doesn't have to worry about her future. Her grief for her sister profoundly affects her life, and I ached for everything she experienced in her short life. She is an interesting mixture of innocence and experience, and some of the things she says are both funny and heartbreaking. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for her.
Life in the backwoods can be hazardous, and tragedy can strike without warning. The gruesome death of a young woman brought that danger home in a memorable scene. I ached for Bobby over the loss of his wife. In another scene, attending a difficult birth brings Claire closer to the manifestation of her full healing powers. It also brings another girl to the attention and guardianship of the Frasers.
Young Ian and Rachel have settled on the Ridge, along with Ian's mother, Jenny. Their love was as surprising as it was intense, and I enjoyed seeing their continuing adjustments to life together as Mohawk and Quaker. When Ian receives word that his first wife is now a widow and could be in danger, nothing will stop him from checking up on her. I loved that Rachel insisted on going with him, along with their baby and Jenny. I wasn't sure how that encounter would go, and I admit to being pleasantly surprised. The scene between Emily and Rachel was incredibly emotional, and I loved every moment of it. There was an interesting twist involving Jenny, and I look forward to seeing where it goes.
I also enjoyed seeing some minor characters from previous books make appearances. The Quaker woman and her daughters who helped Jamie in the last book are on his mind when Ian heads north. When Jamie asks Ian to check on her during his trip, Ian is shocked by what he finds. I loved his honor-fueled protectiveness and the actions it led to. It did somewhat complicate his life and journey. An unexpected twist ended with Mrs. Hardiman and her daughters traveling back to the Ridge. Ulysses (from River Run) was a less welcome visitor in a British uniform and bearing ill intentions toward Jamie.
Lord John and his brother Hal, Duke of Pardloe, have several appearances in this book. Hal's seniority in the army put him at the center of the action. His views on the war don't necessarily match those of his compatriots. I liked his devotion to his family and ached over the effect of Ben's actions on him. John's relationship with William continues to be strained over the revelations of his parenthood. The same goes for his friendship with Jamie, thanks to John's brief marriage to Claire. Strained or not, John is there for William when he's needed, and there is never a doubt about how much he cares for William. John's past comes back to bite him when he's kidnapped in an attempt to influence Hal's plans for a trip to England.
Double agent (but for whom?) Richardson makes another appearance. This time he has an agenda of his own that he will do anything to advance. William is especially disturbed by Richardson's statement that he knows Brianna and the hint of an underlying threat. A rough sketch done by William and shown to Brianna makes the unthinkable not only possible but terrifyingly real.
The book ended in a cliffhanger with Lord John still a captive and William searching for help to save him. I hope that the next book doesn't take as long as this one did. I need to know what happens!