Click here to read reviewer Carolynn Evans' take on Lord John and the Hand of Devils.
Given that I love the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, naturally I picked up the Lord John books as they came out. On one hand, I half-expected not to like them. Lord John isn't all that likeable a character in any of the Outlander books. He isn't as bad as some, but not great either. He's Claire's nemesis, and given that she is the primary character of the series, it sort of sets Lord John up to be disliked.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find that Lord John is actually a likeable character. He's funny in a dry sort of way. For example, about his half-brothers:
"Filial respect caused Grey to hesitate in passing ex post facto opinions on his mother's judgment, but after half an hour in the company of either Paul or Edgar, he could not escape lurking suspicion that a just Providence, seeing the DeVanes so well-endowed with physical beauty, had determined that there was no reason to spoil the work by adding intelligence to the mix."
This particular books is actually comprised of three novellas, two of which were previously published. In Lord John and the Hellfire Club, Lord John finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation. As with any book of Gabaldon's, this story is rife with intrigue. While I believe a person can read the story without benefit of having read any of the Outlander series, there are a number of references to it that aren't clear. Lord John himself is a man who is attracted sexually to men. I hesitate to use the word "gay" because it wasn't in use then, and certainly gay relationships such as we have today weren't possible then. Lord John was once a prison warden who fell in love with Jamie Fraser, who is Claire's husband. Jamie does not return his feelings but does have some personal respect for Lord John. That isn't clear in this first novella, so parts of it are nebulous at best.
Lord John and the Succubus was part of a fantasy anthology. While I found the story interesting and perfectly John Grey, I imagine the fantasy audience was disappointed since there was no succubus at all. While I am not an expert on life in the 18th century, I do find Gabaldon's tap-dancing around Lord John's sexuality tedious. I realize he couldn't exactly come right out and say that he was interested in any given man, but surely men of his proclivities found ways to have relationships and didn't simply have yearnings. In some ways, Gabaldon's Lord John books remind me a bit of early Harlequin romances.
The final novella, Lord John and the Haunted Soldier, is the only one of the stories original to this book. Lord John finds himself in the middle of another Interesting Situation (to quote the author) that involves his family, an incident in war, and a considerable amount of subterfuge. I was surprised by the ending, and that's always nice.
Gabaldon has a gift for research so that her books are very accurate and true to what we know of the times. Lord John and the Hand of Devils is no exception. It's written in a style similar to that of 18th-century writers, which is a departure from her Outlander series. If you are a fan of Gabaldon, you'll definitely want to read this. If you're a fan of historical fiction, this is an excellent example of the genre. Recommended.