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"The Fiery Cross"

Author: Diana Gabaldon

Publisher: Delacorte

At 979 pages, Diana Gabaldon's "The Fiery Cross" doesn't look like the fifth of a best-selling series of time-travel romances.

Her sprawling sagas are really historical novels with enormous heart. Together, they make up a vivid, incredibly detailed portrait of the late 18th century.

Gabaldon, who has a doctorate in ecology, is as much historian as romance writer. There's a textbook here just on herbs.

Claire, the time-traveling World War II nurse, and Jamie Fraser, her Highland hero, are grandparents now. After wild adventures in England, Scotland, France and the Indies, they've settled on a mountain in North Carolina.

Claire is the local healer, and Jamie is revered even among the local Indians for his bear-hunting prowess.

It's another kind of conflict they're facing now. It's 1771, and they are being drawn into the increasing unrest.

After years of futile resistance to the British in Scotland, including a long stretch in prison, Jamie's not going to miss the fight - especially since he knows that this time, his side will win.

Claire, though, can tell only who won the war, not how the Frasers fared in it. Ironically, she was never good at history; she's stockpiling tea because she can't remember when the Boston Tea Party will happen.

Not in this book, for sure. Gabaldon had to cut "The Fiery Cross" in half and save the Revolutionary War finale.

But, after the slow start, there's a rip-roaring second half. Murders to solve. The lost gold of Bonnie Prince Charlie to find. Pirates to stop. The secret of time travel to discover.

Copyright © 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.