What is the Lord John Grey series?
It’s a subset of the main OUTLANDER series, focused on Lord John Grey, an important minor character from the main series.
Some years ago, I was invited to write a short story for a British anthology: historical crime stories. “Well,” I said to the editor, “it would be an interesting technical challenge, to see whether I can write anything under 300,000 words. Sure, why not?”
Well, the obvious first question was—what or whom to write about? I didn’t want to use the main characters from the OUTLANDER series for this story, because—owing to the peculiar way I write—if I were to incorporate some significant event in this story (and it would need to be, to be a good story)—that would make the event a stumbling block in the growth of the next novel.
“But,” I said to myself, “there’s Lord John, isn’t there?” Lord John Grey is an important character in the OUTLANDER series, but he isn’t onstage all the time. And when he isn’t…well, plainly he’s off leading his life and having adventures elsewhere, and I could write about any of those adventures without causing complications for future novels. Beyond that obvious advantage, Lord John is a fascinating character. He’s what I call a “mushroom”—one of those unplanned people who pops up out of nowhere and walks off with any scene he’s in—and he talks to me easily (and wittily).
He’s also a gay man, in a time when to be homosexual was a capital offense, and Lord John has more than most to lose by discovery. He belongs to a noble family, he’s an officer in His Majesty’s Army, and loves both his family and his regiment; to have his private life discovered would damage—if not destroy—both. Consequently, he lives constantly with conflict, which makes him both deeply entertaining and easy to write about. So I wrote the short story—titled, “Lord John and the Hell-Fire Club”—for the British anthology.
Well, it was a good story; people liked it. But just as word was spreading into the US about it, the anthology went out of print (it was called PAST POISONS, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, for those bibliophiles who are curious). People kept asking me about the story, though, and I thought, “Well, I enjoyed writing it—maybe I should write two or three more short pieces about Lord John, just as time an inspiration allow…and when I have a handful, we could publish them as a book, and all the Lord John fans could get the stories easily.”
So I did that. I began writing the second Lord John story after returning from a book-tour, as a way of easing back into my writing routine, and continued working on it, picking away with one hand whilst picking up the threads of my novel with the other…and six months later, I’d just about finished it. Well, at this point, I left for another book-tour, in the UK, and stopped in New York on the way, to have lunch with my two literary agents.
I was telling them all about what I’d been doing, and casually mentioned that I’d nearly finished the second Lord John short story. “Oh?” said they. “How long’s this one?”
“Well, I knew you’d ask,” I said. “So I checked last night. It’s about 85,000 words; I need maybe another 5000 to wrap it up.”
The agents looked at each other, then looked at me, and with one voice said, “That’s the size normal books are!”
“I thought it was a short story,” I said.
“Well, it’s not,” they said—and proceeded to take it off and sell it all over the place. Publishers were thrilled. “It’s a Gabaldon book we weren’t expecting—and it’s short! Can she do that again?” they asked eagerly. To which my agents—being Very Good agents—replied, “Of course she can,” and emerged with a contract for three Lord John Grey novels.
Now, the Lord John books and novellas are in fact an integral part of the larger OUTLANDER series. However, they’re focused (not unreasonably) on the character of John Grey, and—Lord John not being a time-traveler—tend not to include time-travel as an element. They’re structured more or less as historical mystery, but do (like anything else I write) include the occasional supernatural bit or other off-the-wall elements. (Yes, they do have sex, though I don’t consider that really unusual, myself.) And they do reference events, characters (particularly Jamie Fraser) and situations from the OUTLANDER novels.
In terms of chronology, the Lord John books fall during the period covered in VOYAGER, while Jamie Fraser was a prisoner at Helwater. So if you’re wondering where to read the Lord John books in conjunction with the larger series—you can read them anytime after VOYAGER.
In terms of further chronology: As well as the three Lord John novels under contract, I’ve also written several novellas for various anthologies. Three novellas (two previously published and one written specifically for the volume) are included in a book titled LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS, while two further novellas have appeared or will shortly appear in anthologies. The original short story (“Hell-Fire Club”) preceded the first novel, and—just to be confusing—the novellas fall between the novels.
The books and novellas do stand alone, and can be read separately in any order. If you do want to read them in strict order, though, here it is:
- “Lord John and the Hellfire Club,” a short story. Originally published in PAST POISONS, ed. Maxim Jakubowski. Collected in LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS.
- LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER, a novel.
- “Lord John and the Succubus,” a novella, originally published in LEGENDS II: Short novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy, edited by Robert Silverberg. Collected in LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS.
- LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, a novel.
- “Lord John and the Haunted Soldier,” a novella. Published only in LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS.
- LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS, a book-length collection of three novellas: “Hell-Fire Club,” “Succubus,” and “Haunted Soldier.”
- “Lord John and the Custom of the Army,” a novella, originally published in WARRIORS (volume 1), edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.
- THE SCOTTISH PRISONER, a novel. Released on November 29, 2011.
- “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies,” which is also titled, “A Plague of Zombies,” a novella. Appeared in DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, released in October, 2011.
Below are excerpts from web pages for each of the Lord John novels and stories: