It seems I start every year embarking on a longish series. Some of the series books go on to becoming obsessions (A Song of Ice and Fire), some fizzle out after a couple of books (House of Night). This year just may be the year of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.
In 1945, Claire is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon in Scotland. Innocently, she walks through a stone circle in the Highlands, and finds herself in a violent skirmish taking place in 1743. Suddenly she is a Sassenach, an outlander, in a country torn by war and by clan feuds.
A wartime nurse, Claire can deal with the bloody wounds that face her. But it is harder to deal with the knowledge that she is in Jacobite Scotland and the carnage of Culloden is looming. Marooned amid the passion and violence, the superstition, the shifting allegiances and the fervent loyalties, Claire is in danger from Jacobites and Redcoats – and from the shock of her own desire for James Fraser, a gallant and courageous young Scots warrior. Jamie shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire, and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
~ Synopsis from back of the book
I have mixed opinions about this book. It’s natural I suppose. This is one huge door-stopper of a book (850 pages of small print), and I loved some parts of it, but was also bored by other parts.
It’s a ripping good yarn. I unconditionally love the first 600 pages of it. The story begins with Claire Randall enjoying a second honeymoon with her husband after World War 2. While investigating a kind of mini-Stonehenge, Claire is whisked off into the past nearly 200 years ago, just before the events leading up to the battle of Culloden field.
I am not very familiar with the Jacobite movement or this period in English/Scottish history, and I really appreciate how nicely events are explained in this book. Even without knowing much of the background politics, I could follow along and understand what was going on. Another huge plus is incredible amount of research that has gone into making this book so realistic and seemingly true to the times.
What this means is that there is a lot of Scottish English (phrases like wee bairn meaning small child) and Gaelic lingo mixed into the book, and at first it was a little disconcerting, but as the book progressed, I settled down and immersed myself into Claire and Jaime’s world.
And what an exciting world it is. There is always something going on, and I love how the romance between Jaime and Claire is developed within the context of the Jacobite movement, the Scottish resentment with the English, a mysterious witch, upcoming arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie to Scotland, and the feuding and distrust between the different Scottish clans.
What I don’t like about the book
I never really felt I understood Claire. There was so much explanation, so much back story from Jaime, so much building up of his character, and all that is done very well. Jaime is adorable. But Claire? At the end of the book, I just don’t get what makes her tick. Which is especially weird considering the story is written from her viewpoint.
There is this incredible trauma that happens to her (moving back 200 years in time is not easy I imagine), and this lady just settles in like a duck to water. I was really expecting a little more fight back, a little more frustration – a more realistic emotion, dammit, than just falling in love with Jaime and making a new life with him, forgetting 27 years of modern memories. Apart from giving Frank a couple of fleeting thoughts, she doesn’t miss anything much from her old life. The practical part of me was thinking what about her parents? siblings? Didn’t she care at all that people were probably worrying about her? This aspect weakened her likability factor quite a bit.
The strongest parts of the book – life in the castle, the politics, and another possible time traveler like Claire all get wrapped up before the last 200 odd pages in the book. The rest of the book focuses on the more personal aspects of the Jaime and Claire story, which to me was unfortunate.
Once they leave the castle life and go to Jaime’s home, the book starts to drag, the domestic sections don’t have any conflict whatsoever. And then comes the final recapture of Jaime and his rescue, and I don’t have anything to say about it. What should have been a taut and thrilling read is a drag. The last 100 pages just focus on Jaime recovering in a monastery, which just went on and on until I was pretty close to fed up. These sections could easily have been chip-chopped at the editor’s desk without losing anything important.
Watch out for the Violence, Sex, and Misogyny
I am reading historical fiction, right? Plus, I am coming to this book just after reading A Song of Ice and Fire, which generally requires a pretty thick skin. But, to me Outlander was much more difficult. There were just too many descriptions of torture, and one horrifying man-on-man rape told in excruciating detail. This is not a book for the faint-hearted. There are also a couple of very distasteful scenes (in my opinion), that really aren’t necessary to the book at all.
Best Part of the Story
Jamie Fraser, hands down. Gabaldon has really created a strong but sweet romantic hero. Unlike standard alpha male romantic heroes, Jamie actually relies on Claire and lets her take a lot of decisions. Towards the end of the book, you can see that the earlier romantic relationship has solidified into something much stronger and deeper.
Phew! This is probably the longest book review I have written.
Overall, I like this book and highly recommend it. This works as a good standalone story, but I will probably continue at least through the next couple of books in the series to see how events finally play out in Scotland and how Claire and Jaime are able to manipulate events to work out a better ending. Have you attempted this series? How far did you go? I don’t quite see myself going the distance here but the next book may change my mind.
The rest of the books in the series are:
- Dragonfly in Amber
- Drums of Autumn
- The Fiery Cross
- A Breath of Snow and Ashes
- An Echo in the Bone
- Written in My Own Heart’s Blood