Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Dell Publishing
Genre(s): Historical fiction, romance, fantasy
Part of a Series: Yes
Why I Read It: I started to read Sara Donati's "Into the Wilderness" series and Donati had been compared to Gabaldon. A friend than praised Gabaldon's writing, so I thought I'd give her books a chance.
Synopsis: For six years, Claire Randall has been separated from her husband, Frank, due to the Second World War--he serving as a soldier, she as a nurse. They go to Scotland for a second honeymoon of sorts and for Frank to trace some of his family tree, particularly a British officer named Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall. One morning, Claire witnesses an ancient Celtic ritual and is drawn to a circle of stones. She enters them and exits in the year 1743, coming face to face with Black Jack. He is fighting a group of Scottish highlanders and Claire has landed right in the middle. Both sides suspect her of espionage but the Scots treat her with more courtesy than the British. To protect her, Claire marries one of them--a young man named Jamie Fraser. As she tries to get herself back to her time, she finds herself drawn into an adventure filled with dangers and romance.
Review: "Outlander" is a staple of the historical romance genre (even if Gabaldon herself tends to shy away from the "romance" label). And there's a good reason for it. It is well-written with good characters. So why didn't it get a higher rating from me? Let me explain:
Gabaldon has created good, interesting characters in the book. Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall are appealing as much on their own as they are together. Claire Beauchamp Randall (later Fraser) is given a plausible background to explain how she adapts to living in 18th century Scotland. Her skills as a nurse also help convince her Scottish rescuers to keep her around to help treat injured and sick people in the castle. It is also these skills which bring her into contact with Jamie, tending to one of his wounds. They keep interacting, which is why Claire is more receptive to marrying him later in the story. She is still not for the idea but she cannot tell them she is married in the future. But she goes through with it to gain their protection from Black Jack, who is less merciful than the Scots. I do like that Gabaldon allows people to be suspicious of Claire and not to accept her right away.
Jamie is an enigma. Which is probably why so many readers are drawn to him (especially the women.) He is also what I refer to as an “ideal husband” character. He is strong and honorable as well as intensely devoted to his wife. He will lay down his life to protect her if need be. Some women want this type of man, whether they admit it or not. But Jamie is not without his flaws, though some are due to cultural differences. He has a temper and it is still acceptable in this time to beat one’s wife. But he does show remorse for it and does appear to be a one time thing.
Jamie, though, is put through a lot by the author. So much so I refer to it as the Jamie Fraser Wringer when I see it in other books (you might see it on this site). We do not experience Jamie’s traumas as they happen—Gabaldon opts to have him tell it to Claire instead. But—and this is a credit to Ms. Gabaldon’s writing abilities—we still “see” them. And sometimes we wish we could “unsee” them due to how graphic they are. “Outlander” is not for the faint of heart or those looking for more lighthearted fare.
Let’s discuss Jamie and Claire’s romance. It is very well done, except for a few points. The reader is drawn into their love story and we root for them to be together. But here we come to one of my quibbles with the novel: The novel raises some questions of adultery which it doesn’t do enough to address in my opinion. Claire is technically married—but in the future. Is she then single in the past? She has a theological debate with a priest later in the story but my problem comes with Claire herself. For a woman with these concerns, she shows very little guilt. I would understand her guilt dissipating over time as her love for Jamie grew. But it only lasts as long as it takes her to consummate the marriage with Jamie—which she does when she realizes she has no choice because there are people waiting to witness it to attest to the validity of the Frasers’ marriage. After that, she only thinks about Frank a few times despite the fact she is still trying to return to 1945.
Part of my problem is Frank himself. He seems more of an afterthought than a real character. His relationship with Claire is not very fleshed out in the novel. They spend more time apart in Scotland than together and he comes off as accidentally inattentive. He has his own reasons for being there and in his enthusiasm, they take precedence over reconnecting with his wife. But there was also a hint of infidelity, most likely during the war, which sadly went nowhere. I would’ve liked to see Claire deal with it and maybe give a reason why she doesn’t feel as guilty as she should. Or perhaps to have her acknowledge her relationship with Frank wasn’t everything she thought it would be. I guess what my point boils down to is that I felt there was more to be explored between Claire and Frank and since it wasn’t, I found the tension arising from “Will Claire choose to go back?” did not go back to loyalty to her husband.
Her villain, Jack Randall, started out as one of my favorite villains. He was a larger than life presence who haunted the story and for the most part, didn’t disappoint when he appeared in person. His list of sins was long and the audience was ready to boo him. But he was still an enigma—Frank’s ancestor and a probable hero. I do have problems with the Wentworth prison scenes and not because of how graphic they are but because I feel the don’t add layers to Randall but tilt him into a category which gets more apparent as the series continues. (I won’t reveal it here because I believe it falls under “spoiler” territory).
Gabaldon has a great grasp of description, which I’ve already touched on. It painted pictures in the reader’s mind without having to rely on purple prose. She can also write very good action sequences, which can be hard to write well.
Sex: Yes and in most cases, I believe they were unnecessary. It is my opinion that if half the sex scenes were removed, the story would be tighter and unaffected. But if you like many sex scenes, you’ll like this book. I will warn you some of them may make some readers uncomfortable.
Other warnings include graphic violence.
What is your ideal leading man?