Thursday, August 28, 2014
New Reviews: Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER series!
With all the interest in the new Outlander TV series (which, I must say, is quite wonderful and seems to be following the books closely), and my travel to Scotland in September, I thought it timely that I share my reviews of the books...well, at least as far as I have read (through book 5). So here they are!
OUTLANDER, book 1
I had known about the Outlander series by Gabaldon since I started reading Scottish historical romances, but I avoided this series because of the reviews that indicated the heroine was a married woman having a relationship with another man. But, once I began reading it, I quickly learned that is not what this story is about.
Claire Randall, a British Army nurse in WWII, was married for a week to her professor husband before the war. Upon being reunited at the war's end, they go on a second honeymoon to the Scottish Highlands where they were married. One afternoon she inadvertently falls through a crack in time at the standing stones and finds herself in 1743. There she meets Highlander Jamie Fraser and is required to marry him--and thus become a Scot--to save her life. And so she begins a new life, torn between two lives and two men.
We see 18th century Scotland through the eyes of a woman from the 20th century and that alone is worth the read. Often Gabaldon uses great humor in showing Claire's frustration with the 18th century way of life and the men of that time. Unique among romances, even Scottish historicals, it is told from the first person (that is, Claire is telling her own story).
The novel travels at a leisurely pace (850 pages allows the author to do that). I could have surmised the author is an ecologist (I also have a degree in ecology) since we are frequently watching the birds and the plants along the way (literally). But it is not slow so as to be boring. No, it is quite absorbing...a sweeping saga with a rich tapestry of characters woven carefully together with introspection and examination of people's hearts, minds and choices.
It is told with great detail in most respects (except that I did wish she'd given better and descriptions of some of the characters and reminded me what they looked like as the story developed).
In a carefully crafted view of the world and God, told from the perspective of a Franciscan monk in a French abbey, we finally have the author's perspective on why Claire might have been sent back in time to live another life, and that, too, was worth the reading. I highly recommend this romance.
DRAGONFLY in AMBER, book 2
I'm not giving away the plot when I tell you it begins 20 years after OUTLANDER ends, and Claire is now once again Mrs. Randall. It is clear that she and Jamie have been lost to each other for 20 years and Jamie's daughter, Brianna, born after Claire returned to the 20th century, is now a young woman and looks a lot like her father. The fact Jamie and Claire weren't together and had lost the best years of their lives to each other had me truly grieving from page one.
Jamie is now the "dragonfly in amber," preserved in Clarie's mind and heart as if frozen in time. After the beginning in 1968, the story goes into flashbacks (as Claire tells Brianna of her father and their love), showing us what happened when Claire and Jamie were last together in the years leading up to Culloden. But my heart knew where it was leading (since she gave it to us on page one) and that fairly depressed me the whole way through, I had so come to love the two. Still, it's an amazing tale and once I began reading book 3, I found some hope.
VOYAGER, book 3
This is the 3rd in the unique and wonderful Scottish historical (and time travel) series that grabs you by the throat and won't let you go. At over 1000 pages, this installment is an all day sucker of historical romance and well worth your time.
The saga of Claire and Jamie continues as Claire, who by 1968 has become an MD and is now chief of staff of a prominent Boston hospital, having discovered that Jamie did not die at Culloden in 1746, learns more about Jamie's hard life since they were forced apart 20 years earlier. She is assisted in her research in Scotland by Roger Wakefield, an Oxford scholar and a Scot who is attracted to Claire's beautiful daughter, Brianna, who is the physical image of her father, Jamie. As the three conduct their research into the past, we become a part of Jamie's life during the years he was not with Claire. As life throws him one difficult challenge after another (living as an outlaw in a cave, prison, a servant in a rich man's house, manipulation and abuse by others), he remains a man of honor and integrity with a heart to serve and provide for those he loves, all the while longing for his lost love and the child she bore him he has never seen.
Claire longs to rejoin Jamie in the past, though she knows another passage through the standing stones to go back 200 years in time carries great risk. It is a risk she is willing to take because he is her heart.
This is a well-told tale of a deep love that spans centuries and of the two lives woven into the tapestry of Scotland's history. It is a rare romance that sees the love between the same two people flourish in each book...it is a tribute to Gabaldon's outstanding talent as a storyteller, one who sees into the hearts of people, that she can make it captivating. You want Jamie and Claire's love to go on forever.
This book had me both laughing out loud and crying tears as it ripped at my own heart. I highly recommend it.
DRUMS OF AUTUMN, book 4
I did not agree with those who said this is a "weak link" in the Outlander series or that it is not as good as the first ones. I found this 4th book (another "all day sucker" at over 1000 pages), to be a richly woven tale with great depth and lots of twists and turns as the story moves to 18th century America, several years before the Revolutionary War.
And this one not only continues the great love between Jamie and Claire, but adds the story of their daughter Brianna and her love Roger. I did find the latter two to be a bit hard to grasp, but unlike others, I did not think Roger was too much like Jamie. Perhaps it is just that we haven't yet seen enough of Brianna and Roger to feel like we truly understand them.
Gabaldon does an extraordinary job of depicting life among the Indians and the slaves and the hardships the white settlers faced, particularly in the backcountry of North Carolina where the Frasers lived.
There are wonderful secondary characters that I came to love and expect to see in the remaining volumes. The story of Jamie's nephew, Ian, becomes one of heart-rending interest and likely reflects what may have happened to some in that time. Lord John Grey is still in the picture as the friendship with Jamie continues.
Once again, Gabaldon uses the "time travel" aspect of Claire's and Brianna's (and Roger's) being 20th century people to show what a change in lifestyle it would be for us to go back and live in that time.
Finally, to see all the Scots in America after losing their homeland to England's abuses post Culloden was encouraging, even though they had lost family and clan roots at the hands of the cruel English. It tugged at my heart. Still, as this story drives home, England's loss was America's gain.
THE FIERY CROSS, book 5
I've read the other reviews and think those that are critical miss the mark. You must keep in mind that this is a sweeping saga that weaves a complex comprising a rich tapestry of characters, history and believable plots and with details and side trails that require space--in this case 1400+ pages. Her writing in this one is every bit as good as the first one, though this one does move more slowly. Yes, she could have cut it down, but then we might not feel as if we'd lived it.
In this 5th book, the tale meanders a bit and there were times I grew a bit exasperated with Roger's adventures that always seemed to go awry (does the man do nothing right?). Still, I was not bored. I also felt my heart moved as Jamie continues to love Claire with words of deep caring that more than make up for the slow passages that describe in gruesome detail medicine in the 18th century.
This one takes place entirely in the New World, the colony of North Carolina in particular. Roger and Bree have joined Jamie and Claire with their son, little Jemmy. As they grow closer to the Revolutionary War they all know is coming, they get caught up in the discontent between the settlers who chaff at the Crown's rule and the British whose troops still keep the law. Jamie is a colonel in the Governor's militia and, once again, leads men to battle, though he knows he will one day have to switch sides to the colonists. His settlement on the Ridge grows, as a host of interesting characters join them, and more is learned about other time travelers who have come through the portal in the stones.
We don't see much of Fergus, which is too bad as he's a wonderful character, but we do see a lot of his wife, Marsali and their charming son, Germain. And more is heard from Ian who became a Mohawk.
There are wonderful lines, like Jamie telling Claire, "God has made me what I am. He has given me the duty--and I must do it, whatever the cost." And I loved the verses of song she included so naturally. It's definitely worth the read!
I'd love to hear from my followers as to whether you've read the series, or part of it, and what you most enjoyed and what drove you nuts!