When it comes to historical fiction, I always recommend the same novel – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. The seventh novel, An Echo in the Bone, came out in 2009, and while I have a copy of it (actually two copies), I still haven’t had a chance to open it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the series, but it’s been so long since I’ve read it, that I wanted to re-read it again before diving it. Since then, I’ve heard that the eighth novel, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, is in the works, so I’m making an effort to re-read the entire series (all 6,720 pages) so I can be ready for it when it releases (hopefully later this year…maybe?).
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon–when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach–an “outlander”–in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life…and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
What would happen if you found yourself 200 years in the past? Run around screaming? Start freaking out, wondering what you’re going to do now? That’s probably what I would do, but Claire doesn’t. She’s confused, but she doesn’t really accept what has happened because the first man she runs into is the spitting image of her husband. Needless to say, when Randall shows her that he is, by no means, the man she married, Claire begins to adapt to the time she has stumbled into. I don’t know if I would have had that cool of a head. However, Claire’s first interaction with Randall actually puts in motion one of the most fabulous love stories I have yet to read.
Having never been to Scotland, Outlander makes me want to visit the country more and more every time I read it. Gabaldon takes the time to get the reader fully immerse in the culture and environment of the Highlands, that its scenes become unforgettable. Even having read it numerous times in the past, and knowing it’s been a good four years since I have, each scene instantly comes back to my mind and I’m starting to find new little pieces that I missed the first time around. There’s one scene that sticks out in my mind and that I never thought about later. It’s in the first couple of chapters, where Frank, after having a night of historical discussions with the Rev. Wakefield, is walking back to the inn. It’s a rainy night and just as he’s arriving, he notices a Scotsman, in full historical regalia, standing outside, staring up at his and Claire’s window. Considering Claire and Frank had been discussing local ghost stories before this scene, I didn’t think too much of it; it was just adding to the idea of the local superstitions. But then I got to thinking…at this point in the story, Claire hasn’t gone back in time, but that doesn’t mean that Jamie doesn’t already know her. That he’s lived, loved and have lost her. While this scene may have added to the local color, it also gave a hint at how timeless this love story could be.
That’s one of the things I love of Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Everything has a purpose, each action has a reaction. You may not see it right away, but the reaction to a conflict will eventually rear it’s, while good or bad, head. Claire, being a modern 20th century woman and while having adapted really well to life in 18th century, still has moments where she makes the most obvious choice, but has completely negative consequences. A lot of these choices stem from the fact that she’s able to pass herself off as a wise woman, which is why she ends up in more trouble than intended since wise woman were often seen as witches during this time period. However, during times when Claire finds herself in trouble, she always has Jamie to lean on and he’s there supporting and protecting her the entire time. Even when she finally breaks down and tells Jamie the truth, he doesn’t react with fire and brimstone; he doesn’t necessarily believe her, but he has already fallen for her, so he’s giving her the benefit of a doubt. It’s when he finally accepts the inevitable that Outlander shows what it is about this fabulous series that has captured so many peoples hearts.
Outlander can be found in a lot of different genres – science fiction, historical fiction, romance, etc – but it’s one of those great crossover novels that sells everything it’s about. There is a love story going on, but there’s also the beginnings of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 taking place in the background. Everything Claire and Jamie does ultimately goes back to trying to avoid this and I’ll spoil this for you right now, they don’t succeed. There is war, intrigue, manipulations, and all other activities that are involved during a war and Gabaldon writes them so beautifully that its hard not to get immersed in the action. Probably the best part of this is she doesn’t try and fit it all in one book. There is so much intrigue going on, that she continues the story in Dragonfly in Amber without leaving you hanging in Outlander.
On top of these great plots, Gabaldon doesn’t waste her characters. She develops them so well that it’s hard not to get emotionally involved with them. Even now, years after I first read their story, I’m still captivated by Jamie, Claire and everyone they encounter. There can not be a great love story without great characters and Gabaldon delivers.
At this point, I feel like I’m rambling on about Outlander, and honestly I could go on forever. Diana Gabaldon is not only one of my “must-buys”, but I don’t wait for the paperbacks. This series is so awesome, I not only have it in hardcover, but I’ve gone through three copies of paperbacks (of the entire series). That’s how often I’ve read them. I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves historical fiction or just wants a really great story with fascinating characters.
Have you had a chance to read Outlander? If so, make sure you stop by here as the first discussion thread for the Outlander Challenge has be posted. In addition, we’ll be discussing the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, at the end of the month.