Review: ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300I have fallen victim to Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series.

It’s no surprise, really. I have a weakness for time-traveling historical fiction, well-written female characters and romance adventures.

I’m kidding about that last one. The leading man is a redhead, so that makes up for the romance — slightly.

“Outlander,” the first book in the series, follows Claire Randall, a war combat nurse on her second honeymoon with her husband Frank in 1945. While in Inverness, Claire visits Craigh na Dun, one of many ancient stone circles scattered across the British Isles. She is whisked away from Frank and 1945, finding herself in 1743. There she must blend into Highlander clan life as best she can for a Sassenach (or outlander) while trying to return to Craigh na Dun and to her own time. Ensnared in life-threatening situations from the Redcoats as well as some of the Scots themselves, Claire didn’t count on falling to Jamie Fraser.

Sounds like your typical time-traveling romance novel, right? Probably — it’s not a genre I find myself aching to read. Romance is not my thing. But time-travel plot lines are … so here we are.

I would not have heard of the book and its series without the TV show of the same name, which premiered on Starz last August. I had seen a lot of Tumblr posts about the show (namely beautiful GIF sets), so I figured I should check it out. I was hooked within one episode. I read a lot of praise about how true the show stayed to the book and mentally added the title to my to-read list. With one season over, it only made sense to read the book during the show’s hiatus.

There aren’t many book-to-show adaptations that I’ve enjoyed, but this is one of the best I’ve come across (“Game of Thrones” doesn’t count because I haven’t read any of the books yet). I would come across a line of dialogue in the book that was used word for word in the show. For example: “I can bear pain, myself,” [Jamie] said softly, “but I couldna bear yours. That would take more strength than I have” (426). Some of the scenes in the book were altered for the show, mostly for dramatic purposes because TV, but the heart of the changes scenes was the same.

The characters in “Outlander” were so rich and well-written. I loved Claire’s character. She was allowed to show strength, she was allowed to show weakness, she was allowed to be witty and she was allowed to be brash. There were moments where I got annoyed with her — YOU TIME TRAVELED 200 YEARS CLAIRE STOP BRINGING MORE ATTENTION TO YOURSELF — and other times when I wanted to give her a high-five for telling off the Scotsmen. Or confronting Colum MacKenzie over his son’s true father.

I also loved Jenny, Jamie’s older sister. Talk about another well-written female character. Unapologetic, stubborn and sharp-tongued, Jenny narrowly beats out Claire and Jamie as my favorite character. The scenes between her and Jamie are some of the best in the book.

She put out a hand to stop Jamie’s protest, and the gull-winged brows rose in a graceful arc of inquiry. ‘And if your life is a suitable exchange for my honor, tell me why my honor is not a suitable exchange for your life?’ The brows drew together in a scowl, the twin of the one adorning her brother’s face. ‘Or are you telling me that I may not love you as much as you love me? Because if ye are, Jamie Fraser, I’ll tell ye right now, it’s not true!’

Blue eyes glared into blue eyes, shooting sparks in all directions. Swallowing the insults with difficulty, Jamie struggled for a rational reply. (380)

And Jamie. What can I say about that beautiful cinnamon roll? I seriously have no words — or perhaps there are so many and I don’t know how to write them all down. What I wouldn’t give to have Jamie as a friend — his loyalty and protection have no end. And he endures so much pain throughout the book. Seriously, everything bad that could possibly happen to him happens. Yet, he still retains a sense of humor.

When I woke, I was trussed up in the wagon wi’ the chickens, jolting down the road toward Fort William.’

‘I see,’ I said quietly. ‘I’m sorry. It must have been terrible for you.’

He smiled suddenly, the haze of fatigue gone. ‘Oh aye. Chickens are verra poor company, especially on a long journey.’  (90)

There are many other colorful characters to love — and hate (looking at you Randall, you bastard). You’ve got the brothers MacKenzie, forces to be reckoned with; watchful, protective Murtagh; adventure-seeking solicitor Ned Gowan; witch and Jacobite Geillis Duncan; and the faithful and kind Father Anselm.

Characters aside, Gabaldon’s descriptions are beautiful, placing you directly in the narrative whether you want them to or not. Let me tell you: Some of the torture scenes (i.e., Jamie’s flogging) can be a bit rough. Or when Claire is patching someone up. But there were many paragraphs I went back to read a couple times.

Dead silence all around, but at least this part of the castle was in use; there were torches in the wall sconces, dyeing the granite blocks in pools of flickering red, each pool ebbing into darkness at its edges before the pool of the next torch leached into light again. Smoke from the torches hung in the grey swirls along the vaulted roof of the corridor. (461)

One thing I dislike was her use of the Scottish accent in the dialogue. Yes, I understand why she used the accented wording but sometimes it was distracting. I would pause and attempt to mimic the accent in my head. Toward the end of the novel, I didn’t notice it as much.

There are so many highlighted passages in my Kindle copy. I wanted to include them all in here. Especially the one about the sassy horse: “Donas jerked his head and rolled his eyes as I took the bridle, but I was in no mood to put up with tantrums” (371). Or the line Geillis said to Claire that reminded me of Scooby-Doo villains: “And it might all have worked nicely, too, if not for Colum MacKenzie” (337).

Basically what I’m trying to tell you is read “Outlander.” Right now. If you don’t have time to read a 600-page book, then watch the TV series. It’s worth it.

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