Review: “Outlander,” Diana Gabaldon

Rating:  4/5

Publisher’s Synopsis:  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 raining 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.

That may well be one of the worst, most misleading synopses I’ve ever seen.  Please don’t judge the book by the cover.

I have a book hangover from Outlander, which probably says more about it that I can in the rest of this review.  I realize that I could just go ahead and read the second book in the series (Dragonfly in Amber, if I’m not mistaken), but I have other books to read first.

One of the primary criticisms that I’ve heard about Outlander is the Claire is too stoic.  I would phrase this another way – she takes everything that comes at her with considerable aplomb.  I don’t think that this makes her any less likable or believable as a character.  Actually, I think that it fits in well with her background as a combat nurse, and it isn’t at all in contrast to her personality as evident through her narration.  What I particularly liked was that it made this an historical adventure, rather than a fish-out-of-water story, as it would seem from the synopsis.

I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert in 18th century Scottish history, but from a lay-reader’s perspective, Gabaldon did an excellent job of establishing a sense of place.  This tends to be very important in fantasy novels (which you could argue this is, with it’s time-travel element), but I would posit that it is even more so for historical novels.  Not only does an author have to establish a sense of place, he or she has to do so while maintaining its historical integrity.  Outlander is clearly meticulously researched and feels quite genuine, but it doesn’t come across as boastful, ‘look how much I know about Scotland in the 1700s’ research.  There is a good balance between historical fact and narrative fiction, which I think is helped along by the fact that our narrator is from a different time.

This is truly a plot-driven novel, until the last 200 pages or so – at that point, the plot slows significantly and there is a lot of character development happening (that transition doesn’t seem forced – it feels more like a natural progression of events).  I certainly plan to read the next book in the series to see where these characters go.


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