Sorry for the late posting. I just got a new computer and everything is in limbo at the moment. Outlander is one of my favorite time-travel historical fiction novels. And the tv series is actually pretty good as well. Though I will always recommend a book over a tv series.
Themes Explored: time travel, mythology, folklore, medicinal practices, marriage, politics, societal expectations, history of 18th century Scotland, WWII, death, dying, romance, love, torture, Scottish perception of English soldiers, Scottish Clan Culture
Synopsis: The year is 1945. Claire Randall has just returned from the war and reunites with her husband for a second honeymoon. However, she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord 1743. Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life.
Review: I am not quite sure how I ended up reading this book. I think I saw it on a “best books to read” list. Anyways, I read it and it is phenomenal. Outlander is the best time-travel, historical romance novel I have ever read. And I have, regrettably, read some extremely atrocious ones. Diana Gabaldon actually wrote Outlander as practice before writing a detective novel. She never meant to have it published; though I am glad she reconsidered. This is the first book in a nine book series, but it remains my favorite out of all them.
What I despise about most romantic novels is the stories are usually poorly developed and the female characters are incredibly conniving and whiny. Or the heroes are incredibly arrogant and then suddenly have a complete personality change by the end of the book. This has put me off romance novels of any kind, with a few exceptions. Both Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser are well developed and likeable characters. In 1945, Claire Randall is a former British nurse returning home from the frontlines of World War II. She and her husband, Frank, embark on a second honeymoon to Scotland in order to reconnect after being apart for nine years. While out on a walk, Claire stumbles upon some standing stones (also known as fairy stones) and is whisked back in time to 1743.
Claire Randall is the main character and is a refreshingly strong heroine. She is unwillingly taken from her home and thrown back 200 hundred years in time, but remains herself. Women in the seventeenth century existed in a radically different social structure and any independent twentieth century woman would struggle against those confines. People in the seventeenth century did not know about antibiotics or sterilization. Claire’s radical medicine is viewed as witchcraft by many of the members of Clan McKenzie. Despite struggling against people who do not understand her, Claire stands strong in her beliefs and morals. She tries to use her skills to save people, even with the rudimentary supplies. I like her because the character has depth and spirit. Also, she takes her marriage vows very seriously and is extremely conflicted over marrying Jamie while also being married to Frank. Though Frank is technically not alive. However, I should point out, if Claire had not married Jamie then she would probably be dead by the end of the book. I doubt I would be so cool headed if I somehow found myself thrown back in time.
Jamie Fraser is almost too perfect. He is responsible, intelligent, educated, witty, an excellent horse trainer, competent with a sword, understanding, and handsome. In other words, he is the perfect foil to Claire. Though he is more than a handsome face, he is an equally conflicted and complicated individual. Jamie and Black Jack Randall have an extremely twisted relationship. This conflict causes a lot of problems for Jamie and Claire as they try to survive amongst very superstitious villagers. Jamie is just as independent and strong willed as Claire, but in a different manner. He is definitely a product of his time period, though he is rather forward thinking. The best part of Jamie and Claire is that they take turns supporting one another one and cover for the other’s weaknesses. Claire is described as being “spirited,” but not in a childish way. And there is nothing wrong with a heroine having to save the hero a couple times. Jamie may have some issues with this, but he generally appreciates being alive at the end of the night.
Outlander is an incredibly smart historical science fiction adventure. The narrative is well written, with three-dimensional characters living in a complex, believable world. While the story seems light-handed, it comes across as plausible. What I like is that the narrative explores more than the romance between Jamie and Claire. The narrative also explores the complex political and societal drivers in 18th century Scotland. The romance actually takes a backseat to the politics for the first third of the book. This makes the narrative seem much more realistic and the romance does not feel forced. You feel like you are actually living in Scotland and struggling against a restrictive society.
Of course there are some downsides with the book. Jamie is rather unbelievably naïve about some things. Claire is rather less than understanding about the society she finds herself living in. While I understand that being thrown back in time would be very disconcerting, Claire can be quite foolhardy at times. She puts herself, Jamie, and a lot of clansmen in danger several times due to her lack of thinking. Despite being independent, Claire fails to realize that women in the 18th century simply could not go wandering around without attracting trouble. Sometimes Claire annoyed me with her lack of thinking. A former combat nurse should realize the dangers of being around groups of fighting men who have not been home in months/years. And Jamie sometimes acts a bit too much like a martyr. There are some steamy scenes, which are thankfully not overly explicit. I am not sure about the accuracy of the history, but none of it seems implausible. Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives. I love this book and think it is an amazing read.