Book Reviews

Author: Diana Gabaldon
Series Title: Outlander Novels
Individual Titles: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross; plus The Outlandish Companion (hardcover), which is what it says; and Lord John and the Private Matter (hardcover), which takes a tangental character and brings him to the fore

Update - May 2005 - A Breath of Snow and Ashes, book six in Jamie and Claire's saga, is due to be published 27 September, 2005. Keep an eye out!

Update - Jan. 2007 - A Breath of Snow and Ashes came out in paperback in late August. I'm now totally into the unabridged versions of the audio books, narrated by the brilliant Davina Porter - there are a gazillion disks and they're not cheap, but they're awesome.

I pity booksellers who have to decide the category in which to place these books - adventure? romance? mystery? historical fiction? sci-fi? They all fit to some extent, and I won't even try to figure out which one works the best. They're massive tomes, and I for one am completely capable of getting utterly lost in them for however long it takes me to get through the thousand or so pages. Once you accept the fantastic premise at their center - namely, that the circles of standing stones one finds in the British Isles and elsewhere are capable of transporting people in time - then you're all set for an odyssey, and I don't use that word lightly.

When the series begins, a young British couple is on a second honeymoon shortly after the end of World War II, and has returned to Scotland, where they were married. Frank Randall is a history buff, while Claire is a nurse with a penchant for natural healing. One day she makes a visit to a circle of standing stones and the next thing she knows, she's in 1743 and one of Frank's ancestors is making a very rude pass at her. She escapes from the infamous "Black Jack" Randall only to find herself smack in the middle of a troop of Scots, with whom she flees. She treats a wounded member of the band (one Jamie, by name), makes quite the twentieth-century spectacle of herself, and ends up back at the MacKenzie stronghold with the whole pack of 'em. Still with me? Good, go get the book and dig in, it gets wilder by the minute.

The subsequent entries follow the love story of Claire and Jamie all around Europe and over to America, not to mention some serious bouncing around in time and almost hopelessly complicated paradoxes - my favorite is Claire's tracing of her daughter's boyfriend's lineage back to a woman who originally came from the '60s - that's the 1960s - and ended up back in the 1740s with Claire, who (meanwhile, back in the 20th century) is trying to figure out if she should try to stop her from traveling back, knowing she's going to get (got?) burned at the stake. Did you follow that? Then again, as Gabaldon's husband says, "In your books, you can't count on anyone being dead unless they go 'Gak' right in front of you." (quote from Diana Gabaldon's website.) Hmmm... It's hard to give a synopsis of each book without giving stuff away - while they are separate books, it's really all one huge epic tale that we can be glad is published in pieces, since they already had to print Drums of Autumn on special thinner paper so it wouldn't look quite so massive. Dragonfly in Amber is told mostly in flashback, Voyager bounces around between several parallel story lines, and Drums of Autumn and The Fiery Cross get into frontier America and the Revolution - think about that for a minute, people from the 20th century hanging out in the Carolina backcountry knowing perfectly well what's going to happen...

The Outlandish Companion is a treasure trove of information - about the author, about the characters, about anything you could possibly be wondering. It also showcases Gabaldon's sense of humor, which is more or less similar to my own, so if you're used to me, you'll love this stuff. She writes better, though. :-) Want a list of the plants/herbs/whatever Claire uses as medicines? It's there. A healthy dose of all things Fraser? Check. Stuff to tide you over till the publishing mill coughs up the next one? Yup, that's there too (titled "The Methadone List" - like I said, sense of humor...).

Many thanks to Nova for sending these my way at a time when I needed some serious literary escape - the plentiful (some might say "excessive", but not I) verbiage, wild twists, and intriguing settings provide a cheap way to head off on a fantasy trip - at about $7.99 each, I'll take that over a transoceanic flight any day. As the author writes in The Outlandish Companion, "I wasn't planning on ever showing it [Outlander] to anyone, so I figured it didn't matter what insane thing I did" - that should clue you in to the unorthodoxness (is that a word? oh well, it is now...) of the books, which is a great part of their charm. So brush up on your Gaelic (which, by the way, the author didn't before writing the first couple, so after that you can trust it 'cause it was vetted by a native) and jump in... but stay away from standing stones, okay?

Legare est amare...

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