Sorry, it’s taken me so long to get this review up but between holidays and other blog posts, it’s just taken a back seat. Before I start I should warn you I love love love this book so I’m a little biased. My obsession has grown to heights of Twilight circa 2009. If, like me, you’re a big fan of the Outlander TV show and books then check out my Why I Love Meraki Candles and Totes by Alohomora Design posts for some Outlander-inspired memorabilia that I love.
Outlander, originally Cross Stitch, is the first of eight mammoth historical fiction novels. It is the tale of a young woman, Claire, a nurse with a passion for botany, who visits Inverness with her husband, a historian called Frank, on a second honeymoon after the ghastly trauma of the Second World War. On a visit to the standing stones at Craigh na Dun, Claire accidentally finds herself ‘falling through’ the stones and, upon sighting a Red Coat officer, she quickly realises she is not in the twentieth-century anymore. She has involuntarily travelled to the same spot… 200 years earlier.
In the 18th century Inverness, Claire is confronted by barbaric Scots and the equally barbaric British Army, especially her husband Frank’s vile ancestor: Captain “Black” Jack Randall. Claire is seen as an outsider – a “sassenach”- by both the Scots and Red Coats and spends most of her time trying to convince one that she is not a spy for the other.
Mixed with fantasy and historical fiction, this novel is above all else a love story. I am a sucker for romance and if this book does nothing else then it gives you one heck of an epic love story. Romantic lead, wild Highland Jamie, with tousled red locks and kilt, is one of the most swoon-worthy characters I’ve come across in fiction for a long time. However, I love that Gabaldon does not sacrifice some historical reality for the sake of making Jamie a ‘perfect’ man. He is both stubborn, excessively violent and, frankly, a little bit sexist too. But we have to remember that Jamie is 1740s Scottish outlaw and I think Gabaldon tackles this well. Yes, Jamie is rough around the edges but it is his willingness to change and to understand the world of civility that Claire comes from that makes him even more desirable. Plus, Gabaldon gives him some of the cheesiest, loveliest lines in literary history:
And thanking God that I have two hands. That I have two hands to hold you with. To serve you with, to love you with. Thanking God that I am a whole man still, because of you. – Jamie Fraser
And alongside the lovable and stubborn Jamie is Claire Randall and it is this novel’s protagonist that undoubtedly captures the hearts and imaginations of its readers. Claire is one of the best female characters I’ve read. She’s very strong-willed. I don’t want to give away too much plot but there is one scene in which Jamie and Claire get into a bit of a… violent altercation after she disobeys his command. She gives him a colourful display of her swearing repertoire and, I can’t find the exact quotation, but I’m sure she threatens to cut his heart out. It is her strength and conviction that really separates Claire Randall from the Anastasia Steele’s of the book world. And, Jamie loves her no less for her ferocity:
for all she’s a sassenach bitch… with a tongue like an adder’s… with a bum like that… what does it matter if she’s a f-face like a sh-sh-eep? – Jamie Fraser
In true Claire fashion, she proceeds to trip him up after that comment.
The Bad & The Ugly
The biggest complaint I have about Outlander is its length. It’s not a major problem for me as I love the book so much that I was happy for it to go on forever but it is loooong. I’m talking 963-page-and-tiny-font long. However, please don’t let the sheer size of the Outlander series put you off. I inhaled this book far quicker than most 300/400 page books I’ve encountered in the past few months. The length is merely indicative of Gabaldon’s love of intense, and sometimes gory, detail. She envelops you in the sights, smells and scenery of the Scottish Highlands and I love nothing more than when a book welcomes you into its world with open arms like that.
Another little snag: this book promotes itself as fantasy meets historical fiction. As I mentioned earlier, it’s more of a love story than anything else and this can be troubling if it’s not what you bargained for. Gabaldon certainly educates her reader on Scottish history. I’m ashamed to admit as a young Scot how little I knew about the Jacobite uprising and the ’45. I’ve since become more awakened to my heritage and I’m determined to learn more about where I come from. So kudos to Gabaldon for inspiring that.
However, it is on the fantasy side of things that the book does lack a little. Yes, Claire does travel through standing stones and wind up in a different century but other than that the magic is quite unmagical. Most of it is explained away with twentieth-century logic: witchcraft as early medicine, for example. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the magical element and I wonder if this is something that well unfold throughout the series. Claire seems to too readily accept what has happened to her without trying to find more answers so I hope I get those answers in the next few books.
It Must Be Love, Love, Love
Overall, Outlander and I go together like Jamie and Mrs Fitz’s “parritch.” It has been so long since a book has sparked my imagination the way this series has. If you haven’t read it and are too intimidated by its size or have heard mixed reviews, please put all preconceptions aside and give it a go. I know a few people who didn’t warm to it but I believe everyone should try it at least once.
On a side note, the TV show is also brilliant. I’m notoriously fussy about book to on-screen translations especially with films so I’m glad Starz made these books into full-length series to give it the time and attention each book deserves. It is one of the best adaptions I’ve encountered, it remains very faithful to its book or, at least, as much as you can be to a 1000 page book.
Give it a go and whether you’re a new or old fan of this franchise, keep an eye out for my Outlander inspired giveaway on Instagram – coming ‘verra’ soon. I’ll be featuring gifts from Alohomora Design, Mulderie Wood, Classic Bibliophile and more.
Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for regular blog updates and lots of bookish photos. I’m currently reading the second Outlander novel, Dragonfly in Amber, so you can be sure to find lots of Jamie, Claire and the Highlands!