Book of the Day: the Outlander series

Originally posted by strandsofpearl on 02/27/07

The Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon, is my all-time favorite work of fiction.  This may be because of the time in my life that I first read it (I was a freshman in high school and had read mostly YA lit up till then; this was my first “adult” novel), but it has so much going for it that it’s hard to know where to begin.

First of all, it’s a fantastically-researched piece of historical fiction.  It tells the story of an adventuresome family who experience the 1745 Jacobite rebellion in Scotland (I didn’t know what a Jacobite was before I read these books, but I do now), then move to America to start a new life and become involved in the Revolution here as well.  From Scottish stables to Louis XV’s dinner parties to the Caribbean slave trade to a jail in backwater South Carolina, Gabaldon evokes history in all its richness.  One of the most interesting themes of the books is how capital-H History affects “the common people.”

Which brings me to the second point: you probably won’t find this book in the historical fiction section.  Why?  Because bookstores market it as romance.  And it is, but not a typical one.  The heroine, Claire, is forced to marry against her will, but gradually comes to love her husband, Jamie, very deeply.  Typical, right?  But this happens near the beginning of the first book.  There are now six books and at least two more to come, and each is upwards of 1000 pages.  This series explores the question: So you’ve fallen in love and gotten married.  Now what?  Claire and Jamie are now in their fifties or sixties and still very much in love, although their relationship has changed a lot.

I guess I ought to add that straight historical fiction this series is not.  I have thus far neglected to mention the driving plot element of the books: time travel.  Claire is a doctor from 1945.  Jamie is a Scottish clansman from 1745.  Apparently ancient circles of standing stones, like Stonehenge, were placed as markers for time portals, and a person whose genetic makeup allows them to can walk into a stone circle and come out in a different century.  The time-travel theory the books are based on is very complex and not at all cheesy, and another main theme of the story is the question of whether we could change the past if we could go back in time.

But the (for me) best and most enduring aspects of these books are the characters.  They are quite possibly the most three-dimensional characters I have ever encountered in fiction.  I feel like they are actually people that I know.  The plot, also, is one of the least predictable I’ve ever read, and it grabs you by the neck and won’t let go.

The books in order are:
Outlander
Dragonfly in Amber
Voyager
Drums of Autumn
The Fiery Cross
A Breath of Snow and Ashes

So, what have you been reading lately?

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