The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
By Marra Alane | Books | June 15, 2009 |
By Marra Alane | Books | June 15, 2009 |
I basically read 6 long-ass books in about 3 weeks (yay unemployment!). Sometimes I just get obsessed with things that aren’t really that awesome to begin with. The first book got me so hooked that I shelled out for the rest of them and didn’t stop reading until I got Galbadon fatigue. So then I ignored posting reviews for them because I had pretty much stopped giving a shit, which means I sort of painted myself into a corner on these reviews - It’s just shy of 7000 pages of a series I finished last month, and many of the subtler plot points escape me.
The series starts off when Claire, a former WWII nurse on her second honeymoon in Scotland, accidentally falls through the stones and ends up 200 years in the past, where she meets and, over the course of 400 pages, grows attracted to, and is forced to marry, then falls in love with Jamie MacKenzie Fraser. Their relationship works for a while, but the problem is Galbadon makes them super-characters: even their flaws are about how perfect they are. Jamie’s a flawless leader and a perfect husband; Claire’s a respected healer and just independent enough to ruffle 18th century sensibilities without offending 20th century housewives reading along. Their love is strong, pious, loyal, blah blah blah. Sure, they hit some rough patches, but for the most part they’re cloyingly perfect together. Jamie and Claire use her knowledge of history in order to try and put a stop to the Jacobite Rising, but this doesn’t work (because you can’t change the past), and at the end of book 2 Jamie sends a pregnant Claire back through the stones and resigns himself to certain death. As there are more books in the series, he clearly doesn’t die; though for 20 years Claire presumes he did die after leaving her. When she finds out he lived, she resolves to leave her daughter Brianna in the 20th century and go back to him. They dick around Scotland for a while before going on a wild goose chase to save Jamie’s nephew from pirates in the West Indies (it’s better than it sounds) and eventually settle in North Carolina.
My favorite part of the series is the history of it. Galbadon does an incredible job researching 18th century highland traditions and customs, and the characters she creates in Scotland are complicated, flawed, and unforgettable — the Colum/Dougal dynamic particularly. The same research works for (book 2) French high society, the politicking of the Jacobite Rising and (book 3) the horrors of post-Culloden Scotland (it’s a battle, look it up, bitches). The West Indies (book 4) are also interesting, as is the descriptions of the voyages crossing the Atlantic, but the books in America just really blew it for me.
Maybe it’s just my own preference, but there is really nothing romantic about the colonial south to me (books 4, 5, 6). Maybe colonial New England — god, I would give anything to go back in time and fuck 1760’s Benjamin Franklin, I don’t care if he’s riddled with STIs - but nothing happens in backwoods North Carolina in the 1770s. The political intrigue and eco/social conflicts and history lessons are the greatest parts of the first three books, so when the last three don’t have that, they got boring, fast. The philosophical ramblings on time travel and fate and the nature of man that work so well in the first three books fall flat in the last three, because philosophy without action in the middle is just boring.
The back half of the series also suck because they put half the focus on Brianna, the 20th century daughter of Claire and Jamie, who travels back in time to save her parents from being killed in a fire she reads about them in a historical songbook (yeah, I didn’t really get that part either), and her soon-to-be husband Roger,who follows her. It was hard for me to connect to these characters because every situation they face, they do the exact opposite of what I would do. I know that’s not really a fair reason to hate a character, but fuck you, it’s my review and I’ll say what I like.
Recommendations: Read the first two books, and if you like them, try the third. But unless you’re really hard up for shit to do, skip the last three. Also, I’m thinking about picking up a Lord John book — he’s probably the greatest character of the back half of the series - a gay governor who wants to fuck Jamie, but he can’t because Jamie’s uptight like that, so he raises Jamie’s bastard son instead.
This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Marra Alane’s reviews, please see her blog.