The planets aligned. My daughter was napping and I had a brown paper bag full of books on the kitchen counter.
I asked my sister Nicole to select a few dozen popular paperbacks for a silent auction fundraiser. I reasoned, what could be better than a bunch of books? Indeed, at the event, the books, hand selected by one of the area’s most knowledgeable book sellers, was quickly bid up.
In that moment though, I thought I’d take a peek and see if there was anything for me to pass the time with. A few I read already. Several didn’t pull me in from the cover and title alone.
Then I picked up a book featuring a good but serious-looking guy with a cut on his check. A woman sat in front of him, wrapped by his plaid blanket. They both look like they just survived a rain storm. Why are they sitting like that? Are they on horseback? What is Outlander? I wondered. The book title didn’t give any clues away.
While I dithered about whether or not to crack the book open, it hit me.
It was a historical fiction romance. And I don’t read romances.
Ah, I see. The good looking guy and girl. Him, clearly fresh from some sort of battle, and her, in need of protection. I rolled my eyes a little bit.
And I cracked it open.
Now I shudder to think if I had put the book back in the bag or if my daughter had woken from her nap early.
Instead, I sat on the bench in my kitchen and began reading. After ten minutes—after establishing I actually wanted to read the book—I moved to the couch in my library.
Married couple Claire and Frank Randall spend the years during WWII apart. Claire serves as a nurse and Frank is recruited by an intelligence agency. After the war, they travel to the Scottish countryside to reconnect and Frank, a history buff, hopes to research his family history. When Claire goes walking on the moors, she visits a massive circle of ancient standing stones that emit a strong buzzing sound. Claire faints. When she wakes, she’s still on the hill but when the lights of the supposed-to-be-nearby city are nowhere in sight as night comes on, Claire concludes she has traveled to the past…where she will cross paths with Jamie Fraser, a highlander warrior.
Yes, that is the premise for an adventure romance fantasy scifi historical fiction novel and series.
The genre crossing and bending is what kept me interested through Outlander book one, and then books two through eight, and then the companion Lord John series, and then the three seasons of the television show.
Jamie and Claire [mild, but expected spoilers coming] stay together and work to fight against English repression in Scotland. They travel throughout Europe to build political connections and later end up in the Americas. Gabaldon’s writing shows the result of the detailed research that all great historical fiction novels have behind them, allowing one to explore a new world in detail.
While reading, one often gets a feel for what the author thinks is possible (whether or not they kill off their characters, what they are willing to depict in romantic scenes, etc.) but Gabaldon keeps you guessing. Short novels have to make use of every clue they drop, meaning you can guess where things are headed but Gabaldon’s stories twist and turn with side plots and you don’t know what individual characters are going to do. Outlander’s character roster starts huge and grows as the series goes on. I don’t think she rivals Game of Thrones’ 2,103 named characters, but Gabaldon paints a huge, diverse cast.
I get carried away by many books, but science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative works are what really get me going and I was happy to find that Gabaldon built the science fiction element as the books went on. The reader learns more about the standing stones that send Claire into the past. They and time travel continue to play an active role in the events of the story.
Diana Gabaldon wrote the first Outlander book in the late 80’s as a practice novel. She knew she wanted to publish, but figured she should get a book under her belt before writing THE book. Gabaldon has shared that some of her characters needed to be cracked open, while others jumped on the page and lead her along, sentence by sentence.The manuscript that became Outlander was at first going to be a straight historical fiction novel but then Claire entered the story and “promptly took over the story and began telling it herself, making smart-ass modern remarks about everything.”
Fans of the series are now waiting for the ninth book: Go Tell the Bees that I am Gone, hopefully to be published in 2019. The title should tell you something right there. Anything over 6 words is a long book title. And if you look at the books in person, they get bigger and bigger à la JK Rowling. Gabaldon has clearly earned the privilege of crafting her books how she likes them by become a master of the craft.
Season four of Outlander comes out November 4, 2018 and depict the events of book four (Drums of Autumn) which takes place in revolutionary America. You can watch a trailer here on Youtube. Books four through eight are my favorites of the series so I encourage you to get reading.
The Outlander Reading List
The Outlander books are easy to read in order because they’re the main works and numbered, however, if you want to read the novellas and short stories hand in hand with the series (I wish I had done this), visit Gabaldon’s webpage for the chronological list. I also recommend finishing through The Drums of Autumn before watching the television series which covers books one through four so far.
- Dragonfly in Amber
- Drums of Autumn
- The Fiery Cross
- A Breath of Snow and Ashes
- An Echo in the Bone
- Written in My Heart’s Own Blood
- Go Tell the Bees that I am Gone (Forthcoming. You can read some short excerpts here.)
Finally, The Outlandish Companion is out there for the die-hard fans. In it, Gabaldon shares her writing process, her theory of time travel, and many interesting bits about her characters.
Comment below if you’ve read the series and what you thought, or if you’re going to start today!