Wednesday, June 1, 2016


by Diana Gabaldon
Recommended Ages: 16+

In a Scottish boarding-house in 1945, Englishwoman Claire Randall is just starting to get to know her husband Frank after wartime service kept them apart for most of their eight-year marriage. But while the scholarly Randall occupies his days digging up genealogical trivia, such as the story of his six-times-great-grandfather Captain "Black Jack" Randall of the Royal Dragoons, Claire discovers an ancient circle of standing stones where druidic rites still take place. One day, while visiting the stones, she is magically transported back to the year 1743, almost the eve of the Jacobite rebellion, when the English army crushed the Scottish clans. Confused, under-dressed for the weather (to say nothing of social propriety), caught in the middle of the conflict between two countries that are a United Kingdom in her time, Claire becomes an object of desire for the very Black Jack from whom her husband descended - as well as for a studly young highlander named Jamie Fraser.

Though she still yearns to find a way back to her own Frank, Claire is soon forced to marry Jamie to remain safe from the cruel dragoon captain who so eerily resembles the man she loves. But staying safe is an elusive dream, in a harsh time and a warlike country torn by feuding clans, political betrayals, and literal witch-hunts. It is finally Claire who must save Jamie, in a moving feat of heroism and devotion by a wife who has only lately learned to accept his side as where she truly belongs.

Though there is a touch of fantasy in this book, what with the time-travel plot line, it is mainly a historical romance, heavy on the romance, with enough erotic scenes to ensure the made-for-cable TV series based on it must be rated "M" for "mature." It is filled with action and intrigue, but the love story between Claire and Jamie is always front and center, and often indulgently explicit. The writing is lyric; the characters' dialects are painstakingly rendered (if an American reader may presume to judge the work of an American author); the theological underpinnings are cheerfully pagan, even during passages decorated with an explicitly Christian setting (such as the Franciscan abbey where the final act unfolds); and the sexual outlook sports an intriguing blend of a firm moral position with lots of transgressive friskiness. For example, the male protagonist's darkest hour results, in part, from the forced amorous attentions of a bisexual villain. So yes, yes indeed, this book does score both an Occult and an Adult Content Advisory.

Published in the U.K. as Cross Stitch, it launched a whole series of novels, or possibly two interconnecting series, whose canon order is interspersed with several novellas written out of sequence, with the complex result that one of my favorite book-reference websites doesn't know quite how to number them. I'm not worried, because I am not in a big hurry to continue reading this series, but I've wondered what it was about long enough. I enjoyed Davina Porter's audiobook narration through a 24-hour round-trip drive on my recent vacation, with enough left over to pass a couple quiet evenings at home. The library I borrowed it from has some of the other books in the series, but it will be some months before I will need an audiobook to get me through another long trip. At any rate, the next few books in the main "Outlander" sequence are Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, The Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, An Echo in the Bone, and Written in My Own Heart's Blood. There is also a "Lord John Grey" trilogy, including The Private Matter, The Brotherhood of the Blade, and The Scottish Prisoner; the novellas are A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows, The Custom of the Army, A Plague of Zombies, and The Space Between; and there's also a chapbook, Lord John and the Hellfire Club, and a graphic novel, The Exile.

No comments: