Recommended Reads: Outlander

A friend of mine had talked about the Outlander series, and told me to read it. But I thought it wasn’t for me – I don’t do romance novels, and I was put off by the fact that there were 7 (now 8, maybe more) books in the series. Those things still stand, and I’m making no promises that I’ll read every single one, but there is no denying the fact that I have very much enjoyed the series so far.

The first book, Cross Stitch, introduces Claire and her husband Frank, who are trying to rediscover their love following a long separation during World War II – he being a soldier, she a field nurse. They take a trip to Scotland, where Frank can share with Claire his love of history, and research his family tree.  While there, Claire visits and ancient stone circle and his transported back in time to the 1740’s, the time of the Jacobite Rebellion, when the Scottish Highlands were a dangerous place to be. In trying to find her way home she meets Jamie Fraser, and ultimately becomes torn between wanting to her back to her own time, and wanting to stay.

There are a number of reasons why this book works so well. Firstly, there is a lot of real historical detail, which makes it much more interesting than just a raunchy love story that happens to be set in the past. Secondly, making Claire a World War II field nurse makes it a lot easier for the reader to believe that she could survive in Jacobite Scotland – she’s used to war and conflict, to seeing death and injury, and living in difficult conditions devoid of twentieth century home comforts. And, lets face it, the home comforts of the 1940’s aren’t exactly as comfortable as those of today. If she had been from the 1990’s, when Gabaldon wrote the novel, I don’t think it would have worked. Thirdly, Claire is a good strong character, not at all a damsel in distress type, which would have been just irritating. She helps and guides Jamie as much as he helps and guides her.

“You are my courage as I am your conscience. You are my heart, and I your compassion. We neither of us are whole, alone. Do ye not know that, Sassenach?”

The rich historical backdrop and beautiful Highland setting, plus interesting secondary characters such as Dougal and Gellis, added to my enjoyment of this book. It isn’t flat and one dimensional, as I had feared. And the recent TV adaptation is just brilliant in my opinion – perfectly cast and very well acted. Tobias Menzies in particular, as both Frank and Frank’s ancestor Jack Randall, is fantastic. Randall has to be one of the most ruthless characters I have ever encountered, and the scenes between him and Sam Heughan as Jamie in particular are as gripping as they are disturbing.

A word of warning – each book in this series is seriously long, and I have to admit to skipping more than a few pages in books two and three. I personally don’t think any book should be (or needs to be) over 1000 pages, and the bits I skipped were no loss to the story over all. I’m not sure how Claire and Jamie’s story can continue over so many long novels without losing my interest, but I’d be happy to be proved wrong – book four, Drums of Autumn, awaits.

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