Book Review 33 – Outlander

1322638297Outlandertpb3wideOutlander (#1 Outlander)

by  Diana Gabaldon

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Goodreads summary:

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

4.5 star

Warning, the review below contains SPOILERS! Also some non-spoilery photo stills from the TV series.

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This is the first book of an epic series (epic, as in long, not brilliant). I put it on a backburner time and time again; somehow I wasn’t in the mood for a long series, considering the number of ones I started reading in the past years. And then there were some less than complimentary reviews that made me kind of wary.

I have to give those reviewers right to a certain point – there’s too much violence, blood and torture. It makes it hard to believe these characters are alive and in good condition. Sometimes the gore and violence make little sense and just make the past into a very harsh, cruel place where people die like flies yet civilisation still hangs on and continues to evolve. Fascinating stuff, just a bit more moderation wouldn’t hurt. Violence is basically a plot point – get the main characters hurt just so our heroine Claire can use her healing skills on their Jamie’s sorry ass.

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The plot doesn’t move forward or make a point for long periods. Despite that, Gabaldon fascinates us with descriptions of daily life in the 18th century Scotland and a steamy romance. She excels there and that is what makes reading the Outlander series so frustrating. I should know since I’ve read book 4 already! Blame Goodreads Choice Awards Reading Challenge for making me push forward with the tomes. I’ve read the first book – Outlander – in July 2014, and finished with the fourth just a few days ago. It’s an accomplishment, especially when you have to plod through the boring parts or when she’s writing about a character you really don’t care about (which happens more often than you’d like). I will write reviews for those books as well.

I have a feeling she could easily leave out a few characters now and then, but thankfully their names are different enough that you manage to keep them apart. This is a problem for me because I have a hard time with names, nicknames, and the like, so kudos there for making characters distinct enough to keep them apart.

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I’ve got some trouble with our protagonist in the first book. Claire abandons her husband fairly quickly or at least it feels so when we don’t have a good grasp of the passing time. I can sort of understand – she is stuck in the past and they’ve been apart for a number of years and only recently reconnected again as changed people. So maybe she wasn’t that attached to Frank and can move on day by day. Then comes the moment when she could go back – she decides to stay in the past and live with Jamie. I had no idea she loved Jamie so much. I knew he was heads over heels for her, but Claire? It surprised me, but since I liked them as a couple, I rolled with it. Her continued search for absolution makes little sense though. Maybe Jamie should have taken her to the stones a bit later in the novel (when events spiral out of control and danger feels all more real for it) and she would have changed her mind… maybe? It’s kind of nebulous.

What I also can’t understand is how easily people swallow her story about time-travelling. If someone came up to you nowadays and said he’s from the future, would you believe them? Really? Especially the monk giving Claire absolution – his calm acceptance amazed me, but the explanation for her not being an adulteress surprised me in a negative way. She’s a smart woman who made her choice; she doesn’t need a man to make it right for her. And if she feels guilty about abandoning Frank to such an extent, she’s got no business being with Jamie. It was like she wanted to have her cake and eat it too. Just no.

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What also surprised me in a negative way at first is that we have two time-travellers. That is one too many. Really. And a witch hunt – was that absolutely necessary? Geilis Duncan, who certainly is a murky character and a black widow if one ever saw one, could be taken care of in a more low key manner. The trial came out of nowhere and threw me for a loop. And why did Gailis marry if she hated the sight of the man? She really did not need to make his life a living hell, too. That’s some gratitude. Urgh, she turns into an appalling character. Another woman I couldn’t stand by the end of the book is Leoghaire. This girl is a wannabe murderess. She wants Jamie, so she must get rid of Claire. Easily done – not even a twinge of a conscience there. I was angry at Claire for not outing the vicious little beast and her scheme. I wonder how these people were able to call themselves good Christians. It’s murder and scheming everywhere.

The constant kidnappings and other disappearances had me roll my eyes by the end of the book. It did get a bit repetitive, too, despite the element of unpredictability it gave to the book. I also couldn’t understand that the majority of older men we meet were in love with Jamie’s mother at some point in time. Come on!  There’s got to be some bruised feelings not just a torch for a dead woman here, no? It just doesn’t make sense. She caused a scandal too.

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But, despite the problems I had with the writing or characters, I enjoyed the book for the most part. I’ve got a weakness for time-travelling. And I admit it – Scottish brogue is sexy when applied in the right way. Maybe my love of good crack fanfiction makes me more inclined to roll with a story when it entertains or fascinates me. So maybe I can overlook the problems of the first book in a series because it takes guts to write a story like that.

Knowing there’s a TV series makes reading the book worthwhile. Although I’d say; just jump in with the TV series. They’ve solved some problems and improved the pace considerably. The actors are hot and the scenery just breathtaking. It is certainly a gem and the way they handle the more problematic aspects of the book is superb. They’ve made Frank quite a bit more intriguing than the book which is a good thing, not to mention the tension between Claire and Dougal MacKenzie. I will write a lengthy post about the TV series once the first season is complete.

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