Outlander is by no means a new novel. It was published in 1991 by professor and historian Diana Gabaldon. Since 1991, though, it and its sequels have developed a huge fan base. The Outlander series come to new prominence this year because of the Starz television show based on it. If you are a fan of the books, you’ll love the show, as it is completely faithful to the novel, and the rich backdrop of the Scottish highlands provides an ambiance first developed in the book itself.
The story begins with Claire Randall, a British Army nurse who, after the conclusion of World War II, reunites with her husband, Frank. They go on a second honeymoon to Inverness, Scotland, where Frank- an Oxford history professor- researches his family’s ancestry. The couple have resumed their physical connection, but such a long time spent apart during the war created a tension neither speaks of.
One day while Frank is deep in his research, Claire goes to explore the area around ancient druid standing stones called Craigh na Dun. There she hears a loud buzzing and drumming sound, which becomes louder as she approaches the stones. It overwhelms her, and she faints.
When she comes to, she ventures away from Craigh na Dun to where Inverness should be. On her way, she becomes lost after running from what appear to be soldiers riding on horseback and shooting pistols. She runs straight into a man who, at first, she takes to be Frank. However, he is dressed in the red coat of a British soldier and claims to be Captain Jack Randall- Frank’s ancestor and war hero… from the 18th century. “Black Jack” Randall, cruel and sadistic and nothing like her husband, nearly rapes her before she is rescued by the Scottish rebel Jamie McTavish.
McTavish takes her to the rest of his troupe, a group of Clan MacKenzie soldiers. They return her as prisoner to the castle of the MacKenzie lands. Claire realizes that she has-somehow-awoken in the year 1743. Now, her only hope to return to her time lies in the standing stones of Craigh na Dun- but first she must get there. She acclimates, slowly, to 18th century Scottish life, but her captors are less than eager to let her go. Especially when she proves herself to have extensive medicinal knowledge.
Then there is Jamie, the Scot who rescued her and who she is, undoubtedly, attracted to. When circumstances force her to wed Jamie, she realizes their intense emotional and physical connection will make it even harder for her to escape back to 1945 and back to Frank.
Let me be the first to warn you: this book is not short. The first installment in what became the Outlander series spans over 600 pages, and the story continues on in seven sequels, not to mention the various companion books. Once you commit to reading the entire thing, you have quite the project on your hands.
As mentioned above, before becoming an author, Gabaldon worked as a professor and historian. The amount of research she must have put into her novels is staggering, and it pays off. Everything, down to the very last sentence, feels like you are in 18th century Scotland. Even if you haven’t been there to see the lush, green highlands yourself, Gabaldon paints a picture that makes you feel like you have.
As all well-researched novels do, though, Outlander definitely has some dry spots. While the setting- the lands and the history- certainly is a character of its own, sometimes it overwhelms the people and the narrative. More than once, I skipped over several pages because I wanted to get back to the plot and did not want to hear any more about the intricacies of an 18th century Scottish kitchen.
But what a plot! Originally marketed as a romance, Outlander is so much more than that. It is a romantic story, but that romance is accompanied by a fair share of history and science fiction. Gabaldon has admitted that the idea for the book originally came from an episode of Doctor Who, which only makes me love it more. Time travel is a trope that we see in a lot of stories, but never has it been done in such a way as this. You have a character set in a historical backdrop for modern readers, who time-travels even further back to an era hardly ever explored. The story itself is brilliant, the characters well-developed, and the setting magnificent.
So, while you may find your eyes losing focus during some sections, Outlander is definitely worth the read for fans of romance, history, and science fiction. Once you’ve read the first installment, you’ll find yourself reading them all, as Claire and Jamie’s epic story enthralls from the onset. Might as well start watching the show as well to hear those alluring Scottish accents come to life!