Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book has an addictive quality, and though I started it once before and didn’t get far (traffic, exhaustion, stress), I’m happy that I finally gave this another try. I’m definitely obsessed at this point and will read onward, but I gave it only 4 stars, as there are some things that could definitely be better considering the heft of the book. I’ll list those at the bottom and block them due to spoilers.
I’ll also block the complaints, as I don’t want everyone to focus on those, as I overwhelmingly enjoyed this book. I have already started book two, and I am definitely becoming an Outlander fangirl. I am hoping that as the series progresses that it will continue to improve and address some of the things I think that are an issue and/or a disappointment.
So first up, we have the things I liked:
---Jamie Frasier. He’s kind of a mess, but let’s face it. Who isn’t at 23? No offense to 23-year-olds. Come back in 5 or 10 years, and that comment might make a weird sort of sense. Also, Jamie lived in a different time and world, which definitely muddies the waters of acceptable behaviors. I can’t help but gape at him. He does a whole lot of things wrong, for seemingly the right reasons, which makes him a fascinating companion for the journey.
---Jamie also won March-Ab-Ness and was voted Audible’s Best Book Boyfriend of all time, and all for very good reasons. He’s swoony and frequently charming, though rarely on purposes, which is an admirable quality. Also, his mouth and brain don’t always connect, which can be in turn, upsetting, amusing, and quite romantic.
---The way Claire and Jamie bicker amuses me to no end.
---The relationship between the two is surprisingly adorable, at times.
---The age and experience gaps between Jamie and Claire, which add another layer of interest to the story.
---The historical setting, and in particular, the ways of the Scottish Highlands and the different clans.
---The comparisons of medical treatments across time
---The drama, and boy is there a lot of it.
---Kilts. Yes, I said it. Don’t go all Braveheart on me. Very handy buggers, and when worn by a handsome, well-muscled Scottish warrior, nobody would dare argue their sex appeal.
---Jamie’s stories of his past, which are all pretty much upsetting, but the way he tells them is captivating.
---A scene late in the story where he teaches a small boy an important life skill. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean. It totally cracked me up.
Book 136 read in 2018
And now, we have my relatively minor complaints, which will contain SPOILERS:
---Where was the culture shock? Yes, there was some here and there, but in my opinion, it wasn’t sufficient. Claire traveled back a good distance in time, and though we saw differences referenced, we saw very little culture shock and almost no grief over the loss of her husband and previous life. I guess you could argue that she wasn’t too attached to those, but if that’s the case, then why did we have to read so much about her previous life before traveling back in time?
The beginning was very drawn out, and I know it was to show contrast. However, it also made us invested in who Claire was in the present time. If that is of little or no consequence to Claire, herself, then we could have summed up her current world in a chapter or less and gone straight into the time travel. But we didn’t do that. The book forced us to invest in her present, and when it threw her back in time, I expected her to be reeling with confusion, making constant time period blunders, and to be suffering some sort of sadness over loss of her previous life. I could have used more struggle and emotion tied to this. It would have made it seem like a harder situation to have been thrown back in time, and a harder choice not to return to her present. Instead, it’s hard for me to even buy in on the fact that she wants to return to her previous life, because she gave it up so quickly and easily.
---I’m also upset that I don’t understand how the time travel works. It’s not that I wanted Claire to go back to Frank, but I would have liked for her to go back, just so I could better understand the rules of the time travel. Also, she definitely left a lot of loose ends when she disappeared, and I feel like she should have addressed them.
I know the risk was that she may not be able to return to Jamie, and yes that would have upset me. If Jamie is her number one priority (and it seems like it), then it makes sense that she stayed. But on a book nerd level, it’s not satisfying that I read an 800+ page book on time travel and still don’t understand how it occurred or what the rules of the time travel are. This may just be that my sci-fi interests are sometimes stronger than my historical romance interests, which means I was really interested in how all this occurred, whereas other readers were probably along for the romance and intrigue.
---I hate that a lot of the bad guys in the story are both gay and sexually abusive. I understand this is a historical novel, and behaviors towards gay men were far different in this country and time period. I totally get that. This is not a deal breaker for me, and yet I still hate it that the root of what is bad in many of the characters I severely dislike in this story is that they are men who want to rape either men or boys. One character like this, I would have understood and swallowed. It’s the multiples that upset me, especially in light of the fact that we didn’t see any characters who like someone of the same sex and were still decent people. Now, I do understand that LGBT advocacy isn’t the point of a story like this, especially considering it was originally published in 1991. I can’t judge it against books now published in 2018. That’s not fair, so this isn’t the end of the world. It’s just something to be aware of.
---The story spends an excessive amount of time on some traumatic events, while other traumas are merely brushed aside. It’s the imbalance that’s exhausting. Some traumas could have used to been addressed better, and others were drawn out so much that it basically brought the story to a standstill so the characters could roll around in their trauma for multiple chapters. I’m not saying that trauma doesn’t have a widespread impact. It does. But the traumas in this story caused pacing issues, which started to make character reactions and behaviors seem unreliable. I think it actually served to reduce my overall sympathy, in some instances, which I know was not the end goal.
--There are a lot of side characters, and some of them are not well-fleshed out, even considering the length of the story, which made it difficult for me to keep track of some people and why I should even care about them. But there were others that were 3D that I completely loved, so it was hit or miss on side characters.
Despite these complaints, I still loved the story as a whole, and I read it through in record time. I will absolutely continue the series, because there is so much more that I liked than what I felt fell flat. Also, it’s just a completely compelling read. I don’t want to put it down, and that’s what I want from my fiction, even if there are a few flaws.