Prolixity Julien’s #CBR4 Reviews #14 – 19: Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes & An Echo in The Bone by Diana Gabaldon
This review concludes my frantic devouring of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. How frantic? When I started this review, it was of books 2 and 3, but now includes the rest of the published series as noted below. I covered book one in a previous effort. The 8th volume, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, will be released in 2013.
2. Dragonfly in Amber
4. Drums of Autumn
5. The Fiery Cross
6. A Breath of Snow and Ashes
7. An Echo in the Bone
Theoretically, each Outlander book stands alone, but, really, it’s just one very, very long story. Once a reader is drawn into the series (and there is quite a subculture out there), I imagine they are in it for the long haul and not just randomly picking up the books out of order. I also believe that if they do, they will want to go back and find out what they missed. Gabaldon incorporates call backs to situations, conversations, and characters with such aplomb that she must have them planned out several books in advance. Events and references lie dormant for thousands of pages and may be only incidental to the story, but recognizing when these elements are reincorporated brings my reading experience a little extra joy.
In Outlander, Claire Randall was on a second honeymoon with her husband, Frank, in the Scottish Highlands, after a six year separation during World War II. She visited a local henge and through the magic of fiction walked between two standing stones and ended up in the same place, but in 1743 where/when she was taken in by the MacKenzie clan. As an outsider, she was viewed with suspicion and was forced into a protective marriage with the chief’s nephew, Jamie Fraser. What started as a marriage of convenience quickly developed into a profound bond between the two. It is a time of growing political unrest in Scotland leading inexorably to the Jacobite rising of 1745 which ended with the infamous Battle of Culloden. The ensuing books continue to trace their lives and relationships over time.
The historical elements of the books, specifically the day-to-day details, are of particular interest to me. The political elements play out largely as forces beyond the characters’ control, and elaborate machinations interest me neither in fiction, nor in real life. With the time travel element, of immediate import is how a modern person comes to live in the past and must cope with the challenges it presents culturally and practically. Having present day events and traveling with a ‘modern” character back in time gives the reader an anchor in the historical immersion process. It’s a tougher and more restricted world from which none of the inhabitants come away unscathed. Gabaldon’s willingness to subject her characters to the ugliness and strife of the 18th century, as well as its pleasures, holds the books together for me.
If you are here looking for book recommendations: Read these books. Are they Great Works of Literature? No, but they are engrossing, well-written, and highly entertaining. “Begin at the beginning,” The King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: Then stop.”, and wait for the next book to be published. I bought all SEVEN Outlander books in one impetuous and financially guilt-racked gesture while reading volume 3. The large paperback versions. Though they seem perfect for a Kindle given their weight, I needed to have them to hold onto, and it’s a great forearm workout. All my e-reader ever gave me was a numb hand and a serious case of Kindle Klaw™. I’m going to present the books in a kind of review summary/cluster with self-indulgent maundering about them. If you find my company as delightful as I do yours, and laugh in the face of extremely vague spoilers, please follow me to my tiny little blog.