Review: Diana Gabaldon – Outlander (Cross Stitch)

I’m not a great reader of romance novels. But I do like historical fiction, especially if it’s interspliced with some fantasy. And since it’s incredibly hard to find bad reviews of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, I thought I’d give it a try. And I loved this book. I never made it through volume 2 but I could reread Cross Stitch immediately.

by Diana Gabaldon

Published: Arrow, 1994 (first: 1991)
ISBN: 0099911701
Pages: 864
Copy: paperback
Series: Outlander #1

My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: People disappear all the time.

In 1945, Claire is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon in Scotland. Innocently, she walks through a stone circle in the Highlands, and finds herself in a violent skirmish taking place in 1743. Suddenly she is a Sassenach, an outlander, in a country torn by war and by clan feuds.

A wartime nurse, Claire can deal with the bloody wounds that face her. But it is harder to deal with the knowledge that she is in Jacobite Scotland and the carnage of Culloden is looming. Marooned amid the passion and violence, the superstition, the shifting allegiances and the fervent loyalties, Claire is in danger from Jacobites and Redcoats – and from the shock of her own desire for James Fraser, a gallant and courageous young Scots warrior. Jamie shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire, and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

I own the UK paperback with the incredibly cheesy cover shown above. But I came to love this by now tattered thick paperback so much. While Claire isn’t what I’d call a contemporary characters, she still comes from a time far more advanced than mid-18th century Scotland. Her knowledge in medicine doesn’t just help her out in some dangerous situations, it was also very interesting to read and – while no expert in the field at all – it felt like Diana Gabaldon has done her research well. Claire was easy to love and identify with and maybe that is why this book is so dear to so many people. Because while you read it, you are Claire, and like her, you are torn between the desire to go back to your time and your wonderful husband, and this exciting new world of adventure and passion for Jamie Fraser.

Knowing nothing much about Scotland, I dove into this novel and was blown away by the imagery of the Scottish highlands, the political tension, and the day-to-day life one used to lead. The author has managed to bring the setting to life on the pages and suck you into a time you really shouldn’t want to live in but kind of do… I must admit the political aspects of the book were less intersting to me (probably because of my ignorance on the subject) but I could still fear for Claire and Jamie whenever there was a fight or the threat of danger. They don’t always get out unscathed and it’s wonderful to see their characters develop and changed by events like getting married, severely injured, or kidnapped. Yes, there is a lot of action in this book.

My biggest surprise was probably how much I cared for the romance. It is not so much the thought of “Will the good guy get the girl?” because – and that’s not a spoiler – that happens fairly quickly. It is watching these two people grow and develop a true relationship. Anybody who has ever been in a romantic relationship can relate to certain scenes, be they in the bedroom or little every day fights. To me, it felt believable and tore my heart out several times.

The only thing that bothered me in this entire, chunky novel was probably one fantasy element that I could have done without. I won’t say which one for fear of spoiling but when it happened, I had to hold back chuckles, it was so ridiculous – and unnecessary! I wish I could say I have devoured the entire series but I didn’t. I started on the second book right after finishing this one but it lacked the quick pace and easy-to-follow story arc of its predecessor. Nonetheless, I can recommend this wholeheartedly to anybody who’s ready to fall in love with Scotland and a certain redhead highlander.

I may buy the graphic novel adaptation of Jamie’s perspective of this story – or read the spin-off series about Lord John. Because I really don’t want to give up completely on this universe yet.

THE GOOD: A gripping tale of romance, rich in history and adventure, as well as edge-of-your-seat action.
THE BAD: Hardcore feminists won’t like this.
THE VERDICT: A wonderful book that will not let you do anything but read for a while. And I dare you not to fall in love with Jamie Fraser!

RATING: 8,5/10  Excellent

The Outlander Series:

  1. Outlander
  2. Dragonfly in Amber
  3. Voyager
  4. Drums of Autumn
  5. The Fiery Cross
  6. A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  7. An Echo in the Bone
  8. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood

Related posts:

Jacqueline Carey – Kushiel’s Dart

Patience, young Padawan. Some books take longer to grip you, some even bore and confuse you for 200 pages only to finally tear out your heart and make you feel all the things. Carey’s books don’t start with lots of action, but it pays off to pull through the first few chapters to get to the amazing bits. Personally, I discovered a writer in Carey who may actually rival Robin Hobb.

by Jacqueline Carey

published: Tor Books, 2001
pages: 912
copy: paperback
series:  Kushiel’s Legacy #1
Terre d’Ange #1

my rating: 9/10

first sentence: Lest anyone should suppose that I am a cuckoo’s child, got on the wrong side of the blanket by lusty peasant stock and solt into indenture in a shortfallen season, I may say that I am House-born and reared in the Night Court proper, for all the good it did me.

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good…and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt. Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear. Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel’s Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.

Do not be put off by the slow beginning of this story. It really pays to push through the first few hundred pages (yes, I know that sounds like a lot) which are filled mostly with the setting up of court intrigues, introducing the world and characters and, most of all, making the readers acquainted with Phèdre, one of the most intriguing heroines I’ve ever read about. I’m not saying the beginning is boring, I just have trouble getting emotionally invested when I don’t fully understand the politics and religion of the setting yet. But, eager learner as I am, once I had a rough idea of how this society and the circles in which Phèdre moves, functions, I was all in. There is one specific event that happens in the book and was a turning point for me (and Phèdre, for that matter). Because starting from that point, there is action almost non-stop, some intrigues become clearer, new ones appear and remain as obscure as they can be.

Guessing what is going on is only half the fun of this novel. The plot, thrilling as it is, pales next to Jacqueline Carey’s writing. Her style is flowery and feminine, and utterly beautiful. She paints pictures with her prose, brings her amazing characters to life – among them a highly interersting villain and Phèdre herself, whose pleasure is derived from pain. That said, there are several scenes in this book that describe sexual encounters. I loved the writing in those scenes as much as the variety of “love-making” that Carey shows. Whether it is Phèdre doing her job as a courtesan, her sleeping with somebody to get to information, or having sex with somebody she truly cares for – we get to see how varied the act itself can be. And how beautifully this land of Terre d’Ange deals with it. Reading this made me wish we could be a little less stuck up and handle sex with similar grace.

I gave away very little of the plot because anything more I could say would spoil your reading pleasure. Be assured, though, that there is much more going on than courtiers talking and Phèdre sleeping with people. There is a very real threat to the kingdom and our heroine is in the thick of it. The map at the beginning of the book will tip you off that not all the story takes place in this make-believe France. There is love, hate, war and torture, deceit and loyalty, sex and adventure. That is all I’m going to say.

THE GOOD: Amazing prose, not your every-day characters, a plot that’s got everything you can think of.
THE BAD: Very slow beginning, I’m sure less patient readers will be put off.
THE VERDICT: A wonderful book that should be read by all those who consider themselves fans of the genre and want a different kind of fantasy.

RATING: 9/10  Truly excellent

Kushiel’s Legacy:

  1. Kushiel’s Dart
  2. Kushiel’s Chosen
  3. Kushiel’s Avatar