If you’ve never heard of Outlander, then chances are you’ve been living under a more colossal rock than me, and that’s saying something – my friends call me Patrick Star. I discovered Outlander thanks to the TV show’s theme song. Weird, I know, but let me explain. I was twenty minutes deep into
pointless Buzzfeed quizzes and articles when I stumbled across it. I paused my thousandth listen through of Hamilton: An American Musical to press play, and boy oh boy! Is that song something or what? I grew up listening to bagpipes likely more often than your average Sassenach (mainly because my family could never pull away from their Scottish roots), and the sound always comes with a heart-crushing wave of nostalgia. I knew in that moment, I had to watch the show – but then, to my delight, I discovered that they were books! I think I melted.
Outlander follows Claire, a WWII nurse transported back in time to 1746 Scotland, and documents her trying times as she tries to find her way back home (you can find the full blurb at the end of the review).
My Reading Experience
The Outlander series could in no way, ever be described as a quick, light read. As of 2018, the shortest of all eight books is the first, Outlander, coming in at a whopping 627 pages (standard paperback). It’s a wonder then, how I managed to read the first five in a matter of weeks. But I was hooked, and when I am that entranced in something, I devour it, without coming up for air. I was lucky that the novels were available in my library’s eBook collection because I definitely could not fit them in my suitcase.
What I Liked
As always, I’m going to pick out two of the top things I liked in Outlander, even though there were many, many more than that.
Right off the bat, I loved Claire’s voice. Though I found the opening to Outlander slightly slow, it was the way that Gabaldon wrote Claire that had me reading page after page after page. She’s smart, strong, and still traditionally feminine (that’s a rare combination in a book, for some reason, a lot of characters can’t seem to be strong and feminine). As a woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), I loved reading the love and fascination that Claire has for science, her dedication to healing and to botany made me adore her even more. Though Claire definitely had her damsel in distress moments (more on that later), she didn’t sit around and wait for a man to walk in and change her life, she took charge, forged herself a career and did everything in her power to return home.
There’s no way I can write a review on Outlander and not mention Jamie Fraser. The thing that endlessly fascinates me about Jamie is the constant tension of beliefs he holds – on one hand, he’s a very forward-thinking, almost modern man, he takes Claire’s 1940’s quirks in stride and never forces an explanation from her, but on the other hand, he’s aware of the cultural expectations of him. He can’t ignore them, and there are some things though wrong to a modern audience, that sound quite fine to Jamie. That internal tension was one of my favourite aspects of his character – of course, he’s also got a few other things going for him. Y’know, just a few. He’s smart and kind, and loving, he’s devoted and funny, and I hear he’s quite a strapping lad.
Humour and Heartbreak
Humour and heartbreak is my universal scale of a books goodness (yes, I’m aware that makes little sense, let’s roll with it). If it makes me laugh and breaks my heart then its done its job. Outlander succeeded in making me laugh, but more than that, it also succeeded in destroying my heart and leaving me a sobbing at 2 am when I should have been asleep. It also managed to evoke a plethora of other emotions I never knew a book other than Harry Potter could achieve. Outlander gets five out of five on the humour and heartbreak front.
What I Didn’t Like
Of course, I had to pick out a few things I didn’t like – after all, nothing is perfect. However close the Fraser’s might be.
This is nothing bad on the writing or the story, in fact, it’s more a good point than it is a bad point, because I don’t think I’ve hated fictional characters with more vehemence (maybe with the exception of Dolores Umbridge) than I hate both Jack Randall and Laoghaire McKenzie (and in later books, Stephen Bonnet). It’s a feat to write characters that well fleshed out and absolutely horrid to inspire hate (especially from me) but my word, my blood boils when those characters are in the books. I tossed up between putting these characters in the What I Liked part of this review, but ultimately, I really didn’t like them.
Some of Claire’s Decision Making
As much as I loved Claire’s character and her wits, I have to say, she made some very questionable decisions. Some of which made me want to throw the book across the room and scream. There are some moments that have bad idea written all over them, and yet Claire is there in the middle of it. Claire is without a doubt, a strong heroine, but she is also a damsel in distress (granted that in some of the situations Claire finds herself in, anyone would probably need someone to come in and save them).
Changing POV in later books
This is more a personal quirk than anything, I’m not a fan of multiple POVs, so I didn’t love that in later books. Having said that, I definitely enjoyed the addition of Jamie’s POV. I understand why all the additional POVs were introduced, but I still felt much more connected to Jamie and Claire than to any of the other narrators.
My Favourite Thing
I usually struggle to find a favourite thing about a book, but despite Outlander containing so many elements that I absolutely adored, there was one that definitely stood out. You can probably tell from my review already, from the humour and heartbreak, to the vehement hate for some characters – Outlander is an incredibly immersive read. Just like the standing stones at Craig na Dun, Outlander sucks you in and plunges you right into the wilds of Scotland in the 1700s. It’s almost impossible to tear yourself from the world once it’s got its claws into you, and despite its incredible length, the book passes in what seems like the blink of an eye, because it acts as a time warp – you start it at 7pm one night and finish it three days later realising that you probably should eat, sleep and shower (okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration). I love Outlander dearly for this, I know that whenever I need to escape from my day-to-day reality, Jamie Fraser is waiting for me in Scotland, almost three-hundred years ago, and all I need to do is
visit Craig na Dun open the book.
Outlander is a true binge-worthy series, and if you’re wondering whether you should take the plunge or not, my answer is yes. Definitely yes. Unsurprisingly, I gave Outlander 5 out of 5 stars.
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.