This Side Of Lallybroch

I have tried everything to avoid starting my book review of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander with a cliché.

But I can’t.

I am going to go with I am so fucking in love with this book and I can’t stop reading the series and I want to time travel though I don’t think I could survive the 17th century and oh my God somebody teach me Gaelic already so I can find myself a hunky redheided Highlander who speaks in a sexy Scottish brogue and rolls his R’s and oh God, kilts, and I want to find the sixth book so please FullyBooked strut your stuff because I seriously need my fix of Jamie and Claire and everyone this side of Lallybroch.

Of course, I can’t leave my book review like that – I’d have to refund my mother the funds she invested towards my high school and college education. I need to substantiate my love for Outlander with something more than just a fangirl apoplexy.

I’ve found a series that I have latched on to like a dehydrated leech, yet I have no words.

Outlander is the first story in a series of seven, soon to become eight (it’s like Harry Potter all over again!). It is the story of Claire Randall, a former combat nurse from 1945 who travels back 200 years in time in Scotland, and Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scotsman. Together they find love and adventure as they make their way in a land and in a time rife with war between the English and the Highland clans.

Here’s the official blurb from Outlander to erase the nasty aftertaste of my ridiculous attempt at summarizing novels.

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is 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 stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach–an “outlander”–in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life…and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives

I guess it’s hard to write about Outlander because it blurs the line between literary genres. It can be classified either as a history (17th century Scotland, witchcraft, the battle of Culloden) or a fantasy (time travel) piece. But I really like to read it as a romance novel, the story of the wondrously deep connection between Claire and Jamie, which is almost spiritual as it is physical, a love that literally knows no distance and time.

“I do know it, my own. Let me tell ye in your sleep how much I love you. For there’s no so much I can be saying to ye while ye wake, but the same poor words, again and again. While ye sleep in my arms, I can say things to ye that would be daft and silly waking, and your dreams will know the truth of them.” – Jamie Fraser, Dragonfly in Amber

I melted. This line was taken from the second book, though. But ye ken what I mean when I say deep connection, aye? I’ve said it once before, but I am a sucker for romance novels.

There is a constant undercurrent of energy lurking throughout the chapters of the book, as if preparing the reader for one adventure after another. Things move pretty quickly for Claire as she gets caught up between the English and the Highland Scots. She’s branded as a Sassenach, an outlander. Here, I could totally relate to her being out of place, out of time, neither here nor there.

But you have to admire Claire and her pragmatic approach to everything despite being displaced 200 years back in time and finding herself the target of a particularly vicious and sadistic English captain who eerily resembles her husband Frank. Instead of trying to figure out why she gets thrown back in time, she adjusts quite well as a wise woman.

I have to say that character development is one of Outlander’s greatest assets – it has a large cast of characters, each fleshed out and painstakingly developed throughout the book. Watching Claire and Jamie’s love story unfold was one of the treats which kept me going one page more, never really minding that I had deadlines to meet the next morning.

The amount of history crammed into this book is amazing in scope.  Everything is so detailed and precise I feel as if I’ve peeked through a window in time, getting a snippet of how life went about before the advent of modern plumbing where people did not consider bathing as a necessity to personal hygiene, sterilizing medical instruments was unheard of and potatoes were generally distrusted. Gabaldon minces no words in describing the living conditions of 17th century Scotland – you could almost feel it, see it and yes, smell it. Overall, Outlander cleverly weaves together an intriguing tale with romance, history, fantasy and adventure.

Beautiful covers are beautiful

And the cover. How can you not love this book, with its simple design in a field of royal blue? I bought my copy from FullyBooked Cebu (and it remains to be my best source for the Outlander books, having found books 4 and 5 here) and to date, I have not regretted judging a book by its cover.

I do have a few qualms about this book, though. First, time travel is more of a plot device rather than a central theme. Halfway through the book I found myself asking why was Claire there in the first place? Surely there had to be an underlying reason for her time skip.

For me, a time traveller always had a significant role to play in changing the course of history. Was it possible that she travelled back in time by pure coincidence, that she was simply destined to fall in love with Jamie? I think this will be tackled later in the succeeding books but aside from Claire and Jamie’s relationship, this particular aspect left me unsatisfied.

Then there’s Frank. He’s not a bad husband. He loves Claire and he seems like a nice guy. I’m not comfortable with how he was cast aside or how the primary antagonist was molded in his own image. It feels like an excuse somehow to eliminate Frank from the picture and it just did not rub well with me. But then again, there are six more books, so it’s too early to tell.

There were also scenes which dragged rather than propelled the story forward, but I really didn’t mind them so much because Jamie was there. Yes, Jamie. It’s hard not to root for this guy who is a cuddly gentlemen warrior poet with a sense of humor all rolled into one yummy package. Cuddly. Like a teddy bear.

Outlander had me talking for days in a false Scottish brogue. I took to answering Facebook posts with “Weel, yes,” or “Verra weil sir,” or “I didna ken that.” It also gave me my own personal bubble where I could forget everything, especially the pressures at work, and just chill. It has been a long time since I’ve gotten so absorbed with a book (I’ve taken to reading it in tricycles even when doing so gives me nasty headaches) and all is well with life again.

I’m just really happy that I have something to read again! I’m on my fourth book and there are three more books left to go. The eight one is coming in 2013, I think.

So to whoever designed the Outlander series covers, bless you. You have my thanks.

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