"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review #1: Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon

I first read Outlander about fifteen years or so ago. My mom gave it to me, saying, "I know you don't like time travel, but just get over that, and read this book." Rarely does my mom do that, but when she does, she hits the mark. In fact, she gave me Harry Potter in much the same way, about four months before it exploded, saying, "Stick with it. Trust me."  After hearing about the upcoming series on Starz, and discovering it was only $1.99 for an e-reader edition, I realized I needed to take a little trip to the Scottish Highlands.

And I'm glad I did. Jamie's just as delicious as I remember, and Claire is just as smart and fiesty. The characters come to life as easily as they did the first time around, and the reader is transported back to eighteenth century Scotland just as quickly as Claire was when she stepped through the stones at Craig na Dun.

For the uninitiated, Gabaldon's story begins in 1945, with British nurse Claire Randall on a second honeymoon with her history buff husband Frank. Though they've been together for years, the war has kept them apart, and Claire and Frank are just beginning to settle in to married life. On a solitary walk near a stone circle, Claire is whisked through a time portal and finds herself in Scotland in 1743, at the height of the British and Scottish fighting. Through a series of events, Claire finds herself with Jamie Fraser, a young Scottish warrior fighting to clear his name and return to his land. Together, they must face the truly evil Lord John Randall (Frank's ancestor), keep each other safe, and try to find a way for Claire to return to her own time.

One of the things I love about this series is how well it blends the "prince saves the girl" storyline with a strong female lead. Yes, Jamie saves Claire - quite often, in fact - but Claire is no slouch, and she pulls off several clever and daring rescues. As fierce a warrior as Jamie is, he needs Claire, and as intelligent and strong as Claire is, she needs him, too. They truly are a team, and that's not something you often see in stories like this.

The beauty of this book lies in its characters. The story is good, to be sure, but the characters are what elevates this book from good to excellent. Jamie, Claire, and the entire cast are strong, brave, smart, and resilient, but they are also flawed, and Gabaldon doesn't shy away from exposing those flaws.

I also read the author's interview, and I found it interesting that Gabaldon wrote Outlander "just to see if [she] could". I'm glad she decided to take the leap.

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