Some time ago I picked up Diana Gabaldon’s book Outlander at a charity shop for a very small sum of money. I confess that I chose it out of curiosity because the book has a a lot of fans and is mentioned a lot on social media. There is also a TV series. which I haven’t seen but which is popular. I hadn’t expected to enjoy the book particularly because I am not overfond of books set in two time periods and there is a definite tendency for writers about the Jacobite uprising to romanticise it. I am happy to admit that I was wrong. I thought the book was a great read with the plotting well done and the characters engaging. The history seemed to me to be accurate and it wasn’t greatly romanticised. Having started the series I then had to proceed to further volumes.
For this month I read the fifth book in the series The Fiery Cross. You definitely have to read these in order as the books are part of a serial story. This novel is 1,400 pages long and as I have a paperback edition (charity shop acquisition) it is quite cumbersome to read. I read it in less than a week and I read the final 500 pages in one day. I found the story gripping and I enjoyed the experience of reading the book.
The premise of this series is that Claire, who is a nurse during WW2, travels back in time to Scotland at the time of the Jacobite rebellion and falls in love with Jamie Fraser. Eventually, having lost one child, when she becomes pregnant again she returns to modern times knowing that Jamie will die at the Battle of Culloden. In the 1960s, when her daughter is grown up, she reads an historical text which shows her that Jamie didn’t die and she returns to the past to find him. Eventually, her daughter and partner will also come back in time. There are other characters who time travel and part of the story is the attempt by Claire and her family to work out who can do this and why.
The books travel from Scotland to France and the West Indies and by the time that we reach this volume Claire, Jamie and their family have settled in America and established a home although they know that the War of Independence is due soon. A lot of the book centres on homesteading and surviving in a pioneer colony. Claire has trained as a doctor and Jamie is still a leader of men so they get involved in a lot of things that happen including raising a militia at the Governor’s request and battling against the rebellion of people wanting their independence from British rule. There is no time travelling in this book and the issue isn’t really mentioned until the end.
The author is great at creating lots of characters and helping you keep track of them all. She also weaves all their stories into one narrative including all the main characters and their lives. Because she is using modern characters she can comment easily on the injustices of the time such as slavery which helps the reader to emphasise better with the society and culture. There is no shirking about how hard it is to live at this time and the difficult decisions which have to be made but the story isn’t particularly grim.
The narrative is told from the points of view of the four main characters; Claire, Jamie, their daughter Briana and her husband Roger. The characters do not always agree with each other or see events the same way and that adds humour and reality to the narrative. Jamie is possibly idolised a bit too much although Claire loses her temper with his ways quite a few times. Roger is having problems settling into this society and he wants to find his own way but he is challenged by events in this book.
Don’t take these books too seriously and don’t assume that they are a social history of the time in which they are set but I think that if you like a good story you will enjoy them. I have the next book in the series ready to read – it’s another long one !