Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

After watching 3 episodes of the TV series and hearing from friends who’ve read this how marvelous it is, I decided to go for full spoilers and get the book. I’ll say up front, I wanted to like it. You see, I’m not completely sold on the series yet at this point, but I could see the potential. Good characters, love the sets and the music, but… is there a story here beyond just your basic romance? That was question.

The short answer is no, not really. Romance novel fans will have little problem embracing this as the characters are solidly human in their personalities, and the little bits of Jacobite intrigue flavor the story nicely. It’s just a question of how “steamy” and explicit you like it, because this book goes for broke on that front. Beyond that, the driving plot of this book seems to hinge on how many times Jamie can rescue Claire from nearly being raped. I made it about 45% into this book and gave up in disgust when it was deemed that Jamie needed to punish Claire for nearly getting raped yet again. No matter how historically accurate something may or may not be in the mind of a reader, there’s a saturation point where it just becomes ridiculous. I seem to have found it.

Having read similar books by Susanna Kearsley about time travelling heroines landing in Jacobite Scotland, even though Outlander is clearly one of the first of this kind of book, I think I’ll stick with Kearsley. Gabaldon’s writing style has spunk to the characters and more grit, but not as much gloss or magic as Kearsley. It comes down to personal preference on that front, but for me, I like historical fiction to be historical and fantasy to be fantastic. Gabaldon got this backwards.

For those of us who read historical fiction for the history, the devil’s in the details. It takes a 2 second Google search to confirm that a Scottish claymore does not weigh 15 lbs. It weighs just around 5, a maximum of 6. That’s a heavy sword. Smaller swords traditionally weigh less than 2. And if by some stretch of imagination that claymore DID weigh 15 lbs, I’m pretty sure it would wrench the guy’s arm out of socket (which is how we met him, after all) when he lobbed it at people like a throwing knife. Admittedly, it’s a cool visual that worked well when Mel Gibson did it in Braveheart, but (*spoiler alert*) that movie isn’t historically accurate either. Kilts? 200+ years before they were created? Really? Bottom line… swords are lightweight, and Scotsmen throw CABERS for fun because THOSE are heavy! Back to the book…

There’s a scene in this book that goes to great length to teach our heroine the proper use of a dirk. The only thing I can think of is this is how it must feel for astrophysicists to read science fiction, because I kept screaming at the instructor character for being a complete and utter moron. The historical martial arts community has a vast online presence, and they’re very helpful to anyone — especially writers — who wish to aim for something resembling real life accuracy. Why would a self-respecting writer randomly make stuff up when such resources abound? It’s like when Bugs Bunny puts his fingers into the barrel of Elmer Fudd’s shotgun and makes it backfire. This book would have you believe that’s how it works, and to those with even a basic knowledge of historical blades, the story just implodes on itself. As a swordfighter, I’m squarely in that category, and I realize I’m nitpicking. Without that, I’m sure it’s much more entertaining to the larger audiences, and clearly Gabaldon’s fan following confirms that, so she must be doing something right. I’m just the wrong audience for this sort of thing.

With that in mind, the characters are still interesting when they’re not punishing one another or going at it like rabbits, so I’ll see where the TV version goes for now, seeing as how I know where my breaking point is. Seems wrong to me when the TV version is better than the book, but there you go.

(EDIT: I got as far as the above-mentioned sword instruction scene in the TV series.  Haven’t gone back since, and won’t.)

Davina Porter (by any name she uses) is a magnificent narrator, as always, lending her skills in languages and dialects in her typically superb manner. She gives this book an air of credibility that the writing just doesn’t.

2 stars


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