Desert Isle Keeper
Drums of Autumn
If there’s a novelist whose hand with plot, character, dialogue, prose, sensuality, historical detail, humor, and emotion is very near perfect, I’d say without a qualm that it’s Diana Gabaldon. Several books after the incomparable Outlander – the one that started it all – she can still produce a 1,000-page tome without losing the sheer resonance of Claire and Jamie Fraser’s historical time-travel saga.
In Drums of Autumn, the fourth book in the series, Claire and Jamie are homesteading in frontier America, after having survived a tumultuous voyage across the Atlantic. But in the future, their daughter Brianna discovers a notice from an 18th-century newspaper announcing her parents’ death in a fire. Hoping to save them, she travels into the past – not knowing that her beau, Roger Wakefield, will follow her there.
With Indians, pirates, and political intrigue, the plot moves swiftly despite the book’s bulk. And the prose is exquisite:
Stars burned coldly bright, but seemed to hang low, as though they might fall from the sky any minute and be extinguished, sizzling, in the mist-damp trees on the ridges beyond.
As fully as she describes the wilderness of the American colonies, Ms. Gabaldon captures an amazing range of human emotions. Aside from fatherly love, which emerges as a significant theme in the book, she boldly explores and gives new dimensions to such issues as rape, unrequited passion, and marriage (there are some meaty insights about Claire’s first husband, Frank, and his role in Claire’s life toward the end of the book).
Outlander was told entirely in Claire’s first-person narration. It’s easy to miss that, but the presence of several points of view in Drums of Autumn lends greater depth to the story and reveals many complexities in the characters. Having her mother’s courage and her father’s stubbornness, Brianna is the perfect match for the sweet and gallant Roger. Also interesting are the noble Lord John Grey, with his one-sided love for Jamie; Stephen Bonnet, the amoral “gentleman pirate;” and Young Ian, who essentially takes the place of Fergus, Jamie’s young sidekick in Dragonfly in Amber (Fergus has married and settled down).
This book also features the culmination of Jamie’s character as warrior/laird with numerous lives under his protection – a role he plays most poignantly in his relations with his long-lost daughter. All traces of the young outlaw and soldier-of-fortune from previous books have virtually disappeared, so that the reader gets to know him all over again: a man who’s evidently older and wiser, imperfect, tortured, and still everything a woman could dare dream of.
Indeed, so well-developed are Diana Gabaldon’s characters that almost any book with Jamie and Clare in it is an automatic A+ for me. But I’ll take the plus out of the A in this one because of a problem I had with Roger. His devotion to Brianna is somewhat difficult to believe, stemming dubiously from what seems like love at first sight. I also didn’t like the way he withholds important information from her – regardless of his motives – because it means he can’t give her the gift of free choice.
In a book of this magnitude, my problem with Roger amounts to little more than a minor quibble. That minor quibble aside, I’ll end with this final exhortation. If you’re still hesitant about plunging into the series, here are two words that have been life-altering for many readers: Jamie Fraser. He is one of the most memorable and well-drawn heroes in fiction.