Desert Isle Keeper
Outlander (#5 on our Top 100 Romances list)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
review originally published on August 30, 1997
Calling Outlander a time travel romance is like calling a Dove Bar ice cream on a stick. Mere labels can’t possibly prepare you for the totally engrossing and sensual experience of either one. If you are ready for 850 pages packed with action, sex, life and death, then take the plunge. But then be prepared to read the sequels; there are three currently but at least two more are reportedly in the works.
Claire Randall is celebrating a reunion in Britain with her husband Frank after serving as a combat nurse in World War II. While on a trip to a tourist attraction – an ancient stone circle known as Craigh na Dun – she is suddenly sucked back in time to war-torn Scotland in 1743. She is befriended by a group of Scottish outlaws who are suspicious of her dress and speech. Though they assume she is a British spy, they warm slightly to her when she saves the life of their young comrade, Jamie, an escapee from a barbaric prison.
Claire is eventually sought after by the cruel and twisted captain of the British garrison. In order to protect her, the Scots decide that she must marry Jamie. By this time she has spent some time with the group, and while she has come to admire Jamie’s courage and honor, she is not thrilled with the idea of marrying him, especially when he is five years younger than she is and she is still married to Frank somewhere back in her own time. But eventually she and Jamie grow to have a love that is stronger than her marriage bond, a love that is so intense and passionate that the two are prepared to lay down their lives for each other – and they very nearly do.
Gabaldon doesn’t spent a lot of time with the “fish out of water” side of time travel. Claire has experience with tough situations from her campaigns as a war nurse, and she quickly adapts to her new urroundings, treating the wounded as best she can under the primitive conditions. She is a solid, resourceful heroine, whose guilt about betraying Frank gives way to her overwhelming love for Jamie.
Ah, Jamie. I think I might be unfaithful for him too. Of all of the heroes I’ve encountered in my many years of reading, he would have to make the top ten, maybe the top five. The man takes physical punishment for a young girl in the clan so that she won’t have to be embarrassed. He rescues Claire almost single-handedly from being burnt at the stake when she is accused of witchcraft. He starts out as a virgin but manages to teach Claire a thing or two about making love. He can swear a blue streak but he can also be poetic and philosophical. Okay, he’s a little bloodthirsty too, but that’s a product of his time.
The author writes with great energy for a book of this considerable size, jumping from adventure to adventure with barely a breath in between. There’s a certainly level of Braveheart-style violence, and some politically incorrect behavior on Jamie’s part, but if you can get past that you will be swept away by the passion and intensity between Claire and Jamie. By the time Claire almost literally rescues Jamie’s soul the reader is almost exhausted by the sheer emotion of it all. Their relationship develops, matures and is tested, but it never wavers.
I must admit that several friends, whose book opinions I respect, have told me they didn’t like Outlander or had trouble getting through it. It is not a light-hearted read, for sure. There’s a very high body count, and some brutal torture scenes. But for me all of that was outweighed by the epic-style adventure and truly satisfying romance that made the novel a “Dove Bar” experience.
Gabaldon followed this novel up with Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager and Drums of Autumn. All of them are enjoyable (and of similarly impressive length) but none approach the sheer drama and passion of Outlander.
Readers should also be aware that the Happily Ever After in Outlander is tenuous at best, and a lot of questions are left unanswered. Fortunately, Gabaldon followed this novel up with Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn. All of them are enjoyable (although Dragonfly ends with more tears than anything else) but none approach the sheer drama and passion of Outlander.