Outlander Cover

Author: Diana Gabaldon
Winner: Rita Award, Best Romance Novel, 1991
Original Publication: 1991
Series: #1, Outlander Series
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Claire Randall is a WW2 nurse on vacation in Scotland with her historian husband, Frank. Separated during the war, they are enjoying a second honeymoon while Frank looks into his Scottish family history. Claire is increasingly disinterested in her husband’s obsession with the past, and ends up making friends with a local who knows all of the native plants of the region. Interested in botany, Claire ventures with the old man to a nearby stonehenge-esque site where rumored pagan rituals are conducted, in order to look at the vegetation. The next day, Claire returns alone to take clippings of a plant she is interested in, and realizes that the ancient stones are buzzing audibly, as if they are filled with bees. As she comes closer, she falls through the stones and emerges in the same place, only it isn’t the same place. It’s now 200 years earlier, in the year 1734, and the calm Scotland countryside Claire knows is overrun with warriors and clansmen, and she doesn’t belong.

As it turns out, her husband’s interest in history benefits Claire as the first person she runs into is Frank’s several-greats grandfather, whom she recognizes by name when he introduces himself. He is a thoroughly unpleasant person, and Claire is gratefully rescued by a band of marauders. She proves herself useful with her nursing training by tending to a wounded young man, Jamie, and when she learns that Captain Randall is the enemy of her rescuers, she introduces herself by her maiden name to avoid association with him. The group takes Claire with them back to Castle Leoch, where it must be decided what to do with her. Obviously her modern medical knowledge and immunity to common diseases (she has been vaccinated) creates suspicion of her origins, and she must put her cleverness to good use in order to stay out of trouble.

The story reminded me a little of Alice in Wonderland – Claire is a little bored with her husband (even if she does love him), and wanders off only to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole into another world. Inevitably, she finds herself torn between her life in her own time and her life in Scotland as she has fallen in love with Jamie. The historical details are very rich and well done, and it’s as much historical fiction and science fiction as it is a romance novel.

I hesitate to give away more of the plot – it’s a great read with a lot of twists and turns, and it’s exciting. Claire and Jamie have a lot of adventures, and you can’t help but kind of fall in love with the characters as you go.

Fun Fact: They’re turning it into a movie to be released in 2011. I’ll be anxious to see it, and Katherine Heigl is rumored to be playing Claire. As much as I disagree with the casting choice, I’ll be curious how they adapt the huge scope of the novel into a regular-length movie.

Bother if: Like me, you’re a sucker for the genre. It’s got it all – historical detail, time travel, romance, love, sex, war, torture, witchcraft, etc. I thought it was a fun, interesting read. I’ll be looking out for the rest of the series. This one was very absorbing and hard for me to put down.

Don’t bother if: You’re turned off by graphic descriptions. It’s not a bodice ripper or overly explicit in its depictions of sex, but there are some torture scenes; one in particular depicting the rape and torture of a man by another man which some readers may find disturbing. The author doesn’t hold back in her “going there.” It’s very much an adult story.

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