Outlander Book Review
Updated: Sep 7, 2022
When my mom pitched the Outlander series to me, I was immediately against it. I hate love triangles, and I assumed this would be another series where the author tries to justify adulterous behavior. Yet when Mom played the show during my recent visit, I got hooked, and decided, “Why not give the book a try? I can always put it down if I hate it.” But hate it I did not. While it's by no means a perfect book, it was highly enjoyable.
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Romance
Category: Cozy Read
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RATING: 3.5/5 Stars
Plot: 3/5 stars
Characters: 4/5 stars
World: 5/5 stars
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
Though Claire undoubtedly endures traumas during her journey, she gets to live a life many fantasy nerds dream of: being transported through time, to a period we romanticize, and marrying a handsome warrior…even if it begins as a forced marriage of convenience.
While I enjoyed the story, it could have been shorter. Gabaldon is occasionally long-winded and repetitive. There was action and excitement, but also points where not much was happening; Claire and Jamie enjoyed a respite and each other while Gabaldon established settings and supporting characters. These scenes were indeed cozy and picturesque but could be considered boring. Sometimes arguments or conversations between characters dragged on longer than necessary, but not so much that it was painful to read . . . or listen to, as I did with most of the book.
Davina Porter is a great narrator, and I appreciate the way she moves between English, Scottish, and French seamlessly. Whenever I sat down to read rather than listen, I found her voice to be the one in my head.
If you like a bit of spice in your books, Outlander will scratch that itch for you. It's not the spiciest, but I think it's well done.
TRIGGER WARNINGS: There are depictions and mentions of rape, attempted rape, and/or molestation on multiple occasions. Children are harmed, though it's not graphic or happens behind the scenes. Suicide is also mentioned.
There are times when one person declines sexual advances yet the second is insistent, and so they get it on anyway. This may be unsettling for some; others may view the way it plays out as spicy and romantic. I’m not here to judge either way; I’m just giving fair warning.
While she isn't exactly a badass, Claire has the potential to become a strong protagonist. She is observant, clever, resourceful, compassionate, fiery, and intolerant of injustice or BS.
I’ve seen some readers complain that Claire has no culture shock upon her time travel, but I have to disagree. She complains about the lack of amenities, misses things that have not yet been invented, bemoans the numerous layers and clunky shoes she has to wear, and oftentimes butts heads with characters due to the manners in which people and situations are treated, questioning their methods. Maybe she isn’t dramatic enough for some, or doesn’t spend much time wallowing, but I like to think it’s because she’s an adaptable woman who has already seen her share of horrors and having to go without, thanks to her years as a combat nurse. I for one admire that she doesn't completely lose her shit.
Jamie is practical, courageous, honest, honorable, loyal, caring, educated, self-deprecating, good humored, and has a romantic side. Between his quick wit and sarcasm, storytelling abilities, linguistic skills, and declarations of affection, there is no denying James Fraser has a way with words. He is also humble; when he realizes he hasn't behaved well or has misspoken, he’s quick to apologize and make amends. He's also willing to open his mind to Claire's progressive views and the impossibility of her arrival.
Honestly, I love Jamie. He's my new book boyfriend—and a bonny one at that.
Many of the supporting characters are endearing, particularly Mrs. Fitz and the inhabitants of Lallybroch with their playful banter, fierce loyalty to one another, and the care they show others. There isn’t much in the way of character arcs aside from Claire’s decision to stay in the 18th century with Jamie, and the way they slowly begin to trust and love one another. I assume this will change as the series continues. Gabaldon does, however, make the supporting characters intriguing by slowly weaving bits of their backstory and secrets into the plot.
Part of me dislikes Claire’s constant need to be rescued by Jamie, but at the same time I accept she has little knowledge and resources to help her, aside from the historical facts gleaned from Frank’s work and her own botanical and medical experience. Though she participated in WW2 as a nurse, she has no practice as a fighter. Thankfully, she does learn as the story progresses; by the end of the book, Claire is stronger and more independent, able to fight for herself.
Scotland is one of the countries I've always been fascinated with, so I highly enjoyed the setting. The Pagan lore, botany, and historical facts woven in add texture to Gabaldon's story, and researching these points not only makes the story more real, it also teaches readers a bit of world history.
While I understand some readers’ issues with the story’s handling of gender roles and sexual conduct, this book was written over 20 years ago and much of it takes place over 200 years ago; sentiments and behaviors were not the same. I’m not saying these things were ever acceptable, but it does make for a more realistic portrayal of the setting. By providing a stark contrast to modern sentiments and values, it highlights the importance of progress and the progress society HAS made.
Outlander is a gorgeous, intricate web of Scottish scenery and culture, Pagan and Druidic lore, historical facts, struggle, suspense, mystery, emotion, and romance. When the reader is not cozying up to the Scottish Highland environment, their hearts are racing as Claire and Jamie seek safety in a world that seems hellbent on destroying them.
I would recommend Outlander to readers who enjoy historical fiction and romance, Scottish culture, or tropes like forced proximity and arranged marriage/marriage of convenience.
Have you already read this series? If so, let's chat about your thoughts in the comments below, or on social media. You can find us on bookstagram or Twitter. If you're late to the party like I was, you can pick up a physical copy here, or check out the audiobook; I think you'll love Davina Porter's narration as much as I did.