It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well that I’m already absolutely wrapped up in Diana Gabaldon’s world, and I’m not even a quarter of the way through the first book yet. I am thinking exactly the way I knew I would be thinking right now: why, oh why have I waited so long to get into this series? I just hope I don’t spend the next year reading the Outlander series from beginning to end, because that would really put a damper on some of my other reading goals/plans.
So, let’s see. Briefly, Outlander is the story of Claire Randall, neé Beauchamp, a British World War II combat nurse, who goes on holiday with her husband Frank in the Scottish Highlands after the war ends, and somehow ends up in the year 1743 in the midst of a skirmish between a band of Scotsmen and a regiment of British soldiers, after walking into a circle of standing stones at Craigh na Dun. Bethany has says that the phenomenon of TIME TRAVEL is never very well-explained in this series, so I’m not going to get my hopes up that this series will lapse into complicated TIME TRAVEL physics, but I’m definitely curious about this. Interestingly, one of the first people Claire meets in her new time is an ancestor of her husband’s, Captain John Randall, or Black Jack Randall as he is more commonly known. Black Jack is a particularly brutal British soldier stationed in the Scottish Highlands who will be one of the primary “bad guys” in this book, I think. She is rescued from imminent rape by one of the highland soldiers, and they abscond with her away from the scene of battle. Claire distinguishes herself when she tends to the wounds of one of the soldiers, Jamie MacTavish, and the soldiers treat her kindly. They eventually make their way to Castle Leoch, the home of the leader of Clan MacKenzie (that’s the clan that the soldiers belong go), where Claire’s healing skills are needed. By page 150 or so she has become the castle’s physician, as their last one died unexpectedly (never a good sign). Claire plots her escape from the castle, while making herself useful, and making some friends, for example Geillis Duncan, the wife of the procurator fiscal of the village, who shares Claire’s interest in herbology; Mrs. Fitzgibbons, the housekeeper of Castle Leoch, who helps Claire get situated as physician, and brings her patients at the beginning; and Jamie MacTavish, whose last name isn’t really MacTavish, and is one of the horse trainers at Castle Leoch. He also has a price on his head, and ultimately becomes the love of Claire’s life. But not yet.
The sparks between Claire and Jamie are obvious from the first, and not just because I know what happens in the future books. Gabaldon does a good job of creating that sort of tension that’s going to turn to romance, and that’s always fun to read. I don’t get to read that sort of thing very much anymore, as it’s been a while since I read a book with any significant amount of romance in it. Gabaldon’s writing is easy to read, and she does a great job describing location, wardrobe, and appearance, and of giving the reader a historical context for what’s happening around Claire without being to expository. It’s a rookie move to have Claire’s husband be a history professor who just so happens to be studying the time in which Claire ends up, and to have her be cultivating an interest in herbology because she thinks it is appropriate for a peacetime history professor’s wife to have a hobby, just as she’s about to get tossed back into a time before antibiotics and synthetic medications existed. Along that same line, I think it stretches the bounds of reality to think that a twentieth century urban woman could fit so seamlessly into the day-to-day life of a Scottish Highland village in the eighteenth century. I myself do not think I could do it quite so well as Claire does.
That’s basically all that’s happened so far, though as I was finishing up my reading for the day this afternoon Jamie was about to swear allegiance to Clan MacKenzie. This is something he was planning to do eventually, but got pushed into doing it sooner because he catches Claire trying to steal a horse out of the stables to escape while everyone else is drunk at the annual clan Gathering, and then the clan guards catch them walking back to the castle, and Jamie is sort of strong-armed into pledging loyalty to Colum MacKenzie, the Laird of the clan. I’m excited to see what happens next!