Diana Gabaldon published her 8th Outlander novel –Written in My Own Heart’s Blood -in the summer of 2014 and the first 8 episodes of the first novel The Outlander appeared on Starz. I had never heard of Gabaldon and disliked historical romances, but watching the series hooked me. Between August and November, I downloaded all 8 novels on my iPad, one after the other and spent weeks immersed in the 18th century. My response was not always positive. http://115journals.com/2014/10/10/diana-gabaldon-outlandish-outlander/
So why do I recommend that you read them all?
I had the impression as I read the last one that it was the best of the lot and it would be hard to understand it if you hadn’t read the others. You could buy Gabaldon’s The Outlandish Companion, the most expensive of her books on iTunes and get plot summaries of the first four, really detailed summaries. They come in handy if you have read them, but have forgotten why Jamie feels responsible when Stephen Bonnet turns out to be a cad, but I don’t recommend reading them instead of the books because you’d miss all the fun.
Above all else, Gabaldon is an exuberant writer. She is exuberant about sex as you have already discovered if you watched the series. The episode called “The Wedding” was not one you would have wanted to watch with your parents or your children. There was more naked flesh per hour than has ever been seen outside of porn. Her main characters Claire, from the 20th century, and Jamie, from the 18th, not only have great sex in every possible location and position, across 35 years, they genuinely adore each other in sickness and in health and deathly injury and post traumatic stress, in grief, in long separation, in loss and in wealth. All this, despite the fact that each presumes the other dead at times and Claire is in her early 60’s in the 8th book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.
Gabaldon does all her own research, which is extensive particularly with regard to military history, medicine in both relevant centuries, sailing ships and whore houses, among others. She says that she doesn’t do drafts and that her editor doesn’t interfere, but lets her write a book as long as she wants. (I’m curious what he does do.) Reviewers do not always agree that these are positives. Bethany of Postcards from Purgatory, for example, sees the last book as one of the worst along with The Fiery Cross, the 5th book. http://postcardsfrompurgatory.com/2014/07/04/final-thoughts-on-diana-gabaldons-written-in-my-own-hearts-blood-by-bethany/ Others describe it as Gabaldon’s best. That makes me feel better, but I’m a notorious softie. When I’m hooked by a book, I have no critical judgement.
Those who don’t like Written in My Own Heart’s Blood complain about the tedious battle scenes. Like the 7th book, An Echo in the Bone, the 8th is set mostly during the American Revolution, including obscure battles that give the author leeway to invent. Jamie was expected to fight on the British side because he had been given a large land grant by the British authorities, but, of course, he is a Scot through and through and not much given to supporting King George. Both Claire and the reviewers complain that they didn’t pay close enough attention in history class. I was caught up in the sheer improvisation of the battles. No one seemed to know what they were doing, they just ad libbed. In the end, they often couldn’t even tell who had won.
While I couldn’t always tell what was going on either as the battle lines changed, I was intrigued by descriptions of swordplay, the use of guns and mortar, the fate of the horses and one particular donkey.
The lines seemed to be very permeable. Jamie was welcomed into the British camp when his relative was dying and, at one point Lord John, a high ranking officer in the British army masquerades as a rebel soldier -with one eye.
The Brianna/Roger story line is particularly suspenseful, involving the search for Jem across two centuries. Suppose you tried to travel through time and ended up in the wrong era.
I enjoyed the book on a more general level because it is full of joi de vivre, of life affirming energy even in its darkest moments when Claire and the unobservant reader think that Jamie is lost. I like the idea of the large family and their loyalty to each other as they muddle through life. And war. Then, of course, there is Gabaldon’s usual quota of comic scenes, one in which William discovers who his real father is by laying eyes on him, and another when Claire’s two 18th century husbands face off against each other. Mostly, I love the books because they are full of love.
Initially, the 8th book was supposed to be the last, but no longer. That’s a good thing because there are still a number of loose ends. Call this sloppy, as some reviewers do, or just another advantage of reading an exuberant, prolific writer.
I intend to write several more posts on why you should read all eight novels, giving highlights of each book in turn.