Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Title: Outlander (Outlander #1)
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Published: June 1991 (Delacorte Press)
Summary: The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is 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 stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach - an "outlander" - in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the Year of Our Lord 1743. Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life...and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

My Review: My first impression of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon was this: "Now, that is big book." Seriously. The thing is huge. I mean, I started it when I got to a class early, and when I went to hold it in one hand and prop it against the table to read, I dropped it because the weight of the unread side was so heavy that it actually caused me to lose my grasp of the book. Thankfully, I (not-so-)gracefully caught it before it landed on the floor, and no damage occurred. This is particularly good since I got the anniversary edition, with the fancy, cushy binding and the CD of tracks from the Outlander musical (which I didn't even know existed). Anyway, back to the size. I almost let the size dissuade me from reading the book. After all, there wasn't much left of the school year, and a book like that was sure to eat up what little free time I did have. I'm also not a huge time-travel fan. However, I'd heard good things about it from romance fans, and the word "classic" was thrown around a lot. So I decided to give it a shot. BEST DECISION EVER.

I almost did a video review of this book a few days after I finished it. Except it really would have wound up being ten minutes of uncontrollable flailing and rambling and tangents that would make no sense, due to trying to avoid any spoilers. So I decided a regular review would be the way to go. At least this way I can pretend to be a little bit organized.

First of all, there is absolutely no denying that this book is huge. However, what you might not guess is that Outlander is like a time continuum or vortex or time-travel contraption all on its own. Because every single time I sat down to read this book, I was completely lost in the world. It was as if the time I spent reading just disappeared. It was so compelling, so enthralling, that even though it did take a substantial amount of time to read, it never, ever felt like it. In fact, I wasn't ready for it to end, even when it did. A lot of times, I will (very carefully, avoiding any of the text) look at the last page of a book to see how many pages long it is, so I'm not fooled any deceptive 20-page-long Reading Guides/Author's Notes/whatnot at the end. Unfortunately, I somehow got the wrong number in my head for this book, so I thought it was almost twenty pages longer than it actually was. Thus, the last thirty seconds of my reading looked kind of like this:

Me: *reading along and smiling though a slight mist of tears*...*turning page*...*jaw dropping in horror* WAIT, WHAT?! IT'S OVER? NOOOO!
Roommate: *looking up from her book* ...Um. Are you okay?
Me: I don't know. *leaping off the bed and hurling self toward laptop to check Goodreads for the second book*
Roommate: Right. Okay. *going back to her book*

The funny thing is that it actually wasn't a bad place to end. It was a pretty good one, really. But because of my page count mistake, I was not mentally prepared for it to be over. And I need my mental preparation! Especially when I've loved a world so much as this one. Thus the ever-so-slightly dramatic reaction.

Speaking of the world, I really should get on with the whole review part of the review, huh? Well, the world was one of my favorite things about it. I've read tons of historical romance, but very few of those have actually been set in Scotland or the mid 1700's. I tend to focus mostly on Regency (surprise, surprise) with some others thrown in for good measure. Therefore, I didn't have a basis of comparison. The world building in Outlander was fantastic. I actually felt like I was in 18th century Scotland. And what's more - Gabaldon made me feel like I wanted to be there. It had a very similar effect to that of when I read The Scottish Chiefs, which is mostly the story of William Wallace (Braveheart), which I read for History class back in high school and loved. Back to Outlander, though. The details were perfect. They lent the world a strong sense of authenticity but never felt overwhelming, unnecessary, or boring. Everything from the characters to the setting worked together to form the Wonderful World of Outlander, which I never wanted to leave.

As for the characters, Claire was a great heroine. She was delightfully normal, with both admirable traits and flaws. I enjoyed reading this story from her perspective. The supporting characters were interesting. The villain was appropriately horrid. And now, for the character you are all wondering about. The hero, Jamie. Swoon with a capital S. And, really, a capital WOON, too, because he was just that wonderful. Honestly, I don't know what more to say. For you to discover how amazing he truly was, you would just have to read the book.

There were several other things I enjoyed about Outlander. I expected not to like the beginning before the time travel occurred, but I actually enjoyed it. The pace of the whole book was perfect. As one would imagine, the story did not unfold quickly, yet somehow it never felt like it dragged. It felt just right. Although I did not always like the circumstances themselves, I appreciated that Gabaldon treated things in a period-appropriate manner.

Outlander came this close to being a 5-star book to me. Unfortunately, there were a few things that rubbed me a little bit the wrong way, but I still loved it beyond belief. While I'm on the subject, though, I might as well address it, since I've been meaning to for a while. Obtaining a 5 star rating from me is a nearly impossible feat. I know some people say "5 stars" all the time, and I don't hold it against them. But for me, I see 5 stars as Absolute Perfection. If a book is not absolutely FLAWLESS, or does not make me absolutely adore it so much that I can overlook any flaws, I will not rate it 5 stars. Period. The last book I rated 5 stars was Heart of the West by Penelope Williamson, which I read in September 2010. That's almost 2 years ago; I've read approximately 200 books since then. Not a one (other than re-reads of old favorites) has been rated 5 stars. That's actually why I switched over from using a rating scale based on numbers. I do still use numbers, obviously, but I no longer include them in all my reviews. Aaand look at that. I seem to have digressed again. But I'm wrapping up now, I promise.

I will just toss this out there: Outlander had some things I didn't think to expect, and it wasn't some of the things I thought it was. There was drama, and there was intrigue. There was a charmingly unique world. But most of all, there was a beautiful, crazy-good-chemistry, make-your-heart-melt-and-ache love story. AND I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

Random end note: I may be the only person this happens to, but after I've watched a film/series where the people have British accents, sometimes my inner monologue/thoughts will pick up that accent for a short period of time. I've never had it happen with books before, but it happened a little with this book. Some words had a slight brogue when I thought them, and I used tons of Scottish contractions in my head the way Gabaldon wrote them (like "doesna" and "havena" instead of "doesn't" and "haven't"). WEIRD, I KNOW. But it totally happened, for the last couple days toward the end of the week I spent reading it.

PS! For those of you who donna don't know, there's a read-a-long of Outlander in June hosted over at The Reading Housewives! I would highly suggest checking it out if you're interested. I'm sure it's going to be a blast! If I had not read the book so recently, I would be joining myself. In fact, I might drop by for discussion from time to time just because I can. I do love talking about this book, as evidenced by this review (and trust me, there was way, way more).

Good gracious. Apparently I was feeling verbose today. If you actually made it through all that, let me know! I'll be sure to give you an interweb high five!
Getting up once in the dark to go adventuring is a lark. Twice in two days smacks of masochism.

No wonder he was so good with horses, I thought blearily, feeling his fingers rubbing gently behind my ears, listening to the soothing, incomprehensible speech. If I were a horse, I’d let him ride me anywhere.
(Okay, I know that's not how it was meant, but tell me I'm not the only one who just about died laughing.)

Not for the first time, I reflected that intimacy and romance are not synonymous.
Stay Up 'til 2 AM
Purchase this book at: Amazon || Barnes & Nobleicon || The Book Depository

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Psst! I now reside over at The Book Barbies. I'd still love to hear your thoughts, though!