Tag Archives: outlander

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

A review of Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, aka Outlander number 3, in which I visit the Outlander series once more, with spoilers.

And now that little disclaimer is out of the way…

I’ve decided that if you’re going to buy into the love story of Jamie and Claire beyond book one in the series then you have to do so with total moral ambivalence. They are a pair of absolute wrecking balls, so focused on themselves and each other that they trample on the lives of everyone around them, especially those closest to them, with barely a backward glance.

Jamie wakes up lying on the battlefield after Culloden, Jack Randall’s head on his thigh. Well of course he does, sometimes the love stories with sudden, tragic endings are the most compelling, but it wouldn’t be much of a reunion with Claire if he expired in the opening pages. More interesting from my point of view was how Jack Randall’s corpse came to be lying on Jamie- did Jamie finally take his revenge or did Jack Randall save Jamie on the battlefield, thus throwing in yet another example of the Outlander series perpetrating the myth that sexual violence has anything to do with love? Well, finishing off this paragraph of spoilers with another spoiler… reader, you won’t find out in this novel. But I daresay it will come up again later in the series.

It looks as though he’s going to be executed, but his life is spared by the brother of John William Grey, the young soldier who tried to rescue Claire from the rapacious Scot in Dragonfly in Amber. From there we have a whistle stop tour of Jamie’s last twenty years without Claire, with such highlights as seven years in a cave, a spell in prison, fathering a child in a sex scene with a seventeen year old girl called Geneva which raises even more question marks about the sexual politics of the series, before heading back to Scotland with a pardon to take up a career in sedition and smuggling. Oh, and marrying Laoghaire. Remember her? The one who tried to get his one true love burned as a witch? Yeah, he married her.

So when Claire arrives back in the 18th century, after a few cursory glances into her last twenty years for good measure (which knock Frank of his pedestal and bring out the Randall genes, in case anyone had been left feeling sorry for him…) she’s roughly the same age as Jamie again, removing our prospect of a January/May romance and allowing her to favourably compare her appearance with that of every woman she comes across. And she used to be such a strong character.

It isn’t long before the cat is set among the pigeons by Laoghaire (Jamie’s second wife) catching him in bed with his first wife and taking a gun to him. Fair enough really. And it explains why Mr Willoughby, Jamie’s pet Chinaman (yes, he’s taken in a Chinese man that he found at the docks, adopted a paternalistic attitude towards him and given him a pet name… let’s not start with the imperialist, race relations connotations of this) keeps calling Claire honoured first wife.

Aaaanyway. To buy himself out of marriage with Laoghaire, Jamie needs to sell some treasure that he’s found and left in the middle of the ocean on at LEAST three separate occasions, meaning that his young nephews have to risk their lives to retrieve it when the family needs money every now and again. Why wouldn’t you just keep it hidden in the priest hole or his cave? This time, when his youngest nephew tries getting some treasure to buy off the lady scorned, he finds himself kidnapped by pirates meaning that Jamie, Claire and Fergus (with his fifteen year old wife) have to chase him around the globe to get him back.

I found this to be the weakest book in the series so far. A bit like the last novels of the Hunger Games, it feels a little like this was planned and written after the success of the initial novel so the plotting isn’t as considered as that of a novel which was conceived as a part of a series (like the Harry Potter books). Although the novels do refer to one another, it feels as though Jamie and Claire are now causing a lot of the problems they find themselves caught up in rather than finding themselves the pawns of fate. The reappearance of Gellis Duncan was problematic for me as well, and the whole forensic anthropologist moment with the skull at the start of the novel was just trite.

The Drums of Autumn is the next book in the series, which apparently will see Jamie and Claire’s abandoned daughter travel back in time to save her parents’ happiness. Looking at the dates and location I can only presume that the wrecking balls are instrumental in starting the American War of Independence… I think I’ll be taking a break before reading it.

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander 2)

Be warned, this review will contain spoilers for Outlander (book 1) and for Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander book 2). With that in mind…

Dragonfly in Amber, book two of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon annoyed me in a number of ways. I picked it up wanting to head straight back into the story of Jamie and Claire who I’d left in 18th century France at the end of Outlander, only to be confronted (and frustrated) with a frame narrative which led me back to the Scottish Highlands of 1968. The frame narrative picks up a minor character from the first novel, Roger Wakefield, who has grown from a shy orphaned child to an Oxford scholar specializing in the Jacobite period who Claire and her (tall, red-haired) daughter task with tracing the destinies of the men of Lallybroch after the Battle of Culloden. As part of the project, they find Jamie’s gravestone near that of Jack Randall in a church yard far from Culloden, which leads Claire to breakdown and tell them the story of her time with Jamie following on from the events of Outlander. And about time too.

I may be getting censorious in my third decade, but if I were to give the Outlander novels descriptions in the style of Friends episodes then I’d have to go with something like The One Where Claire Makes a Concerted Effort to Give Her Unborn Child Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and Jamie Demonstrates That He is an Unsuitable Father. Coming so soon after my own pregnancy problems earlier in the year the description of Claire’s pregnancy made me really, really dislike Claire and Jamie. Apparently FAS wasn’t discovered until 1973, so coming from the sixties Claire probably wouldn’t have been aware that the copious amounts of alcohol she consumes in the novel would have harmed her baby, but she does knock back so much wine, brandy and brandywine that she feels drunk on several occasions. That coupled with her and Jamie’s insistence on rushing into peril at every available opportunity left me unsurprised if saddened when their daughter Faith is stillborn at five months gestation.

In fact, for me, the whole France section of the novel felt like an unnecessary farce to link the end of the first Outlander section of the novel to Claire and Jamie’s return to Scotland and the build up to the Battle of Culloden in the second. Claire and Jamie behave in ways which feel entirely at odds with their characters from the first novel, with Jamie especially transforming from the cultured, intelligent Scotsman to something which reminded me of one of my friends’ ex-boyfriends… nice guy, but rash and slightly apelike. Which is how he ends up in the Bastille…

Still, by the time Claire has sprung him from prison for the second time (the less we say about King Louis XV and the rose oil the better) and they are back in Scotland, the novel got back on track and I found myself once again engaged with the story, though I have to say I find the degree of sexual violence in the novels, especially that implied in Jamie and Claire’s relationship, unnecessary and a little uncomfortable.

The Scottish Rising section of the novel is especially interesting to me, because it brings up the question of the influence a time-traveller can exert on a period they visit, especially in the context of a sensitive and emotive period of history. For me it begged the question of whether Claire and Geillis Duncan had created something of a causal loop. Geillis in Outlander 1 claimed to have raised £10,000 toward the Stuart cause, and Charles Stuart has some initial success in waging war in Scotland. Would the Scots still have been defeated at Culloden in Jamie and Claire hadn’t worked so tirelessly to prevent him achieving his aims?

At the end of the novel, I found that I’d switched from hating the frame narrative to appreciating it when Roger (who throws up a nice little time-travel conundrum in being a descendant of Geillis Duncan… was she her own Grandpa, in a manner of speaking?) discovers that Jamie didn’t die at Culloden as planned but was one of the few Scots to survive…

So yes, obviously I hopped straight on my computer and reserved the third book in the series from the library.