Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series: A Primer

Outlander

As you probably know, the eighth major novel in Diana Gabaldon’s renowned Outlander series, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, comes out on June 10th. Fans are in a frenzy waiting for the latest installment in this larger-than-life saga—and if you’re familiar with the books, it’s easy to understand why. They’ve been described as everything from historical romance, to fantasy, to military history, to horror, but this series is nearly impossibly to pigeonhole as any one genre (or even five), which is part of its limitless appeal.

The first novel, Outlander, opens in 1946 with the story of Claire Randall, a former WWII combat nurse, who is mysteriously transported back in time to 1743 Scotland. There she is relentlessly hunted by Jack Randall, the cruel, sadistic great-great (and a few more greats)-grandfather of her modern-day husband, Frank, and falls under the protection (and spell) of a handsome Scottish warrior by the name of Jamie Fraser.

Outlander has all the makings of an epic series: terrific writing, memorable characters, a unique storyline; plus romance, intrigue, adventure, betrayal—the works. Best of all, you get two (fascinating) time periods for the price of one!

Still skeptical? Hoping to learn a little more about the Outlander series before you commit yourself to the first astonishing 800+ page volume? You’re in luck—we’ve put together a little introduction to this compelling series, just for you. Here are 5 reasons you’ll want to lose yourself in the epic adventures of Claire and Jamie.

The History
Outlander quickly transports you to the 18th century Scottish Highlands, plunging you into the dangerous, unpredictable everyday lives of the village folk, castle dwellers, mercenaries and soldiers who populated that world. The depth and scope of Gabaldon’s knowledge of Scotland’s history and culture is breathtaking, and every detail draws you in further—from the descriptions of dress, weaponry, and social customs, to the accents and dialects spoken, to the medicinal herbs and other remedies (leeches, holla!) used to cure illnesses at the time. In the way that only the best historical fiction can, Outlander teaches you about the past by immersing you in it. This series is like a harrowing history lesson, dipped in a simmering romance, and wrapped in a kilt.

The Characters
While together they make up one of the most enthralling fictional couples in recent memory, like the best romantic characters, Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser are each marvelous pieces of work in their own right. Claire’s wartime background as a combat nurse means she is used to keeping cool under pressure—and you can’t help but admire her courage and resourcefulness under even the most frightening of circumstances (and there are a lot of frightening circumstances, particularly for a woman traveling alone through the Scottish Highlands during the 18th century). Jamie Fraser too is a deeply multifaceted character; a bold and fearless warrior with a strong sense of right and wrong, he is also tender, charmingly self-deprecating, and intensely loyal. These are characters you will root for.

Claire and Jamie’s friendship and eventual romance also brings out the best in each of them. They relate to each other in a refreshingly direct and real way, and as they learn to truly trust and care for each other, the deepening of their relationship is one of the best elements of the book. Due to the centuries of history that lie between them, Claire and Jamie’s values and ideals are not always in sync, and there is something inspiring about watching two characters you love and respect hash out their differences, and find ways to connect against all odds.

Lots of Action (of Every Kind)
The Outlander books—especially the first novel—are a seamless blend of heart-pounding action and adventure, along with more than a few heart-pounding romantic interludes. In fact, I found them difficult to put down because something exciting (in one way or another) was frequently about to occur. This tension, combined with Gabaldon’s skillful exposition and ability to create instantly memorable characters, means that you will never be bored while reading this series.

Lots of Humor
In a book that is filled with violence, adventure, and nail-biting suspense, a little comic relief goes a long way. Fortunately, protagonist and narrator Claire has a wickedly sharp sense of humor, and her shrewd observations of the situations she finds herself in inject some much-needed levity into the story. Jamie also has a great sense of fun and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Although the humorous angle of these books is not often mentioned, I was surprised—and delighted—by how funny they frequently were.

Last But Not Least, Fear of Missing Out When the Show Debuts This Summer
OK, this is perhaps the most inauspicious reason to get into this series, but no one has to know that it impacted your decision. Besides, you know it’s going to be that much more enjoyable watching the highly anticipated debut of the television series Outlander late this summer when you’ve already started reading the books and are well-versed in Claire and Jamie’s world. There is something inherently satisfying about seeing a terrific series brought to life on television and being able to say things like, “That’s exactly how I thought X character would look,” and, “Well in the books, they handled this part differently.” So if you needed any further reason to check out this series, let this be the final straw.

Have you read or are you thinking of reading Outlander?

  • Heather Santiago

    I just recently started this series and currently reading Dragonfly In Amber. I’m excited that I’ll soon be ready for the new one!

  • Victoria Becker

    Have been reading this wonderful series for many years… this year is a biggie with Written in My Own Heart’s Blood and the Starz series both coming out. The most compelling series I have ever read – it has a little something for everyone, I think. Love, hate, historical conflict, time travel, herbalism and medical treatments of the past, plenty of violence and sex and two characters you’ll never, ever forget.

  • Sue V

    Oh yes, the humor is a thread that is so often overlooked, but it is just what the narrative needs. I’ve been reading them since the early 1990’s and just this last year got my oldest daughter hooked on them. We are both eagerly awaiting the TV series as well.

  • Chris King Bent

    Stumbled on to this series in another thread of a book series I read. Everyone was recommending Outlander as a book to read while awaiting the third book in the All Souls Trilogy. Unbeknownst to me, it was a 7 book series at the time, with book 8 on the way. Once I began reading book one, Outlander, there was no going back! I read every book in the series in a little more than a months time. Then came the unbearable wait for MOBY. With this last installment read, I now have to prepare myself for a very long interlude before book nine’s release! Ah, well, I can always visit Jamie and Claire through re-reads!

  • Ruth Goldstein

    Have been a fan since back in 1991 when, I believe, Outlander first appeared! As a result of that book, and all the rest, have made friends with so many people on the web via numerous websites (Ladies of Lallybroch being the first and premier), and even made friends in person with people I had only known on the web prior to that (Hats off to Susan B, some of the Ladies) including when I went on a tour of Scotland thanks to another Hoser (look up the reference elsewhere, and no, it is NOT the Canadian reference) whose tour company did a fabulous job of showing us the path that Jamie and Claire’s story took through the Highlands (and Lowlands) of Scotland. Already finished reading the 8th book, and am on tenterhooks waiting for August 9, hoping it will be better than all the previews we’ve been allowed to see – and thinking it will be even better than that because I will be seeing it for the first time with friends and fans. Read it – I dare you to put it down after 100 pages and say it’s not for you!

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