Historical Musings #42: Reading Diana Gabaldon

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. This month I am looking at the work of Diana Gabaldon, an author I first read in the 1990s, when only the first four books in her bestselling Outlander series had been published. Since then I have joined other readers in the long wait for each new book – there are now eight of them, with a ninth on the way, as well as some spin-off novels and collections of novellas and short stories. There’s also a successful TV adaptation, which I’m sure some of you will have seen even if you haven’t read the books.

The novels are a mixture of romance (mainly in the first book), adventure, mystery and a small amount of science fiction and take us across the world from Scotland and France to America and the Caribbean. The first book, Outlander (which I originally knew as Cross Stitch – its UK title), introduces us to Claire Randall, a 1940s nurse who is visiting Scotland when she walks through a stone circle in the Highlands and finds herself transported back in time to the 18th century. The first person Claire meets is Black Jack Randall, an army officer who becomes convinced that she is a spy. It seems that the only way she can escape his clutches is to marry Jamie Fraser, a young Scottish outlaw – the problem is, she already has a husband in the 20th century…

The Outlander novels

The series currently consists of the following eight books:

Outlander/Cross Stitch (1991)
Dragonfly in Amber (1992)
Voyager (1993)
Drums of Autumn (1996)
The Fiery Cross (2001)
A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005)
An Echo in the Bone (2009)
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (2014)

The ninth book – which will not be the last one, by the way – will be called Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone but no publication date has been announced yet.

I have read the first four books in the series several times each and although I think Gabaldon’s writing has improved over time, those earlier books are still my favourites, particularly Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager. The later books, in my opinion, have become too complex and ambitious, with too many storylines and characters and written from too many different perspectives. An Echo in the Bone and Written in My Own Heart’s Blood also draw in a lot of characters from the Lord John series (more on that below), which I just couldn’t seem to get interested in, and I feel that the focus on Jamie and Claire has been lost. I am still looking forward to the final books, though – I’ve come too far now to not find out how the series ends!

The Lord John series

Gabaldon has also written a series of historical mystery novels which are spin-offs from the main series. These novels focus on Lord John Grey, who had a small part in Dragonfly in Amber before going on to play an increasingly significant role in the other Outlander novels.

Lord John and the Private Matter (2003)
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (2007)
The Scottish Prisoner (2011)

I have read the first two books, but not the third as by that point I had decided that, although I like Lord John himself, the secondary characters in the series didn’t interest me and I didn’t really want to read any more about them.

There are also several Lord John novellas – and a few featuring other characters from the main series – and some of these were collected together in Seven Stones to Stand or Fall.

~

You can find out more about Gabaldon and her work by visiting her website, DianaGabaldon.com.

I will be looking at more historical fiction authors in future posts, but for now I would like to hear your thoughts on Diana Gabaldon.

Have you read any of her books? Which are your favourites?

20 thoughts on “Historical Musings #42: Reading Diana Gabaldon

  1. Café Society says:

    I tried the first one but didn’t finish it. It seemed to hop all over the place, and if, as you say, the later ones have got even more diverse then I definitely wouldn’t get on with them. I am interested in what you say about having become invested in a series and so seeing it through to the end even though it may have changed along the way. I have recently given up on a police procedural series because I could no longer believe in the central characters. I find I regret the characters I first knew, but not the people they have become.

    • Helen says:

      The first book is actually quite tightly plotted in comparison to the last few, so if you had problems with that one I think it was the right decision not to continue! Diana Gabaldon has said that there will probably only be two more books in this series, so having come this far I don’t think I’ll be able to resist reading them.

  2. Carmen says:

    I haven’t read her novels, but have seen the three seasons of the TV series thus far, which I love and have gotten me interested in her books. I’m not sure I want to start another series though; I’m currently involved with an on-going one and have read several entries in two or three others, but… reading a series is exhausting! 🙂 Maybe someday I’ll give this series a go.

    • Helen says:

      I can understand that – starting to read a long series can be a big commitment. I think you would probably enjoy these books though, especially as you already love the TV series.

  3. Melita says:

    I read the first one but didn’t really connect with the characters. I also found a few aspects squicky. I passed it on to a friend and she adores the series. Had read all the books, met most of the actors, etc. She still thanks me.

    • Helen says:

      I loved Claire and Jamie from the beginning but if you couldn’t connect with them I understand why you wouldn’t want to continue with the series. I’m glad it was a success with your friend!

  4. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    I recently read Cross Stitch and found it a little repetitive, and I wanted to know more about the other woman character who may have traveled back the same way she did. I don’t think I’ll read another, I’m enjoying reading African historical fiction at present, like Kintu and House of Stone.

    • Helen says:

      Gabaldon’s books seem to divide opinion, so I can understand why you don’t want to read any more of them. We do learn a lot more about Geillis Duncan, the other time traveller, in some of the other books, though. I haven’t read much African historical fiction but I’m always looking for suggestions – I’ll have to investigate the two books you mention.

  5. Sandra says:

    I love the Outlander series. Like you, I feel I’ve invested too much to give up now but I agree with all your points about the later books. I new there was a further book due but hadn’t known that it will not be the last. At least two more doorstoppers to look forward to now!

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad it’s not just me who feels the earlier books are better than the later ones. I’ve enjoyed all of them, but definitely preferred the ones set in Scotland and with a tighter focus on Jamie and Claire. I read somewhere that Diana Gabaldon said the tenth book would probably be the last, so we should have two more to look forward to.

    • Helen says:

      If you didn’t fall in love with the first book I understand why you wouldn’t want to invest in the others. They are such long, thick books that reading the whole series is quite a commitment, especially with so many other books waiting to be read.

  6. Judy Krueger says:

    I read Outlander when it first came out. I liked it and it may possibly be the book that interested me in time travel. Somehow, I never went on. Maybe just a bit too much romance for me?

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