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)
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?