Outlander by Diana Gabaldon was published in 1991 and housewives have never been the same. Gabaldon has a Ph.D. in behavioral ecology, a master’s degree in marine biology, and a bachelors in zoology, and she writes historical romance/fantasy. Go figure.
Outlander is the story of Claire Randall, who is on a second honeymoon to Inverness, Scotland, with her husband Frank after serving as a British army nurse in World War II. She and Frank have been having marital difficulties, revolving mostly around their inability to conceive a child. Frank is taking the opportunity to research his family history, and Claire is intrigued by the story of a pagan ritual held by a henge at nearby Craigh na Dun. She sneaks out one night to watch it; while at the stones, she hears a strange buzzing noise and becomes disoriented, then is surprised to hear the sounds of a battle, which she assumes are battle re-enactors. When she finds the men, she is taken captive by someone who claims to be called Captain Jack Randall (who is the ancestor Frank was researching) and he asks her why she is in a state of undress. He thinks that she is a prostitute or a spy and prepares to rape her when he is knocked unconscious by a Scotsman, who takes Claire with him as he rejoins the rest of his clansmen. Claire discovers that she has somehow traveled back in time to 1743 and has been rescued by Jamie MacTavish, who is a member of the Clan MacKenzie. Though they are suspicious of her and refer to her as a Sassenach (an outlander who is not part of the Scottish culture) Claire manages to gain their respect as a healer when she uses her 20th century medical knowledge to help Jamie’s injuries.
Captain Randall finds out that the MacKenzies have been housing Claire and he demands that the clan bring her to him. In order to protect her, the leaders of the Clan MacKenzie, Colum and Dougal, tell Claire that she needs to marry Jamie. Claire protests but since she cannot really explain that she has a husband in 1945, she consents to marry Jamie. On their wedding night, he reveals to her his true last name – Fraser. He has been using a fake name because he is wanted by the English for obstruction, and had previously been captured and tortured by Captain Randall; he has deep scars on his back from the whippings, both with a whip and a bayonet, that he received. Jamie and Claire quickly grow to love each other and have hot sex. Like, really hot.
Claire adapts to life in the Scottish Highlands. She becomes friends with Geilis Duncan who shares her love of medicine. However, when a young girl who is in love with Jamie and jealous of Claire misinterprets their medical practices, Claire and Geilis are accused of witchcraft. Jamie manages to save Claire from a public whipping and possible hanging, but not before she sees a smallpox vaccination on Geilis’s arm, and she realizes that Geilis is from the future as well.
When Jamie asks about the witchcraft allegations, Claire is unable to explain herself other than with the truth – she is from the future. Jamie believes her and tells her that he will help her get back to Frank, if that is what she truly wants. Claire takes a night to decide and realizes that she loves Jamie more and decides to stay. The two of them go to Lallybroch to stay with Jamie’s sister on their clans’ land and hide from the English forces.
However, a tenant on their land betrays Jamie to the English. He is captured and taken to Wentworth Prison, which is presided over by Captain Randall. Claire and Jamie’s clansmen stage a break out, but fail – Claire is captured and is beaten and almost raped by Captain Randall. Jamie offers himself to Randall in Claire’s place, knowing that Randall has a sadistic obsession with him. Randall agrees and throws Claire out into the cold woods. Claire tells Randall that she’s a witch and, using Frank’s family genealogy research, tells him when and where he will die.
Alone and freezing in the woods, Claire runs into a former suitor of Jamie’s mother, who gathers men together to help her free Jamie. They stampede a herd of cows through the castle, trampling Randall when he comes to investigate the noise.
Claire takes Jamie to an abbey in France where she helps him recover from his injuries and the psychological tortures that he has undergone. She and Jamie swim in a “healing spring” under the Abbey, and Claire reveals at the end of the novel that she is pregnant with their first child.
At the end of the day, Outlander is a good book — it is lushly researched, the time travel element is interesting, and the story is interesting. The book itself is very long — about 650 pages — so be sure that you have plenty of time to invest in the story.
But let’s be honest, we’re all in it for one thing and that is Jamie Fraser. I consider myself a pretty ardent feminist, but even the scene where Jamie takes the strap to Claire after she ran away and he saved her from Captain Randall is not enough to turn me off of Jamie. He is the right amount of tortured and strong and perfect and hot. Did I mention hot? He’s about 6’4, strapping, red-haired, and fictional, but hey, no one is perfect.
I mean, DAMN.
Starz is creating a series based on Outlander that premieres this August. There are also seven books in the Outlander series, with the eighth book coming out this June. Each of the books in the series is just as long, if not longer, than Outlander, and just as richly (and sometimes obnoxiously) detailed. There are eight additional books by Gabaldon that detail a secondary character, Lord John Grey, and are historical mysteries. Putting those degrees to work, obviously.