Book Review: Outlander #1 (Cross Stitch) – Diana Gabaldon

“Now,” he said pleasantly, “you are going to tell me everything you know about the Duke of Sandringham.” The blade pressed a little harder, making a dent in the fabric of my gown. “Take as long as you like about it, my dear. I am in no hurry whatsoever.” There was a small pop! as the point punctured the fabric. I felt it, cold as fear, a tiny spot directly over my heart.

Randall slowly drew the knife in a semicircle under one breast. The serge came free and fell away with a flutter of white chemise, and my breast sprang out. Randall seemed to have been holding his breath; he exhaled slowly now, his eyes fixed on mine.

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon.

Another book for my BookRiot Read Harder Challenge – this one fulfills my requirement for a romance book. I’ve had this book for months, after a friend very kindly (and quite surprisingly) gave it to me as a gift, saying “Trust me, it’s good.”

I’ll admit I had my doubts… but I’ll also admit my apprehension was misplaced. It was a well written story with interesting and sympathetic characters. I found the ending slightly too neat, and found some of the ‘relationship-stuff’ overlong, but overall it was a very entertaining read.

Heads up to sensitive readers – this book contains various things that may trigger or offend.

I will definitely read book two. I may even check out the TV series.

Outlander #1 (Cross Stitch) – 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

1945, just after the war. Claire Randall, ex army nurse, is on her second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband Frank (historian), after the war has kept them separate for a few years.  They are reconnecting as a couple, and whilst still in love, they seem to be finding their way around. Rediscovering each other. It is against this setting that Clair walks through a mini-Stonehenge and is transported two hundred years into the past, arriving in 1743. Disoriented and confused, Claire finds herself being almost immediately assaulted by Captain Johnathan Randall (an ancestor of her husband Frank’s and a horrible sadist) and kidnapped by a roving band of Scotsmen.

I mean rescued. Rescued by the Scotsmen.

Quickly making herself useful by tending their wounds, Claire (an Englishwoman) is taken in but never trusted by the Scots. She finds herself treading a thin political line between the English and the Scots, both whom think she could very well be a spy for the other. With little in the way of options, Claire tries to fit into 18th century Scottish life whilst looking for a way back to the stone circle and her old life. But she doesn’t count on falling for the young warrior Jamie Fraser, a wanted man, making her choose between her new relationship and dangerous new existence, and her faithful husband waiting for her in 1945.

 

Review

Lets kick off by talking about the romance. I mentioned earlier that I postponed reading this book, avoiding it principally due to unfair expectations. Seriously, I kept avoiding reading this book, put off by the promise of something I assumed would be Mills & Boon-style heaving bosoms and turgid members, Twilight-style endless teen-angst-y yearning, or even 50 Shades-style descriptive S&M grotesqueness. But I was wrong. The romance here – the story detailing the start and growth of Claire and Jamie’s relationship as well as the various (and numerous) sex scenes were all done in a meaningful and adult style. It’s also not gratuitous – whilst it certainly doesn’t shy away from sex scenes, it isn’t over the top erotica either (not that there’s anything wrong with erotica). There was one scene that I am almost certain was about oral sex, but the details were light enough to make me uncertain. The focus was on the characters and their interaction, not on titillation. I found the romance to be solid and believable… if occasionally a little over written and over long.

If I’m honest, I think that some of my reluctance was due to the cover. I think I might have been more enthusiastic with one of the other covers. For example:

Yeah, I know. It’s silly, but it influenced me. What’s that – judging a book by its cover isn’t a good idea? Why didn’t someone tell me?

Moving past the romance and my issues with the cover, this book is simply a great tale. The period of time that Claire falls into is full of political drama, both within the small Scottish town she spends most of her time in, and the broader political landscape of Scotland v England and the ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ uprising which forms a tense backdrop. Claire is sucked deep into the action of into the 18th century life as a medic, a wife, a suspected spy, and possible witch. There are moments of the faintly ridiculous, but hell, most fun books have these.

Now the warning… I actually didn’t think to mention it all until reading some of the very acidic reviews in Goodreads, including some that call this a ‘rape book’. Reflecting back, the story included attempted rape of the main character, an incident of male rape, and a pretty harsh incident of domestic violence. Whilst the threats and attempts are described in detail to heighten tension (see my book quote) in the main these actions occur ‘off camera’ and there is no attempt to glorify the violence. With the possible exception of the domestic violence (which I deal with), these incidents are dealt with some sensitively and genuine thought for consequences. The male rape for example, is related to us by the victim, who is physically and emotionally shattered. The sexual assaults are not excuses for male action, there is no ‘woman in the fridge‘ moment, it isn’t a backstory or origin point for anyone becoming a superhero. The sexual violence is treated as violence – physical and mental.

I may well be criticised for saying this – but a book that contains a rape in it is not automatically ‘rape culture’.

I found the domestic violence is more troubling. Without too many spoilers, Claire is beaten by Jamie (for reasons that he considered acceptable). Again, the inclusion of domestic violence doesn’t bother me here – it’s meant to be a realistic representation of 18th century Scotland – in this instance, realism is appropriate. What bothered me at the time is how quickly Claire changes her mind from this being an unforgivable crime to falling back in love with him. It seemed convenient and a bit trite.

My main criticism would be of the end of the story. To me, it seemed a bit unlikely in places, a bit forced in others. It just seemed to slip a bit at the final stage.

That said, I enjoyed my time in this book. Its written in an easy, conversational style, and the characters are relatable and sympathetic, and its a hell of a lot of fun.

Great stuff.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Outlander #1 (Cross Stitch) – Diana Gabaldon

  1. Ugh, I did not like this one. I don’t remember any of the rape, but I do remember the beating scene and that was really backwards how the narrative just moved past that, though I’m sure the author thought she was best conveying male brutality and female helplessness in history, but the romance genre is not the healthiest place to do that. Overall, the premise was just too fanciful, but that’s how the romance genre works– the one true love is always waiting around the corner, and the story cannot go on without him.

    And then, THEN, the woman finds out how to return home and decides to stay in the past? That’s psychotic. And then the guy who brought us the most recent BATTLESTAR GALACTICA made this his next TV project… well, he is dead to me.

    I did think it was cool how she used the old TB vaccination scar as an identification mark, though. That was clever and something I still remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah – the TB mark was very clever. I certainly understand your POV here – the romance wasn’t completely ‘healthy’. It could be my unfamiliarity with the genre playing to its advantage here – I’m not sure what to expect so I’m giving it leeway?

      I will read the next book though – I did enjoy the story & premise.
      Cheers 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s been some years since I read this book, so my memory of it might be somewhat cloudy, but clearly remember my annoyance at the way a relatively modern woman would fall back to more ancient behavioral patterns “in the name of love”. The domestic violence angle angered me, for the same reasons, because the character seemed almost to enjoy those beatings, and again it all went – IMHO – against what a strong female character should have represented.

    There is, in the book, a persistence of what is commonly called “hurt/comfort syndrome” that reaches painfully embarrassing levels (again IMHO) and is known to be a most used tool in some forms of bad fanfiction, the same fanfiction that the author herself harshly criticized in an (in)famous post some time ago. When I read that post I was quite amused by the glaring dichotomy in launching anathemas against tropes she herself used… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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