The Chick: Claire Randall. An ordinary nurse living in 1945, her whole world turns upside down when she walks through some magic stones and winds up in 18th century Scotland.
The Rub: Living in a war-torn country without modern amenities is tough - especially since she has no way of proving she's not a spy for the English.
Dream Casting: Amy Adams.
The Dude: James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser - a.k.a. Jamie. God's gift to women, Scotland, and horny incestuous gay army captains everywhere.
The Rub: He worries about being forced to marry a woman with a mysterious past. Could it be possible she might come to love him, despite the fact that he's only six feet tall, gorgeous, chivalrous, landed, educated, creative in bed, and a virgin?
Dream Casting: There's never been, nor will there ever be, a man born of a human woman who can ever even hope to approach the pure and glorious manliness of Jamie Fraser.
Claire: Gee, touring Scotland with my sophisticated and handsome husband is such fun!
Magic Stones of Convenient Plot Development: *ominous humming*
Claire: *poof!* Oh, bugger.
Savage Scots: Save our injured friend!
Jamie: *glorious red hair glowing by candlelight, which also conveniently sheens off of his bulging blood-streaked abs* Me.
Choirs of Angels: *ecstatic singing*
Claire: I'm suddenly a lot less afraid of the whole accidental time-travel thing.
Jamie: Sorry we have to marry for convenience, also sorry that I'm totally a laird and also a hot outlaw and also well educated and fluent in many languages and also great with animals and also probably going to be great in the sack - technically, I'm a virgin, but I mean the odds are good that...
Claire: Wait wait wait - you're a virgin? How the HELL did that happen?
Super Gay Duke Who Tried to Bone Jamie: I KNOW, right?!
Super Evil Gay Captain Who Tried to Bone Jamie: You'd think that with all these people trying to bone him, by fair means or foul, that at least one of us would succeed!
Super Bitchy Jamie-Fangirl Laoghire: IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE.
Claire: All these people want to have sex with you?!
Jamie: *bashful look* *scuffs boot*
Gay Dudes and Women: OMG ISN'T HE JUST THE CUTEST THING?
Claire: Score! This is going to be AWESOME!
Savage Mobs: Wait! We still need to have a WITCH TRIAL! And kidnappings! And barbaric custom and superstition!
Dougal and Colum MacKenzie, Jamie's Uncles: And we need to be all morally ambiguous and mysterious, until we reveal we're in love with Claire.
Dougal: Well, we canna verra weel be in love with Jamie. That'd be Incest!
Super Evil Gay Captain: Didn't stop me! C'mon, Jamie! I'll let your wife live if you toss my caber, nudgenudgewinkwink.
Claire: HELL TO THE NO! RELEASE THE COWS!
Obvious Monty Python Reference: Le vache! Le vache!
Super Evil Gay Captain: *trampled by cows*
Jamie: .... aaaguughaughguhg.
Claire: Walk it off, Jamie.
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Hot Highlander
1 Time-Travelling Heroine
1 Dumped Husband
1 Evil Gay Incestuous Rapist Captain Who Happens to Look an Awful Lot Like Dumped Husband
Several Lacklustre Romantic Rivals
2 Ambiguous Uncles
1 Marriage of Convenience
1 Evil Witch
Several Chapters Worth of Backstory
1 Necessary Spanking
1 Really Ugly Pair of Scottish Swim Trunks
The Word: Well, I did it.
I read Outlander. Part of me is tempted to say, "I can't believe I read the whole thing," but the truth is, I didn't. I skimmed about half.
*flinches, as if from the fear of stones being thrown*
Outlander is rather a contentious book in the romance world - some believe it's a romance, others don't, but most readers either desperately adore it, or avoid it like the plague, and both camps informed me in no uncertain terms on Twitter that I would love/hate it, which is part of why I wanted to read it in the first place, to see what everyone was talking about. *eyes the new copy of Dark Lover on her TBR*
Really, though, I neither loved nor hated this book. As unbelievable as it may sound, this book was a m'eh grade. It had good writing, a great heroine, an interesting story - but on the flip side it had terrible pacing, cheap characterization in many places, and Jamie Fraser.
*runs away from stones actually being thrown*
Now, for those of you who, like me, had previously been completely ignorant of Outlander, this is the story in a nutshell:
Jamie Fraser is Awesome and Everyone Wants to Have Sex with Him. For 800 pages.
Some people will tell you the story is about Claire Randall, a woman living in 1945 Britain who is magically transported through standing stones to 18th century Scotland, where she is more less adopted by a clan of hot, rowdy Scotsmen who eventually force her to marry outlawed highlander Jamie Fraser for various political reasons that take hundreds of pages to explain.
That's not the story. That's the Inciting Incident. The story is Jamie - how awesome he is, how he embodies perfection in every pore, how he's a holy mixture of Rob Roy, Chuck Norris and Harry Potter, how he inspires lust in every woman and jealous fear in every man, etc. etc. Every real piece of action in the story is driven by someone's desire to protect Jamie, possess Jamie, or make Jamie look even more awesome and cool as he whips out his own brand of Redheaded Scottish Justice.
And, just in case our own powers of interpretation can't be trusted, every so often Jamie or one of his friends will take Claire aside to a lovingly and elaborately described Scottish geological landmark and tell her about Jamie's courageous, painful past, in long and tedious blocks of exposition. I like to call these Jamie's Tragic Past Storytime Hours. How he was whipped by the Evil Gay Army Captain. How bravely he survived getting shot at and chopped in the head with an axe (!). How he rescued a litter of kittens from a burning orphanage with one hand while teaching blind children to read with the other - you get the point.
Now put down your pitchforks for a minute. I'll readily admit that Jamie, as a character, is a very nice young man, but I just wasn't crazy for him and I'll tell you why. You all like chocolate, don't you? I love chocolate. But imagine if someone forcibly shoved chocolate down your throat all day, nonstop, all the while screaming "CHOCOLATE! HOOORAAAAAAY FOR CHOCOLATE!" five millimetres from your ear while playing the bagpipes - would that chocolate still taste as good?
You see, Outlander spends so much time and effort and page count telling us how Extra Special Jamie is that it had the opposite effect on me - I thought it was too much, too over the top, and I couldn't buy Jamie's character. Worse, during the novel it obscures those true moments when Gabaldon allows Jamie's actions to show us what a decent man he is.
Yes, Jamie is nice - but he's not enough to base 800 pages on, which is why, after struggling along until page 446 (only about halfway through), I had to give up and skim. The pacing in Outlander is ridiculously slow. Lots of beautifully worded description, to be sure, especially when combined with Claire's witty and wry commentary, but there's little to no unifying action or plot. Claire just wanders around, wondering how to get back to her own time, until Jamie shows up to save her, have sex with her, or both. Reading the book itself up to that point was pleasant, but I wasn't at all emotionally invested in the story and just wanted to get on with it so I could read something else.
It also behooves me to point out how equally badly the book wants to make Black Jack Randall (ancestor of Claire's present-husband Frank and the book's villain) Jamie's polar opposite in every way - by shoehorning in as many flaws, sins, and perversions as possible. No real character development necessary - just make him half-impotent, bisexual, incestuous, and so rape-ariffic he'd screw a fence with a hole in it if it was capable of screaming "No! Stop!" at him. I realize the English were kind of douchey during the whole Scottish occupation thing, but it's not necessary to make Randall the Antichrist.
On the good side, Outlander is well-written and well-researched. The setting is opulently described, not just verbally, but through Claire's interpretation (the story's told from her first-person POV). The romantic aspects of the book were often aww-worthy, although romantic tension is pretty much nonexistent - if you're a character in Outlander who is not an immediate blood-relation of Jamie, falling in love with him is not a possibility, but an inevitability. The secondary characters are pretty interesting and, for all that he's not really worth 800 pages of hero-worship, Jamie is a very nice young man.
So I guess it all depends on what you're looking for. My opinion of Outlander falls squarely down the middle - if you love swoonworthy heroes who never take a step wrong, lots of love scenes and colourful scenery, you might want to check out Outlander. If you're looking for well-developed, realistic characters and gripping action - use this book as a doorstop instead. Did I hate this book? No. Will I want to read the other books in the series? Hell no.