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Fiction in Review: Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Series

Outlander 1991
Dragonfly in Amber
Drums of Autumn
The Fiery Cross
A Breath of Snow and Ashes
Delacorte Press

This review may seem like a departure from typical Pagan/Goddess fiction, and in a way it is. For those of you who haven't heard of the Outlander series already, it is a bestselling series that is categorized in the historical romance genre. This is not usually my favorite genre (not that I have anything against it) but this is one of my favorite series. Why? Aside from the terrific writing, it's a wise woman tale, pure and simple.

All right, maybe it's not that simple. All the books together tell a feminist tale, though not always in expected ways. The latest book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, is 980 pages alone. But it does have a wise woman, witch hunts and even magic.

In the first book, Outlander, Claire Randall, a modern mid-twentieth century English woman having served as a nurse in World War II, is vacationing in Scotland with her husband. Accidently passing through an ancient circle of stones she finds herself in eighteenth century Scotland. This is not a simple and lovely world that she finds herself in and she wants desperately to return to her own time. Circumstances make that impossible until much later when she finds that she has come to love both the place and a man named Jaime Fraser enough that she makes the decision to stay. Using her medical knowledge, Claire (now Claire Fraser) does what she can to help in the world she has chosen. Not everyone is grateful and some see her as a witch, employing the black arts.

It's often a bloody story (the times and circumstances make it difficult to be anything else).Claire does just as much rescuing as she is rescued herself. She is not a helpless heroine who stands quietly by while the men do the fighting.

At one point in the whole story, in despair and to save the life of the baby she is carrying, Claire does return to the modern world. Thinking that Jaimie died in battle right after she left, she spends the next eighteen years becoming a doctor and raising her daughter. When she discovers, through historical papers, that he did not die, she returns to the eighteenth century. This time the pair, along with many others, make their way to the American colonies to start a new life. Once again, Claire adapts her modern skills in the best way she can and gains respect and hatred from others for her work. Her knowledge of what is to come in the American Revolution both helps and puts her family, friends and herself in great danger. That is the bare bones of Claire's tale.

The pure magic of Ms. Gabaldon's writing is in the details. Her descriptions, historical research, cast of characters and ability to draw the reader so deeply into the story and adventures is amazing. The series definitely falls into the "sweeping epic" category and you begin to know, love or even hate the many characters as well as gain a feel of the eighteenth century as if you were really there. People you come to care about do not always make the best choices and can make you angry and frustrated-more of the author's magic: the characters become much more real and believable.

There is one more book to come in the series. Like Claire, we know how the American Revolution plays out, but how the author will end this much loved story is anyone's guess. I will be eagerly waiting to find out. And then I'll have to start the series over because if I didn't I would miss too much the people I've come to think of as real.

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