Note: Voyager is the third novel in the “Outlander Series.” There will necessarily be spoilers for the first two books in the series.
In the first book, Outlander, Claire, a young married English nurse on vacation in Scotland after World War II accidentally traveled back in time 200 years to 1743. There she took up with Highland Hottie Jamie Fraser, and developed her skills as a healer. Claire got pregnant, and Jamie insisted she go back to the future to save her and her unborn child, thinking he was about to die in battle.
In the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, it is now twenty years later, in 1968, and Claire has brought her 20-year-old daughter, Brianna (“Bree”) – the spitting image of Jamie – with her to Scotland. They traveled from Boston, where Claire is a doctor, to find the historian Roger Wakefield. Claire wants to find out Jamie’s fate, and Roger discovers Jamie did not in fact die at the Battle of Culloden.
Voyager begins with Jamie on the fields of Culloden in 1745, injured but not dead, possibly saved by the body of his enemy, John Randall, which is lying on top of him. Further improbably, he is rescued from execution afterwards by the brother of Lord John Grey, who, as a boy in the second book, pledged a debt to Jamie. [Gabaldon has a way of bringing back characters encountered along the saga’s way to play new and important roles later on in the story.]
Meanwhile, in 1968, Claire determines she must go back to the past and try to find Jamie. Bree and Roger help research what befell Jamie and where he might be, and in the process, grow more attracted to one another. In alternating chapters we return to the 18th Century to learn about Jamie’s activities over the intervening years.
Roger thinks he has found evidence that Jamie was working as a printer in Edinburgh in the time it would be if Claire went back, so Claire bids farewell to Roger and Bree and makes the dangerous trip through the stones at Craigh na Dun to return to 1766. Claire walks into Jamie’s printshop, and although she is now 48, she is of course as beautiful as ever, and Jamie declares he has always loved her. So her life with Jamie begins again, complete with various instances of Jamie “mastering” Claire and revisiting his favorite places on her body (which we, the readers, have become acquainted with quite thoroughly).
All is not totally well, however: Claire learns some of the unexpected things Jamie was up to while she was gone (and has the gall to be mad over it, even though she was for all intensive purposes gone forever). Additionally, Jamie’s life is full of upheaval as usual. The two end up chasing nephew Ian – who has been captured by pirates, to the Caribbean. They find Ian just as he is about to be made a human sacrifice by an unexpected old acquaintance; get waylaid by a tropical hurricane; and get blown all the way to Georgia, where they already know that in under a decade, they will be in the middle of another war yet again, if they survive that long.
Discussion: In spite of the fact that Claire generally behaves more like she is from the late-20th Century than the mid-20th, she acts positively 18th Century when it comes to attitudes toward non-Christians, non-whites, and non-heterosexuals. Although her “best friend” in her (future life) Boston hospital was a black surgeon, Claire even ascribes to him stereotypical looks and behavior that would not be likely in a man who attained his position. But people she meets in the 18th Century fare much worse. The author portrays a Chinese character – whom Claire refers to as “The Chinaman” – with every bad caricature one can imagine. There are also a couple of men who come into the story, each of whom is referred to (contemptuously) by Claire as “The Jew.” One is a slime ball, and one is nice enough, but daffy and definitely not “manly.” The blacks in the Caribbean are depicted as, and thought of by Claire, in what can only say is a “cringeworthy” manner.
Claire also spends a great deal of time comparing her own assets to other women of the time, being ever so thankful that she has taken care of her teeth and has not succumbed to the worst of all possible fates: gaining weight. (Her last words to Brianna before leaving her presumably forever were “Try not to get fat.” And no, don’t assume because Claire is a doctor that this obsession has anything to do with health, because it is all about looks.)
As for the appeal of this series, I think several factors come into play. One is that Gabaldon is a competent writer. I don’t imagine she will be taught alongside Joyce and Shakespeare, but the quality of the prose in her books doesn’t make you want to throw them across the room.
A second reason is that generation-spanning romantic sagas have great appeal. Many people, including me, like to fantasize about love and family that goes on forever. Her characters are good (well, at least if they are white and Christian and straight) and often quite memorable.
When you add the historical backdrop of Scotland, you win over a large number of American women. (If you doubt the popularly of this niche, check the number of books on Goodreads labeled “Highlander Romance.”)
Evaluation: If you enjoy sagas, sex, and Scotland, this is a series consisting of immensely long books that will occupy you for many days and nights!
Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 1993
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