Review of “Drums of Autumn” by Diana Gabaldon

Note: Drums of Autumn is the fourth novel in the “Outlander Series.”  There will necessarily be spoilers for the first three books.

This series tells the ongoing saga of English nurse Claire who travels back in time from the 20th Century to the 18th, and takes up with hot Highland hunk Jamie. After a number of adventures in Scotland, and a hiatus in which Claire goes back to the future, now she and Jamie are together again, and they are in America.

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Drums of Autumn begins some two months after the events in Voyager in 1767. Jamie is offered some land in North Carolina, and their little group begins to build a settlement. There is a lot of interaction with the Indians with an emphasis on their superstitions and savagery.

Meanwhile, back in 1969 Boston, Jamie and Claire’s daughter Bree uncovers evidence that her parents are in danger. She travels to Scotland so she can go through the portal to the past and warn them. In 1767, she stops at Jamie’s former home at Lallybroch, meets the family, and heads to America. Her boyfriend, the historian Roger, figures out what she has done and follows her into the past, hiring on as a ship hand for none other than a villain of the previous book, Stephen Bonnet.

In North Carolina, Bree finds her parents, but there is a glitch in the otherwise happy reunion: the unmarried Bree is pregnant. Furthermore, it may not be Roger’s baby; Bree was raped after she transitioned to the past. Jamie is led to believe the man who is actually Roger (but who is now using a different name), was the rapist, and when Roger gets there, Jamie beats him up and sells him to the Mohawks. Bree tells Jamie she hates him (even though neither she nor Claire had bothered to clarify matters for Jamie). To win Bree back, Jamie heads off with Claire, aided by nephew Ian, to the Mohawks to try to get Roger back.

Staying with her Aunt Jocasta while they are gone, Bree meets Lord John Grey, who offers to marry Bree so that the child will not be a bastard.

Discussion: In this book, Bree is an unreasonable screeching brat, and Roger disappoints as well. Furthermore, their sex scenes are bizarre – if you read them and cover up the names, you could swear it is Claire and Jamie, since both couples are turned on by the exact same things. The one who acquits himself best in this book is Lord John, who tries to help Bree in spite of her appalling treatment of him.

This book seems in some ways like “a middle book,” introducing characters and situations that we can almost surely rely on seeing later. This would be most welcome, since it is some of the more likable and/or interesting characters that get removed from the story.

Reader beware: Once again, Gabaldon is not what you would call “politically correct” in her attitudes toward those who are non-white, non-Christian, and non-heterosexual. Although the 20th Century characters have the grace to be opposed to slavery, that is often the best that can be said for them.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 1997

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7 Responses

  1. I read and enjoyed the first book in this series, but never really felt compelled to read any further. Reading this review reinforces that opinion.

  2. Yes, this is one of the transition books (there are two of them, if I remember correctly), and they are definitely not as good as the others.

  3. Don’t get me started on the Outlander books. But I will say this: if you manage to make your way through all of them without hanging yourself, you can earn yourself a real, honest-go-God medal. It’s true. I’m going to order them for Michelle (What She Read) and I. Because all we have done is rip these books apart for the gross sex. That only gets worse as they age — just you wait. But the medal will make it all worth it….snort.

  4. Yup, you pretty much summed up my thoughts on reading the book a number of years ago. Just wait for the next one it’s just as, well, you’ll see.

  5. Honestly, the last two or three books I read in the series have felt like middle books. I think the only ones i really enjoyed were the first two. I have Breath of Snow and Ashes loaded on my iPod (all 50 discs or something) and its been there for at least two or three years. I just…can’t. Not yet.

  6. “Although the 20th Century characters have the grace to be opposed to slavery, that is often the best that can be said for them.” You always have such a great, succinct way of putting things, Jill! I’ve only read Outlander, back when I was in my early 20s. I remember enjoying it, but not enough to search out the rest of the books in the series.

  7. I have seen this is being made into a tv show/movie/something and I’ve never read the books. Not sure if I am that pulled to them.

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