Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Dragonfly in Amber” by Diana Gabaldon

Following the fantastic novel Outlander is Dragonfly in Amber. I can’t believe I wasn’t aware of these books’ existence until very recently. This novel was originally published in 1992 and I wish I could have grown up reading them. Better late than never, though, as they say.

***THIS REVIEW DOESN’T CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR DRAGONFLY IN AMBER BUT IT MAY FOR OUTLANDER. CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK 🙂 ***

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“For twenty years, Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to the mysteries of Scotland’s mist-shrouded Highlands.
 
Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as shocking as the events that gave it birth: the secret of an ancient circle of standing stones, the secret of a love that transcends centuries, and the truth of a man named Jamie Fraser—a Highland warrior whose gallantry once drew the young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his.
 
Claire’s spellbinding journey continues through the intrigue-ridden French court and the menace of Jacobite plots, to the Highlands of Scotland, through war and death in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.”

Gabaldon has an absolutely gorgeous writing style, and that’s what kept me reading when the first half of this book got a bit dull. I was a bit put out that the first five chapters were twenty years later, sort of “spoiling” what was going to happen; Claire had left 18th-century Scotland and was back in her own time with her daughter, Brianna. I even felt a little unmotivated to keep reading at first – what was the point if I knew what was going to happen? But I don’t think of this series as books, I think of them as a window into another world. One of those series where the characters are so real that you really are escaping into the pages.

The first half was a little slow; things did happen, but I was eager for Claire and Jamie to get back to Scotland and to get all the answers to the questions that Part 1 (“present time”) had inspired. The second half, however, was as explosive and exciting as the second half of book 1, and I’m extremely glad I kept at it.

Many of the events and characters are based on real people, and it made everything more heartbreaking. The tragedy of battle, life in the 1700s, and the struggles of the Scottish people. Scotland and its history are not very well-known worldwide, but perhaps that will change now that the Outlander TV show is gaining popularity.

I had two problems with Dragonfly in Amber. The first I’ve already mentioned; it was a little slow in the first half. The other issue was the huge amount of sex scenes. I find sex scenes in any book, no matter how tender or elegantly written, quite boring. I found myself skimming through them, wondering when they’d be over so I could get back to the story.

This wasn’t enough to deter me, though. The last fifteen percent or so of this story had me crying on the bus. If you love Scotland, love historic novels, please try this excellent series! I can’t wait to get my hands on Voyager, book three, and I’m wondering how it’s all going to go down now that Claire is in her forties.

Four and a half stars for Dragonfly in Amber!

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Get Dragonfly in Amber on Amazon UK
Get Dragonfly in Amber on Amazon US

 

 

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander was another recommendation from my Mum, who is a real book nerd. Somehow, the TV show (now on Netflix) had passed me by until now. A novel about Scotland and time travel, you say? Gimme, gimme!

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“1946, and Claire Randall goes to the Scottish Highlands with her husband Frank. It’s a second honeymoon, a chance to learn how war has changed them and to re-establish their loving marriage.

But one afternoon, Claire walks through a circle of standing stones and vanishes into 1743, where the first person she meets is a British army officer – her husband’s six-times great-grandfather.

Unfortunately, Black Jack Randall is not the man his descendant is, and while trying to escape him, Claire falls into the hands of a gang of Scottish outlaws, and finds herself a Sassenach – an outlander – in danger from both Jacobites and Redcoats.

Marooned amid danger, passion and violence, her only chance of safety lies in Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior. What begins in compulsion becomes urgent need, and Claire finds herself torn between two very different men, in two irreconcilable lives.”

Our main character, Claire, is a war nurse vet on her second honeymoon with her husband, from whom she’d been separated for years. During their trip to the Scottish Highlands, she accidentally falls through time, awaking in the 1700s and unable to return.

What I noticed first was the sheer length of this book. At over 280,000 words, it’s much longer than the average first novel. I found that the first quarter was fairly slow, yet still interesting enough to keep my attention. Outlander is beautifully written, with a perfect blend of witty dialogue and breathtaking descriptions.

I enjoyed exploring Scotland, first in the ’40s and then in the 18th century, from the charming castles to the heather on the mountains. Even if the story moved slowly at first, Gabaldon’s gorgeous writing style kept me hooked.

What I like most about this book is that it’s very historically accurate. Though of course featuring fictional characters, Gabaldon did her research. I’d recently got done watching Braveheart only to find it lacked much historical accuracy at all, so Outlander was a pleasing contrast.

By the second half of the book, I was fully invested. Claire is tangled up in the dangers and politics of the time. Jack Randall, obviously the main “baddie”, is a totally evil and corrupt redcoat, and Gabaldon is exceptionally gifted at making us hate him! Jamie was my favourite character (I am definitely not alone on this), from his honour and bravery to his affectionate use of the word “Sassenach” (English person) when referring to Claire.

Another thing I adored was the use of Gaelic! The language of my childhood is rarely used in books or TV, yet is used frequently throughout the story. Now I’m watching the TV show too, and it’s pure nostalgic bliss to witness its use.

The last quarter of the novel was so explosive and packed full of action and passion that my rating went from four stars to five. Immediately after turning the last page, I whipped out my phone and ordered the next novel in the series, Dragonfly in Amber.

If you love historical romance, Scotland, and excitement, I highly recommend Outlander!

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Get Outlander on Amazon UK
Get Outlander on Amazon US