Book Review: Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

Tuesday, March 01, 2011
One thing I have to say about Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series; you definitely get your money's worth. No buying a book one day and finishing it the next, feeling slightly dissatisfied that it didn't last longer. Since I only get to read for one or two hours a day, it's taken me almost two months to complete this 1065 page book. That's why the long pauses between book reviews.

This portion of the saga consists of at least three parallel story lines. We continue the story of Claire and Jamie as they establish themselves in America just prior to the Revolutionary War. We follow their daughter Briana as she meets Roger Wakefield, falls in love, then disappears back in time to find her parents. And we journey with Roger as he waits for Brianna to come back to him, then realizing she won't, follows her through the rent in time at Craigh Na Dun, the ancient stone circle. These stories weave through one another, coming together and moving apart as they unfold and, of course, being all brought together at the end.

There were a couple of things I disliked about this book:

First of all, there were portions that dragged. Diana Gabaldon is a firm believer in working the five senses into a scene. These rich descriptions enable a reader to feel she is part of the setting, but sometimes I found myself thinking, "I don't care about how the flowers smell. Get on with it!" I couldn't help but wonder if some scenes couldn't have been summarized into a sentence or two so that one of the main story lines could be continued. Toward the end, when all of the threads were coming together, the changes in point of view were hard to follow. It took a paragraph or two before I figured out who was telling the tale at this point.

The second thing I disliked about the book were the scenes of graphic violence. In an earlier book in the series, Jamie suffers intolerably, but, despite my dislike of what was happening, it seemed like it was necessary if the reader was to understand who he was and why he made the decisions he did in subsequent situations. However, in Drums of Autumn, is it really necessary for him to be brutal to Brianna? Do we really need the details of one scene while Roger is a captive of the Indians? These felt like the were forced to me, a conscious attempt to ramp up tension.

On the other hand, the scene where Brianna gives birth brought tears to my eyes. So many birth scenes are cliched, echoes of ones that have been told before, with no heart in them. There was nothing cliche about this one.  The same for the love story between Brianna and Roger. There are no easy answers to the obstacles they face. Where a shorter, more romance novel oriented book would assure the happily ever after ending, Brianna and Roger struggle, leaving the reader wondering will they resolve their problems or will those problems be insurmountable?

Claire and Jamie, on the other hand, have settled into their relationship. They have come to know and accept one another, their differences no longer a touchstone for conflict. And their love for one another, both emotional and physical, has not waned. Their struggle is more about making a place for themselves in this new land, establishing traditions to replace or continue those they left behind, caretakers of not only Brianna, but Ian and Fergus and the others who work their land.

I'm sure I'll continue with the next book in this series, but not right away. I always need to take a break from an Outlander novel, read some shorter books that require less involvement, before plunging into the next one. But that's okay. Since Diana Gabaldon admits, "I write slow.", I wouldn't want to finish the series to date and have to wait for her to finish the next book.

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