It’s Not a Romance: An Outlander Primer

Today’s guest post is brought to you by @bethorne. Feel free to leave comments for them below and we’ll make sure they see them! 

People disappear all the time … Many of the lost will be found, eventually, dead or alive. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually.

Those are the opening words to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, a book that kind of defies description.  When anyone asks, “So what kind of book is it?” I usually have to give myself about five minutes to answer. It’s a mishmash of genres: historical fiction, romance, sci-fi, adventure, even horror. It really doesn’t fit into one category with any ease. At its core, it’s simply a fantastic, lushly written, page-turner with an unforgettable story and fabulous characters.

I found the story by being part of another fandom. While DianaG [@writer_DG] (that’s what I call her; we’re tight) doesn’t allow fanfic, you CAN find Twilight fanfic where Bella asks Edward to read Outlander. And that’s how I came across it for the first time.

It’s a huge series, 7 books so far in the main series, with several additional novels, novellas, companions and even a graphic novel. Girl is prolific. It’s also soon-to-be a 16 episode premium TV show on Starz [@outlander_starz]. They’re filming right now, and the sneak peeks of the show look amazing: true to the books, true to the period, true to the fans. What’s so captivating about Outlander in general? For me, it’s the characters. Jamie and Claire are fascinating, and I love being in their world. So let me tell you a little bit about it.

The Story

The book opens in 1945 Inverness, Scotland. English-born Claire Randall is on a post-war, second honeymoon in 1945 with her husband, Frank. While there, intrigued by a circle of standing stones, Claire falls through time and finds herself in 1743, in the clan territories of the Scottish highlanders.

Don’t let me lose you there. Trust me when I say it’s fast-paced and nothing like the Scottish highland romance novels you are thinking of.

Over the course of the book, as Claire tries to return to the stone hill, she encounters witches, clan politics, family intrigue, a dangerous sadist, and is eventually forced to marry a young Scottish highlander named Jamie Fraser. That’s a name you will want to remember.

The Characters

At the heart of the story is the narrator; Claire is capable, smart, passionate and quick. Being in her head propels you through the entire journey, but it also makes you fall in love with her. She’s self-deprecating but confident. She’s sexy and curious. She’s discerning and brave.

tumblr_mzazhex9Ce1sbre0jo1_500Some of my favorite Claire quotes:

“The rest of the journey passed uneventfully, if you consider it uneventful to ride fifteen miles on horseback through rough country at night, frequently without benefit of roads, in company with kilted men armed to the teeth, and sharing a horse with a wounded man. At least we were not set upon by highwaymen, we encountered no wild beasts, and it didn’t rain. By the standards I was becoming used to, it was quite dull.”

“Not for the first time, I reflected that intimacy and romance are not synonymous.”

“No wonder he was so good with horses, I thought blearily, feeling his fingers rubbing gently behind my ears, listening to the soothing, incomprehensible speech. If I were a horse, I’d let him ride me anywhere.”

“You’ll have to keep it up for longer than that, if you expect ecstatic moans,” I answered. “Two minutes doesn’t deserve any more than a giggle.”

The antagonist (or the main one) of Outlander is one of the most interesting villains I’ve ever read. Black Jack Randall is a legitimate sadist, in a powerful position with no one to check his behavior, in a time period where his proclivities, well, aren’t acceptable. He’s smart, slick, sick and scary.

The reason I come back and back to Outlander time and again though, if I’m truly honest, is Jamie Fraser. He is simply the ULTIMATE. There are great guys in fictional worlds, it’s true. I’ve loved many of them. None of them compare to Jamie. He’s honorable, educated, brave, devoted, sexy … he’s just the best. Period. When we meet him, he’s a little mysterious, and as we learn more about him: this seemingly courageous, witty, Highland virgin becomes a sexy, powerful, devoted man.

tumblr_n0bqpfJGw51sus8y5o2_r1_500

“I think that respect has maybe room for secrets, but not for lies,  Do ye agree?”

“He said the greatest thing in a man’s life it to lie wi’ a woman he loves. He was right.”

“Ye weren’t the first lass I kissed. But I swear you’ll be the last.”

“Does it ever stop? The wanting you. Even when I’ve just left ye, I want you so much my chest feels tight and my fingers ache with wanting ye to touch me again.”

tumblr_n0bqpfJGw51sus8y5o3_r1_500

I MEAN … COME ON.

The Show

Filming is going on RIGHT NOW in Scotland. The show stars Caitriona Balfe [@caitrionambalfe]  as Claire, Sam Heughan [@Heughan] as Jamie, and Tobias Menzies (you may remember him from Game of Thrones) as Frank and Black Jack Randall. Over 2000 fans (me included) showed up in LA in January for a fan event that Diana and the showrunner, Ron D. Moore [@RonDMoore] of Battlestar Galactica fame, and the stars attended. 2000 fans for a show that up to that time had released no footage. Thankfully, we got this trailer, and it’s holding us over summer when the show airs on STARZ. Or at least, until we get some more.

So, it’s becoming a full-on phenomenon. Read the book now, because it’s a train you want to hop on. If anyone asks you, tell them: adventure, time travel, guys in kilts, intrigue, horror, betrayal and so much more than just a romance. Guys, it’s gonna be (and is) SO GOOD.

Want to write about a fandom we haven’t represented, or a topic we haven’t covered yet? Send an email to submissions@keysmashblog.com with the fandom or topic as the subject line.

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  • Great job Beth!

  • Ann J

    Excellent article

  • sdkp

    I am looking forward to EVERYTHING about the series.

  • Erin

    One of my all time favorite series. I read the first six books over an eight week period in 2008. And then I read them THREE MORE TIMES over the following year while I waited for the seventh. Gabaldon’s attention to detail is INCREDIBLE. There are story lines that popped up in book seven whose seeds were planted in the first two books, and I can’t imagine how she possible keeps it all straight.

    On a side note, one of my favorite characters of the series is John Gray. I love his story almost as much as Jaime and Clare’s, and how they are all woven together.

  • Laura

    I had been hearing about this series for so long, and everyone in the library was reading it and I just never caught on (late bloomer, always). But I had a couple of snow days and finally got a copy and became quickly obsessed. It looks like the t.v. series is going to do a fantastic job and GOOD LORD the man who plays Jamie is all sorts of perfect. I love how involved the author has been in the production. I can’t wait. I’m reading the second book as we speak. Thanks for a great post!

  • Linda

    I started reading Outlander when it was first published and suffered the long years between each subsequent book in the series. The filming of the televised series of the first book has been a dream coming true! I join the thousands of fans around the world who can’t wait to see it.

    Great blog post, Beth!

  • Charlene

    I’m looking forward to seeing if there any differences between the book and the series!

  • Liz Keysmash

    Thanks for writing this! There was a panel at NYCC that DianaG (if you don’t mind me stealing your nickname) and Ron D. Moore did, and then they did a signing at their table. We got to see some models of the sets, too, which was AWESOME.

    My best friend and her aunt were obsessed with the first book when we were in high school, almost 20 years ago. I was shocked to hear so many people talking about it again.

    My sister says the same things you do about Jamie, so I’m curious to know – has there been any casting backlash? I mean, I have no complaints about that guy, but I know fans can be SUPER picky. (Hence me being so on the fence about Augustus Waters.)

    • Beth

      Well, of course there has been. The cool thing about backlash in the Outlander fandom is that DIANA is so active in talking to everyone that she SHUTS IT DOWN. Like gets on her Facebook page and gives a 500 word essay on why people are stupid. It’s fabulous. And really, he was practically MADE to play Jamie, so who cares if people are irritated.

      Strangely enough, there has been little to ZERO backlash about Caitriona. You would think a female based fandom would be all up in arms that she’s too skinny, too model-y, etc but NOPE. Not a word really. It’s amazing. And it’s probably also due to the fact that she looks exactly like how most of us thought Claire should.

      • Liz Keysmash

        That is amazing, that she does that. I’ve never read the book, all I know about it is from my sister (who LOVES it) so I don’t know how Jamie should look. Yet, I could quote a ton of what he says in the book. My sister maybe talks about it a lot, heh.

        It is interesting that there isn’t any backlash about Caitriona. But that’s fandom right, unpredictable?

  • Krista

    I’ve been a fan of these books for years and I’m beyond thrilled to see them (at least Outlander) being made into a TV series. The fact that Ron Moore is involved makes my inner BSG fangirl do a little happy dance every time I see his name associated with it.

    I’ve recommended the books before and I’ll do it again. They defy expectation. Totally and completely look like your run of the mill bodice rippers and then when you start reading them you find one of the strongest female heroine’s I’ve ever read. They draw you completely into a genre defying story. Plus, Jamie Fraser is completely perfect even when he’s not so perfect.

    Glad to see a post on Keysmash about it.

  • Becky Gottlieb

    The GIF represents what I am waiting for in the series on Starz. I am still reading and rereading Outlander and getting more out of it every time.

  • Lisa

    I was at the event in LA and my friend and I sobbed throughout the trailer because it was just.so.perfect. The casting is absolutely spot-on and the attention to detail is amazing. I could not be more impressed with everything Starz has shared with us so far.
    Beth – great post, as always.

  • Sonya Kreiskott

    Beth that was a fantastic review. You nailed it!!
    I have loved this series for 14 years. I canna wait to see ALL of it. As the momentum builds around the world many readers and non readers will join the #Outlander clan. #WorldwideTVNeedsOutlander

  • Barbara

    Great article.

  • Rene Stephens

    I could not agree more!

  • Melissa

    Favorite series of all time! Can’t wait for the show.

  • KATHERINE MCNEESE

    looking forward to ALL of Outlanader on Starz!

  • Yusra

    I’m definitely looking forward to the historical feel of the show, I hope it ends up being a close adaptation of the book. Thanks for the giveaway!

  • Vanessa

    I am looking forward to everything about this series. So far what I’ve seen looks great, I am so happy they are keeping with the book because, really, that’s all you have to do to make it great. The casting looks fantastic! I’m VERY excited!

  • Helen

    I think I might read these books, I usually don’t read this genre, but it does sound intriguing. Free book just might hook me!

  • Erica

    Excellent blog, Beth and if you don’t mind, i am going to send this to my family and friends in South Africa. I discovered Outlander in July 2013 by accident – blame (thank) Sam for that – and I have been nagging, pleading, begging them to pleeease read Outlander, because I am obsessed with the books, the writer, the characters, you name it … What can I do? Lock them up? Throw a tantrum? Wow, and I don’t even like to read fiction books. Now I am even going on a Jamie and Clair tour! Squeeel!

  • Cristin

    I have been a fan of the Outlander series from the moment I found them on a *coughillegalcough* free bookreader app about five years ago with my first smart phone. I fell in love! The books are just SO good, and I have been known to argue with those that brush them off as “romance” or “chickfic” .As soon as I realized that the bookreader was actually a poor choice for my phone, I hopped over to Amazon and bought them there! I cannot wait for the series!

  • Caitlin

    There is honestly so much I’m looking forward to in the Starz series. Scotland, time travel, history, romance!

  • Rhea Grove

    Wonderful job explaining Outlander! I have loved these books for more than 20 years and I continue to be awed by Herself’s talent. I cannot wait for the series to air!

  • Great synopsis. I just kinda sigh, trip over my words and say, if you likereading, just do it.

  • PatriceB

    Well Done, Beth….Haven’t been a fan since the beginning :(, but I was at the Starz event in LA and am looking forward to the new book and the Starz series.