A General Collection of Thoughts on the Outlander/Grey series

I wish to take a little time to pause and reflect on the complete OUTLANDER and Lord John Grey series that I have finally completed. It has been a 91-day affair, spanning over 13 412 pages, or more accurately 427 hours and 36 minutes (taking the audiobook route appears just as impressive and exhausting when you consider that’s over 17 days straight of narration). When I began this undertaking, I felt it a massive task, and was not incorrect in that assumption. Those who have kept up with my reviews in this series will know that Gabaldon weaves together massive story ideas with small patch-work vignettes. In stories of this length, the reader can enjoy both and not be pulled in any single direction. Additionally, Gabaldon takes the reader on numerous tangential trips, most blatantly the Lord John series, which hashes out a prominent character who appears so many times throughout the entire Outlander collection of novels and novellas. The dual series collection tackles a great deal of history along with romantic undertones, able to entertain a vast group of people from all walks of life. I thoroughly enjoyed talk of the battles both on the fields of Scotland and in the Thirteen Colonies, which are rich with detail and historical characters. Whether they are entirely accurate is for the historical buffs to discuss, though only a fool would lament precise information in a book claiming to be nothing save fictional. A few matters worthy of note include the Scottish/Gaelic language that is not peppered as much as it is marinaded throughout the book. Gabaldon must not only keep all her characters straight (as they appear in minor vignettes and then reappear thousands of pages later as a major character), but also the proper use of the Gaelic language. Gabaldon is American and while she can surely research all she needs to create a ‘true to form’ novel, the amount of work that must go in to making it all flow well and correctly deserves major mention. Again, I am no linguist (nor is she), so if there be a fault here and there, please queue up to bitch where no one else can hear you, as the whining is distracting.

Similar detail is presented in the fields of medicine and pharmacology, both in its 18th and 20th century varieties. Gabaldon educates the reader on ailments, procedures, medicaments, and likely outcomes in both time periods, effortlessly providing the juxtaposed differences in scientific and medicinal advancements with complete ease. A passing reader might not find this impressive, but for someone who has undertaking this monumental task, seeing how in tune she is with the story and its scientific emergences, it cannot go unmentioned. As with the above invitation, let he or she who is without scientific blunder cast the first beaker of sulphuric acid.

The attention to detail Gabaldon undertakes is also impossible to ignore. One must remember that this is more than a simple series, but two series combined into a massive literary collection. Keeping storylines straight, characters in order, history from becoming bastardised, and even past situations in line with her future ideas is a massive undertaking. Since the book is quite ‘in the moment’, in that it does not skip months or years with each chapter, the pace is slower and the details quite plentiful. This does explain the arborous paralysation in the books’ size. These vignettes and a substantial amount of detail fill pages, which might deter some of the less patient readers. While I know not where Gabaldon seeks to take the books (does she, even?), a substantial time has been spent on the War of Independence in the United States. Might this be a way of keeping her American readers enthralled and not losing them to the extensive Gaelic chatter and Scottish historical references? Perhaps I can pose that question to her.

Tangentially related to this, I read in a recent review posted by a fellow Outlander fan that trying to write a review for any of the novels, especially the latter tales, is close to impossible in under 8000 words. So much happens and so many twists arise that trying to review or encapsulate them all becomes close to impossible. Those who have read some of my review thoughts will realise that I choose only to skim the surface of the summary capabilities. By doing so, I not only keep spoilers from ruining the text, but also keep myself from being bogged down in too many nuances, thereby boring the review reader to the point of being turned off the full novel. That is not my intention, and I know I tend to be verbose in my daily life.

The issue of the Standing Stones and time-travel arises throughout the series and is addressed in small portions with each passing book. The central plan is not revealed in the first book and left to be utilised from thereon in, but slowly discovered as the characters use it. What appears to add a degree of science fiction to the novel is by no means flaunted with aliens or oddities that pull away from the story. If the reader can suspend reality and accept the Stones, they can enjoy learning about them. Gabaldon poses the Stone question throughout, with Roger and Claire being the ones whose journeys and questions come up the most. While parallel travel worked mostly for Claire, allowing her to reunite with Jamie after 20 years, Roger did not have the same luck, where he ran into his grandfather-in-law and fresh-faced 22 year-old father, Jerry MacKenzie, at one point. This only thickens the plot and adds history to the novel. Knowledge that gem stones and the solstice dates are of the most importance, but there is surely more to it. Also, Brianna’s discovery of the plotted family tree and the other research her ‘father’ Frank completed keeps the reader referring back to the document as the story plays out. So much rich history and time travel adds to the series’ power, rather than distracting.

I cannot have gone this far without offering some thanks and kudos out to Davina Porter and Jeff Woodman. While the latter remained at the helm for the Lord John novels alone (and even then, missed out on one), his encapsulation of Lord John Grey was a wonderful addition to the series. Those ‘two decades sans Claire’ allowed Woodman to create a character who seems so minor to early Outlander readers that the branch off novels are a treat and addition, where many readers have chosen to ignore them until later. However, the Lord John character becomes highly important and Woodman kept him alive and well for a period. Porter deserves more praise that I can put into words for all her narration and the time she took to bring the stories to life. From accents to Gaelic pronunciations through to the hours of reading and shaping the text. Had I the chance to meet her, I would offer the most sincere thanks. Admittedly, I doubt that I could read Gabaldon’s novels in book form (paper or electronic) and Porter has made that possible, injecting action and inflection where needed.

Speaking of seeing people, I am eager that I scored a free ticket to see Diana Gabaldon when she comes to town on August 13, 2015. I have so much I would like to ask and since I have completed the entire collection, my questions will be as pertinent as anyone else who has read the entire collection. I may even peek through the excerpts of Book Nine and ask something related to that.

And so we have it… my wordy summary and some thorough thoughts for anyone who has taken the same journey. I would love to chat at length with anyone else (no matter how far they made it) and can only hope I am not alone. Time for some lighter reading… oh wait, I ought to get some biographies under my belt and who better than some of the Founding Fathers. FORWARD MARCH!

Matt Pechey

July 2015