Book: Drums of Autumn.
Author: Diana Gabaldon.
First and foremost I must apologise to all my avid readers for the lengthy period in which there have been no new book reviews on my blog. I have unfortunately been so busy with work that I regretfully did not have the time to write anything. Also it has taken me quite an age to read ‘Drums of Autumn’, which I do not mean as a negative comment but more as a compliment. I found myself unwilling to complete this book as it was my preference to savour it as much as possible. So without further ado, I shall begin my review.
Diana Gabaldon is a genius. That is the simple truth. She is a master storyteller with the ability to evoke such raw emotions in any reader, and allow one to almost become her characters. This is what sets her apart from authors of this era, I sincerely mean that. Furthermore I think one of the most important things to note when reading Mrs. Gabaldon’s books, is that the woman is also an avid historian. Never have I seen fiction and history so cleverly immersed into one highly evocative masterpiece. Her level of research is evident on each page of her novels and the reader come away from reading having been educated on a particular subject in each of the eras the author visits. This to me personally is what defines a ‘book with a bite’. A book that not only is excellent for its storytelling but also for its ability to educate its reader, in this case educating the reader on the histories of the founding of America. Having only briefly studied this era as part of one module in my American history studies, I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the topic in more detail. This is due to Gabaldon’s ingenuity, she provides her readers with the ability to take an interest in issues arising in her books that they would never have pondered about previous to her novels. Having stated all this, I also realise that no author is perfect. There are moments in Diana Gabaldon’s novels where I do not agree with her plot developments and her portrayal of characters and become increasingly frustrated at situations that develop in her stories that aren’t altogether necessary or realistic. However I have to honestly admit even though she is not a perfect author, she is pretty darn close to being one. Her creativity and imagination are forces to be reckoned with, her writing is a benchmark to what all other authors should aspire to.
Apologies for the waffling, but all of the above needed to be remarked upon before I could begin the review. I shall get on with the actual storyline review now. ‘Drums of Autumn’ continues on from where ‘Voyager’ concluded. ‘Voyager’, unfortunately, ultimately failed for me as a novel, it was a train wreck from beginning to end (as mentioned in my previous review on the novel). I hate to admit that but this blog is a blog of honesty and I do not wish to mislead any of my avid readers. However ‘Drums of Autumn’, I can happily conclude, redeems the Outlander series and Diana Gabaldon’s talent as an author. Our beloved characters of Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall Fraser have finally been reunited after a twenty year (altogether too long a period if you ask me) separation and have found themselves penniless on arriving in the relatively new colonies of America due to unforeseen circumstances. They are joined her by Jamie’s nephew, Ian Murray (son of Jenny and Ian Murray Snr.), Fergus Fraser (Jamie’s adopted son and protégée) and many old friends of Jamie’s from his prison days. They finally begin to move on with their lives and begin a new chapter of martial bliss. In fact the entire first half of the book deals with the slightly slow paced detailing of Claire and Jamie’s new life in America. Although where other reviewers would criticize this slower pace, I found it utterly beautiful. It chronicles the simplicity of life for Jamie and Claire now that they have finally the time to indulge in each other and are out of danger (somewhat as danger follows Claire and Jamie wherever they go).
On that note I would like to also highlight a new type of writing tactic employed by Diana Gabaldon, and that is the in-depth detailing of Claire’s experiences as a herbalist and medicine women. I congratulate the author on this fantastic new input to the saga. There was always a mentioning of Claire’s prowess with herbs as a form of medicinal treatment as she deals with medical issues of disease, pregnancies and day to day remedies. Nonetheless in ‘Drums of Autumn’ we are provided with an in depth explanation of treatments Claire uses and I must say it has granted me a new-found curiosity for herbalism. We also witness how Claire and Jamie build a haven from absolutely nothing and take on roles we have never seen them perform before such as Claire as a gardener and food preserver, or Jamie as a builder and architect and farmer. I therefore scold those so-called reviewers for complaining in regards to how slow placed the first part of the novel is and for not understanding that Gabaldon does this as a story telling tactic. If she did not employ this tactic, reviewers would complain about plot holes and how easy it is for Claire and Jamie to set up shop all of a sudden in America. So please my avid readers, patience is a virtue you should adopt at the beginning of this book.
Historically speaking, as previously mentioned, Gabaldon almost effortlessly creates a backdrop of major historical American issues such as slavery, plantations, the Native Americans, epidemics of the era, pirates, emigrating and issues of religion, that all add to the richness and effectiveness of the plot. Instead of the usual enemy of the English, we are provided with newer, more savage enemies such certain native american tribes, regulators, slave traders, pirates and even members of law enforcement. We also get an in depth look at bootlegging, as Jamie of course begins his whiskey producing business although it does not really explain if this is legal or not. Also the ever present production of turpentine is prevalent in the novel. I found all these historical aspects utterly fascinating and refreshing compared to the previous novels. The beauty of the wilderness of unsettled America is so vividly described by the author, it is as if one is living there and witnessing it’s primitive beauty. Obviously, all the historical aspects of the founding and establishment of America are so interesting to me, due to that fact that I’m an Irish person reading about the history of another country. I would be interested to see how Americans view this detailing of history and whether they were knowledgeable of these issues already, or like me they came away from the novel feeling thoroughly educated on the subject at hand. I am eager to hear opinions on this.
Now in regards to the storyline of Brianna Fraser and her beloved Roger Wakefiled/MacKenzie. Brianna has been abandoned by her mother, no easier way to put it. She is now trying to move on and act as if both her parents are dead. However her curiosity for her father by blood begins to dominate her every thought. Roger Wakefield, who aided Claire in returning to Jamie in book two and three, has become infatuated by all things Brianna. A slow paced courtship begins between the two, with both characters being too shy to admit their true feelings for one another. I unfortunately must admit in this area of the novel I became increasingly frustrated. I began to ponder if Diana Gabaldon was trying to recreate the awe inspiring relationship of Claire and Jamie, with this more modern couple, but if so then it is an utter mistake as these characters could never touch the level of perfection that is Jamie and Claire as a couple. As the child of Claire and Jamie, Brianna unfortunately has inherited the bad characteristics of her parents. She has the stubbornness of her mother and the close mindedness and quick to ignite fury of her father. I found her character to be spoiled, almost arrogant at times. She seems to only ever think of herself, which is evident on her sudden decision to follow her mother through the stones of Craigh na dún without so much as a thought for poor Roger, who is utterly besotted with the girl and throughout the first part of the novel is almost begging Brianna to settle down with him. Literally the scene where Roger informs Brianna he will not bed her unless she marries him, is perhaps the most cringe worthy moment in any book I have ever read. The reader will feel the urge to knock these two characters heads together on more than one occasion.
However despite this frustrating part of the novel, the reader eventually begins to warm to these two new characters. We begin to see just how far Roger is willing to go to be with Brianna. We begin to see that Brianna’s stupidity at times, is due to her desperation to find out who she really is and where she comes from. I found the chapter in which she meets the Murrays in Lallybroch to be breathtakingly emotive and recognised it as the turning point in my feelings towards Brianna. She finally finds out who she really is and when finally reuniting with her long lost father it is clear that the apple does not fall far from the tree. Brianna is more like Jamie than Claire, this is evident in how easily the two can be inflamed with anger and regularly argue with one another. This also brings me to another point to be made regarding how the author has finally provided Jamie with the family he has always yearned for. He now has the women he loves, a headstrong, Amazonian daughter who is literally made in his image and at last, a land to call his own, free from the hauntings of his past. The reader will find these chapters to be utterly bitter-sweet. I particularly found the shyness, in which Brianna and Jamie try to familiarise themselves and grow accustomed to each other, so charming.
Although I have a deep love for this book, as it contains the most interesting series of events thus far in the series, I am not blind to it’s negative aspects. Number one is an issue of character development that I had actually mentioned in my review of ‘Voyager’, that of the lack of development of the character of Fergus Fraser. The charming rogue of ‘Dragonfly in Amber’ is almost non-existent in this novel. I was devastated by this as I loved his character in the previous books, and Gabaldon had been shaping him up to be a protégée of Jamie’s, a second in command, one could say. However in this novel, although Fergus has a very brief mention at the beginning of the book before leaving to bring Marsali and his new child Germaine from Jamaica to America. It is as if Fergus has been replaced by Jamie’s nephew, Ian. Although I love Ian and love the relationship between him and Jaime, I feel almost sorry for Fergus that his place beside Jamie has been taken. Fergus is such an interesting character, with his roguish Frenchness (if that is even a word). Fergus always provided a comic scene in previous books and so I have missed him in this novel as a result. Also the character of Marsali could have been adhered to more. She was such a presence and force to be reckoned with in ‘Voyager’ quite literally being her mother, Laoghaire’s daughter in personality also. Her hatred of Claire isn’t evident in this novel and I feel as if I have been cheated out on how their relationship has changed. It is mentioned that Marsali is in charge of monitoring Jamie’s whisky business with little explanation as to why she has this role. It is frustrating to see how little these two characters are mentioned.
Another issue I had with this novel is the issue of human depravity. I am accepting that humanity in this era was less than perfect, I am accepting that violence was commonplace and the role of women was not one any woman nowadays would particularly like to return to. I do however find it very hard to accept the issue of rape in this novel. Brianna for some strange reason decides to try to get her mother’s wedding ring from Frank back for her, and never once considers that meeting up with a pirate in order to purchase it from him, would lead to danger. Seriously? She’s an intelligent girl, who has done the research needed to understand what the protocol is for society during this time. Yet she still manages to get herself into a most horrific circumstance, the scene in which she is raped is utterly devastating. Another point I would like to make is whether there was a need for this rape at all. The story did not really need a rape scene or for Brianna to become pregnant and lead to the ultimate problem of who is the daddy and what will Roger do when he finds out, if he is still alive himself that is. There is enough savage scenes in the novel and I do not think this rape should have occurred at all. Considering the whole issue of rape has been one that is mentioned so many times in previous books in the series, and it is also too close to home with regards to Jamie and his past experience with Jack Randall. I therefore have a huge, elephant in the room, issue with this plot. Why did it have to be included? Was it to ensure the bond between Jamie and Brianna would suffer? Was it to bring the story full circle, examining the human ability to accept a child that isn’t your own blood, as Frank had done with Brianna? I really take issue with this aspect of the story and would love to know what the author was thinking by including it.
This leads me to the issue and pivotal problem of the novel. Why on earth did Brianna not inform her mother or father of her rape straight away and why did she skirt around the issue and was so unwilling to give Roger’s full name as Wakefield and MacKenzie. She ultimately lead Roger to be tortured and enslaved without reason. Also why did Claire, knowing quite well how hot headed Jamie is, not inform him sooner. Why do the characters not communicate properly!! I know if they had, we would not have been provided with such an epic storyline, but I feel that this was exaggerated needlessly and do not feel that half the book should have been dedicated to such silly behaviour. Even the fact that Brianna will not tell her father she has actually been married by hand-fasting is incomprehensible. Instead she would rather he would view her as harlot and someone who ‘lusts’ for men as so eloquently put in the novel. I just do not understand it. Having said that it provides for such dramatic encounters altogether, but it is all quite unrealistic.
Lastly, my final issue with the novel is that of young Ian. He has literally charmed me so much in the ‘Voyager’ and ‘Drums of Autumn’. He is, personality wise, a young Jamie, although maybe not as intelligent. His escapades with his monstrous dog ‘Rollo’ often had me in fits of giggles (particularly the scene in which John Grey’s adopted son, and Jamie’s real son, falls head first into a pile of excrement. All due to Ian’s silliness). He has become a son to Claire too. She mothers him throughout the novel and is often glad of his companionship. I therefore find the conclusion of Ian’s story, becoming a member of a Native American tribe to sacrifice himself to save Jamie and Claire from death and giving up any hope of ever seeing his own family ever again, so overwhelmingly tragic. It genuinely made me quite upset to read it. He might as well have been killed, for in becoming a member of the tribe he has to swear never to speak his own language again or see any of his family again. It is so sad. Jamie has lost a son in Ian, and his loss is felt deeply my Claire also, as Ian provided gaiety and joy to them both. Hope is given towards the end that this is not the last we will hear of young Ian, as he has managed to send a letter to them, but still he will never play such a vital role in the series again. One also begins to wonder just how Jenny, his mother, will react when she hears the news.
The novel finishes on a hopeful note, with Roger finally returning to Brianna’s side, although one could curse him for his cowardliness, but he finally accepts that the child is his, regardless of blood. The birthing scene was bitter-sweet to in regards to the redemption of Jamie in the eyes of Brianna as she finally forgives him of his wrongdoing and demands his presence throughout the entire birth, allowing Jamie the wonderful emotion of feeling needed by his child. The characters come full circle. We even see a slight thawing of frostiness in Claire’s feelings in regards to John Grey. She begins to accept him as Jamie’s dear friend, and forgives him his feelings towards Jamie. I also loved the relationship between Brianna and John Grey. I applaud the author on this ingenuity of a story line. It is epic. Although I do wish William, Jamie’s son and John’s adopted son had a bigger role, but obviously that will happen in the books to follow.
All in all I was thoroughly enchanted by the new characters in this novel. One must mention one character in particular, the force to be reckoned with, that of Jocasta MacKenzie Cameron Innes, Jamie’s aunt who also shares Jamie’s stubbornness, and who is determined to make him her heir to her fortune and plantation of slaves, regardless of whether he wants it or not. When this fails she then sets her sights on Brianna. And so follows a series of manic but slightly hilarious attempts of hers to achieve her aim. Jocasta also supplies the reader with a in-depth look at slavery, which was touched upon in ‘Voyager’ but in this book it shows how difficult life is for slaves and how easily they can be replaced. Some slaves, however, enjoy their jobs, such as Jocasta’s butler and maid.
In conclusion, it is evident that this novel is worth every minute spent reading it. It succeeds where ‘Voyager’ did not. It finally provides a happy life (somewhat) for our beloved characters of Jamie and Claire. They have gone through so much together and still remain faithful and loyal to one another. In fact I do have to say for forty and fifty year olds, they are quite, ahem, amorous in their attentions to one another, but I suppose twenty years of a separation would allow for this. It is so wonderful to finally see Jamie’s life begin anew and improve. He now is a laird again, a laird of land he has chosen for himself, supporting his family and dearest friends has provided him with meaning to his life. When he is designing their new home, it is as if watching a child at Christmas, his enthusiasm is addictive. I also had no issues with Claire in this novel as I normally have in past novels in the series. She herself has come full circle as a character. Her dedication to Jamie is so admirable and heart breaking at the same time. Claire’s mission to heal others takes her down the oddest paths but I feel these add to her character. The novel also supplies the reader with accounts of other beloved outlander characters from previous novels and this also helps the novel be such a success.
It is with much enthusiasm that I recommend this book to you all. Although nothing will ever touch the first novel, ‘Drums of Autumn’ is not one to be missed and I therefore urge all my avid readers to pick it up as soon as you can. Please take everything I have said into consideration, if you have or haven’t read it, as I do believe that other reviewers are wrong in condemning the first half of the novel as boring. It is simply the author’s wish to describe the bitter-sweetness of Claire and Jamie’s new life together, where they can finally settle down and have some much needed peace. I cannot highlight enough how clever Diana Gabaldon is as an author. I literally went through a roller-coaster of emotions reading this book. From happy to devastated, the emotions went on and on. Never have I felt that with any other book series. I am thoroughly excited for you all to read it and do hope you will leave your opinion on my blog or twitter page as I look forward to discussing the issues of the novel with you all.
The Avid Reader 🙂