Author: Diana Gabaldon
Back in the world of Outlander after resting up from the previous 800 page plus epic, I dove into the sultry world of time travel and hot highlander love only to encounter a series that is producing diminishing returns. Weighing in at over 1,000 pages, each adventure into Claire Fraser (nee’ Randall’s) world is becoming slower and more bogged into the melodramatic emotions of two easily thwarted parties. Meanwhile, history is taking a back seat as Prince Charlie and cohorts have been swiftly dealt with and outlaw status transitions to daily criminal grind.
Claire has been away from Jamie, back in her present-day world, for twenty years. Together with her first spouse, Frank, she has raised Jamie’s child and pursued her interest in studying medicine. After the high adventure and swaying romance, life with a dispirited and betrayed Frank is hum-drum at best. Not believing Claire’s tale of time travel, Frank nevertheless finds it wrong to leave a woman with child, and so their surface domesticity continues, unabated by adult conversation.
Much later, as Jamie’s child is exploring her own adulthood and a trip to Scotland ensues, Claire discovers that the love of her life didn’t necessarily die at Culloden. Indeed, history bears out the fact that Jamie went on and if she travels back through the stones, she can rejoin him again. But will she sacrifice her own child for a love twenty years old, and no longer guaranteed to be true to her?
And so it begins, with Claire making a final journey back in time. Confronting Jamie, both realize that they have changed, morphed – done things. Does a youthful romance of adventure hold out against the later reality? Did twenty years make the heart grow fonder or was it too much? Since then, what has Jamie done and what has he become. From outlaw to smuggler to . . . well, things best left unsaid. If Claire is to reenter Jamie’s life, what will he tell his friends? His family? And just how far has his life moved onwards while hers stagnated with Frank and forced duty?
Voyager stretches emotional boundaries, as Gabaldon always does, yet here, I was less willing to suspend belief and let the heart, in all its fluttering fury, take the lead. Claire and Jamie, not always the easiest characters to like, are downright unlikable here and it’s because of the selfishness of their love, or perhaps I should say the self-seeking nature of their search for something “epic,” costs be damned. I like a good rebellion, let’s-get-away-from-the rules story, but when that’s tempered with destroying others or with a sense of cruelty, either done deliberately or through the omission of not thinking, I lose interest. More importantly, my ability to give grace to fallen or falling characters goes away.
Claire journeys through time, leaving her daughter for the man she loves (albeit, it is his daughter). But the girl is grown and finding her own life – here we can give Claire a pass – sort of. Yet her lack of thought, especially considering that know she is in her late forties, is inexcusable. What if Jamie has married again? What if he has had children? What sort of devastation will she reek on his life then and what choices will she be forcing him to make? It’s understood that she cannot go back again from her time travel, and this in and of itself showcases the finality of the decision. Yet she thinks of none of these things. She doesn’t even attempt any research to see if there are marriage records associated with Jamie. If she really and truly loved him and not just the concept of grand, dramatic, love, then wouldn’t she have at least have thought and considered the possibilities and solutions – at least how she would approach him and the delicacy of whatever life he spent twenty years post her departure establishing? But no, teen girl style, she rushes forward and it’s all downhill from there.
Jamie himself is no bastion of forethought or morality here, and his bad decisions pile onto Claire’s for one teenage worthy show-down that involves every over-the-top emotional display that could be thought of. It’s at this point that I just didn’t care if they ever got back together. Both in their forties and they can’t act and react with more wisdom, more kindness, more bloody thought! Storming off, attacking each other, slaying with words, involving friends and family in the feud . . . let’s replace ancient Scotland with a trailer park and have done.
Ok. There. There. I’m better now…
All of the previously mentioned takes several hundred pages – ok, a good half of the book, to go down. The entire historical angle isn’t so important here – the Bonnie Prince and his brief reign is long over. Eventually, once the relationship woes settle, the plot begins to pick-up as it shifts to focus on piracy, sea-adventures, and the return of an old favorite villain. From here, Gabaldon even touches on the horrors of slavery, although she does it with a regrettable tinge of exoticism (think African masks, voodoo ceremonies, and witchdoctors).
Effectively, Voyager could be switched into two books, with the odd connecting factor of Jamie’s new underground persona (we spend way too long at brothels and bootlegging, both of which sound interesting and neither of which actually were.) Once the relationship angst is swept aside, however, the rest of the novel is fairly enjoyable. We actually get a more complete look into time travel and its aspects and let’s just say an old witch joins the fray and cranks things up for our clueless lovebirds. I didn’t exactly care about Claire or Jamie by the time the good stuff was underway, but it was an interesting enough twist with an effectively cold-blooded nemeses. Plus, sea piracy and even the smugglers started to become interesting players in a not-so-subtle underworld of horror and escape.
The conclusion was even promising enough that despite my disenchantment with Voyager, which was vast, I’ll keep reading. The heroes have left me wanting. The villain, however, has kept me true to an otherwise waning series. As my favorite band (points if you know them without the aid of Google) says, “They pray for villains when their heroes let them down.”
- Frances Carden
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