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Awesome Works in the Aughts

12/20/2009

I doubt that I’ll get a chance to do a Cannonball review about a new book by Diana Gabaldon in the next 31 books I have to go.  And I probably won’t reread any of hers during CR, as I just reread her previous 6 books before An Echo in the Bone came out in September. So let me just say in this “best of” post, that reading and rereading her books was my “best of” in this decade.  If anyone in the world would inspire me to sit down and write, it would be Diana Gabaldon. Wait, look at that – she inspired me, and now I’m writing. I told you she was good.

I haven’t been keeping track of how many times I read her series, but during the aughts, the Fiery Cross (2001), A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005), and Echo in the Bone (2009 – on my BIRTHDAY [booyah!]) came out. So at the least, I read the books leading up to each release just before I read the new book. And that’s not even counting the Lord John books!

In her Outlander series, Gabaldon starts off with an army nurse, Claire, on a second honeymoon with her husband Frank after being reunited after their separate experiences in WWII. They travel to Scotland and do the usual touristy things.  And then Claire goes to a ring of stones and accidently travels back in time to the 18th century.  Don’t roll your eyes, it’s a neat convention that allows our smart, independent woman to be transplanted into a time when women had virtually no rights, and could be kidnapped, raped, and then declared  wife. We’ve come a long way, baby.

While stuck in time, Claire first meets her husband’s ancestor, Colonel Randall, who proves to be as different from her husband as could be.  To gain protection from “Black Jack” Randall by becoming a Scottish citizen, Claire enters an arranged marriage with a stubborn Scot named Jamie. Thus the adventure begins.

The seven novels follow Claire and Jamie through time, and eventually to America and the revolution. We meet famous characters such as Bonnie Prince Charlie, Benedict Arnold and Benjamin Franklin, and not-so-famous ones, also vividly drawn.  The main theme throughout the series, though, is love. The love between Claire and Jamie that persists through separations in both distance and time; the love between Claire’s daughter, Brianna, and her husband, Roger; and underlying it all, the love of family. Jamie has an extended family, with connections throughout Scotland and Europe, and also has a bond with the men who had been imprisoned with him after Culloden.

Yes,  you could write them off as romance novels, but the vast scope of the historic setting and the idea of time travel raises the bar.  Ultimately, it’s Gabaldon’s handling of her characters that clinches it for me. They are a mix of strong and weak, vain and humble, loving and vengeful, and to drive the story along – sick and well.  Through Claire being a healer/nurse/doctor, we get front row seats to a variety of ailments and problems. Throw in a few babies and family members, and it’s a saga that I’m happily following.

There was a big gap of time in between A Breath of Snow and Ashes and the following An Echo in the Bone, and less of one leading up to it. I suspect that long time is what made Echo a little clunky, so I chose A Breath of Snow and Ashes for my “best of” list. I feel like could read the ending of that one a thousand more times, and still get goosebumps.

Oh, and Lord John? He saves the day for Claire and Jamie several times in the Outlander series, so in thanks, he gets a couple of novels and a novella or two in his own series.

I can’t wait for Gabaldon’s next installment in this series. I’m sure it’ll be on my “best of” list for the … what are we calling the next decade? 2010s? Teens? Let’s just say my “best of the next friggin decade” for now. I like the sound of that.

Here’s my list of all of my favorites this decade, by author:

  • Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Eleven on Top, Janet Evanovich
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Diana Gabaldon
  • Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
  • Time Travelers Wife, Audrey Niffeneger
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling
  • The Full Cupboard of Life, Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
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