Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 4

Season 4 is here! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.



I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 404: “Common Ground”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Having been led by providence to Fraser’s Ridge, Jamie, Claire and Young Ian begin to build a home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the 20th Century, Rober tries to reconnect with Brianna.

My take:

Major plot points:

  • The Frasers say goodbye to Fergus and Marsali and depart for the mountains.
  • They reach Fraser’s Ridge and start to build a home there.
  • Their Cherokee neighbors aren’t thrilled to have them around.
  • After killing a bear-monster (you’ll see), Jamie reaches an accord with the Cherokee and they agree to live in peace with one another.
  • Meanwhile, in 1971, Roger finds evidence that Claire found Jamie and that they settled in North Carolina. He shares the news with Brianna.
  • According to Brianna’s roommate, Brianna has gone to visit her mother. Uh oh…


Episode 404, “Common Ground”, is yet another slow-build episode — not that that’s a bad thing; it’s just tonally different than the hectic pace of episodes from previous seasons. In this episode, the emphasis is on Claire and Jamie’s journey to establish their new home. Yes, there’s some danger and excitement along the way, but your enjoyment of this episode might be directly proportional to how much you enjoy watching people chop down trees, smoke meat, and use a whetstone. (I liked it! Call me an armchair woodswoman, I guess.)

First off, there’s a tender good-bye. Marsali is now visibly pregnant, and she tearfully confesses to Claire that she misses her mother. It’s a sweet moment, as Marsali acknowledges the bad blood between Claire and Laoghaire, and Claire actually says something nice about (the evil witch) Laoghaire by reassuring Marsali that she was a good mother, and that Marsali will be too. It’s a shame that Claire won’t be present to care for Marsali during the birth. Meanwhile, Jamie needs more settlers for Fraser’s Ridge, and Fergus’s mission is to recruit people, preferably Scots, and preferably some of Jamie’s Ardsmuir men. So can we finally get Murtagh??? Please?? After the baby is born, Fergus and Marsali will move to the Ridge as well.

Off the Frasers go, with Young Ian and Rollo, to pursue the American dream. Jamie is super excited to stake out the new homestead and plan the cabin he’ll build, but the group is unsettled by a visit from some Cherokee, who glare at them menacingly and then depart. Are they threatening the Frasers? Will there be violence? One of the horses is injured by (what they assume to be) a bear, and some nights later, Jamie encounters the bear in the woods, only to realize that it’s a man dressed up as a bear with deadly claws. The man-bear tries to kill Jamie (he’d already severely wounded John Quincy Myers), but Jamie manages to kill the man-bear instead.


Jamie brings the man’s body to the Cherokee camp, and it turns out that one of their men speaks English. He explains that the dead man was exiled from the tribe and went mad. Jamie and the Cherokee declare their intentions to live in peace, and later, some members of the tribe come to visit at Fraser’s Ridge. An older woman describes a vision she’s had of Claire’s future, both of Claire’s growing power as a healer and a more ominous statement about something (unnamed) that will happen that won’t be Claire’s fault. Not that that’s creepy or anything.

And wait, there’s more! In 1971, Roger is back at Oxford, missing Brianna — he hasn’t seen her since their big fight at the festival in North Carolina. As he reads a book about Scottish settlement in colonial North Carolina, he comes across a picture of a place identified as Fraser’s Ridge. He reaches out to the book’s author, and receives documents back including a copy of the document signed by James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, a plan of their land, and a letter describing Fraser’s Ridge and a woman named Claire who was a healer. At last — proof that Claire survived her trip through the stones and reunited with Jamie! Not only that, but basically an address for where Claire and Jamie settled. Roger calls Brianna with the news, in a very awkward trans-Atlantic phone call. Brianna is thrilled, but there’s clearly a lot of unspoken emotion between Roger and Brianna.

By the end of the episode, Roger makes two more unexpected discoveries. First, Fiona gives him a copy of an obituary from a newspaper in the 1770s, relating the deaths of James and Claire Fraser. The year is illegible. Roger decides not to tell Brianna — why burden her with knowing that her parents only had a few years together before dying tragically? When he tries to call Brianna again, her roommate Gail answers. Didn’t Roger know? asks Gail — Brianna left a few weeks ago to go to Scotland to visit her mother. Uh oh! It seems that a certain red-head is on her way to Craigh na Dun!

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

I really liked the outdoorsy feel of the episode, seeing Jamie’s joy at building a home for his family, and Claire’s delight in working with Jamie to start something new and special. Ian was adorable as always… and Rollo! Well, Rollo is always amazing. Good dog, Rollo.

I love that Claire and Jamie are never far away from expressing their love, devotion, and attraction at any given moment. These two are just perfection.

The show is being very careful to be sensitive in its portrayal of the Cherokee. So far, so good. Let’s see how this progresses.

I was waiting for Jamie to wrassle a bear like he does in the book — but I suppose it would be pretty tricky to actual film something like that, and we wouldn’t want to add any real scars to all the prosthetic scars Sam Heughan already has to deal with. So the substitution of a crazy man who thinks he’s a bear is okay by me… although I do miss the book scene of Claire slapping the bear with a fish. What a great scene! (Go look it up if you haven’t read it!)

I’m liking Roger and Brianna’s story so far this season too. They’re getting enough screen time to start building up interest, but not enough at this point to frustrate viewers by taking away from Claire and Jamie time.


And furthermore…

Claire finally broke out her britches! I was thinking early in the episode how annoying it must be to chop and build and haul things in the middle of the woods while wearing full skirts and petticoats… and by the end of the episodes, Claire’s in pants and looking SO much more comfortable.





Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 3

Season 4 is here! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.



I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 403: “The False Bride”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Jamie and Claire search for a place to call home. Meanwhile, in the 20th century, Brianna and Roger’s romance heats up and then fizzles during a road trip that winds up highlighting their differences.

My take:

Major plot points:

  • Jamie and Claire leave River Run to set out for the mountains, planning to settle in a town there and start a new life.
  • A thunderstorm strands them in the woods, where Claire discovers a strange skull.
  • They find a beautiful location and decide to settle there.
  • In 1970, Roger and Brianna go to a Scottish festival in North Carolina.
  • Roger proposes to Brianna, but she’s not ready for marriage.
  • This seems to be the end of their relationship. *sniff*


Episode 403, “The False Bride”, is not particularly action-packed, but it does present some iconic moments and emblems near and dear to book-readers’ hearts, and sets the tone for both Claire and Jamie’s new life as well as the 20th century story involving Brianna and Roger.

Jocasta blames Claire for denying Jamie a good life as a landowner, a chance to become the laird he was meant to be, but Claire holds her own. Jocasta is one tough cookie, but Claire’s spine is just as strong. Meanwhile, Ian asserts himself to Jamie and makes Jamie see that Ian isn’t a “lad” to have all his decisions made for him anymore. Jamie graciously concedes that Ian is man enough to make up his own mind now, and Ian chooses to stay in America with Jamie and Auntie Claire. Luckily for all concerned, there aren’t any telephones, so they won’t be on the receiving end of some choice words from Jenny when she finally finds out that her boy isn’t coming home to her after all.

And we meet yet another important four-legged Outlander character: Clarence the mule! I admit it — I giggled when he was introduced. Clarence, like Rollo, is a part of the story and a member of the Fraser family.

Claire and Jamie get some quality time together in the woods, riding, talking, and camping under the stars. Jamie worries that he has nothing to offer Claire, but as she makes clear, all she really wants and has dreamed of is the chance to finally create a home with him. Just think of it — all these years, all these adventures, and yet Claire and Jamie have never truly had a home together. They also discuss Brianna’s future and her lack of career plans. For Jamie, it’s unheard of for a young adult to be trying to find their direction in life — either they have a calling, such as Claire being born to be a healer, or they go into their family’s trade. No such thing as being “undeclared” in the 18th century!

The discovery of the skull and Claire’s vision of the Native American ghost is pretty much straight from the book. Hate to say it, but the bit with her shoes comes off a bit silly on the screen, but that’s okay — I don’t suppose it’s any sillier than touching a big stone and traveling 200 years, is it?

There are key discoveries on the trip — a patch of strawberries, the opal, the silver fillings on the skull. I love how the show keeps to the important visuals that really call back to the source material, yet feel organic as presented. The view of Fraser’s Ridge is just absolutely lovely. It’s easy to see how Jamie and Claire could be swept away by the sight, and feel so strong a connection to this place, enough to want to make it their own.

Meanwhile, I was really charmed by the 20th century storyline. As always, the show does a great job of setting the tone through the clothing, music, cars, and even fast-food choices that surround the characters. It was so nice to see Brianna and Roger again, and the juxtaposition of a Highland fair in the North Carolina hills with Jamie and Claire’s travels through the same land worked really well. The festival was perfect, and I loved seeing Brianna and Roger enjoying themselves together, especially in a setting where Brianna could feel connected to her Scottish roots.

Ah, and let’s not forget the silver bracelet! Another book element, nicely done.

It all falls apart, of course. Roger is in love with Brianna, and while she’s ready to sleep with him, he only wants her sexually in the context of committing to a life together. He is a bit much in this scene, although with the best of intentions and the biggest heart. Still, he’s not doing a great job of reading Brianna — the more he gushes on about getting married, having a home, having a bunch of kids, the more freaked out Brianna gets. It’s not just that she’s young, still in college, still trying to figure out what she wants in life. She’s also haunted by not knowing what’s become of her mother. Did she make it back to Jamie? Are they together? Are they safe? What’s more, Brianna is well aware of her mother’s own history, having fallen in love at a young age and gotten married, then finding that her heart belonged elsewhere. Brianna is worried that it’s too soon for her to make a big decision like marriage, but Roger takes this as rejection.

I can relate to Brianna’s reaction, absolutely — it does feel quick, and so much in her life is up in the air. She has feelings for Roger, but she’s not ready to decide her whole life at the moment. Sigh. An ongoing refrain for so many fans while reading the books is “Poor Roger!” — Diana Gabaldon just isn’t kind to his character. Sadly, the end of this episode is the first “Poor Roger” moment, but it won’t be the last.

(Poor Roger!)

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

This was a slower episode, in many ways, yet I loved it. The focus here is on the characters and their relationships, and I felt like this episode gave the two couples room to talk, to relate, and to plan. Sadly for Roger and Brianna, things are bumpy, but of course this is just the beginning of their story. Meanwhile, Jamie and Claire have a mostly peaceful ride together, and it’s just right and sweet and deserved for these two to have time to be happy and safe in one another’s company.

And furthermore…

I know this season was filmed in Scotland, but damn! They’re making fake North Carolina look so, so beautiful!





Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 2

Season 4 is here! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.



I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 402: “Do No Harm”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Claire and Jamie visit his Aunt Jocasta at her plantation, River Run. When tragedy strikes at the plantation, Jamie and Claire find themselves caught between what’s right and the law of the land.

My take:

Major plot points:

Picking up on the river:

  • Jamie, Claire, and Ian arrive at River Run, Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta’s prosperous plantation.
  • Claire makes her feelings about slavery very clear.
  • Jocasta announces that she’s named Jamie her heir and manager of her business — meaning he (and Claire) will be de facto slave owners.
  • A slave named Rufus injures an overseer. Claire saves him from a gruesome death, only to discover that the law is not on her side.
  • The neighboring plantation owners and overseers demand that Jamie hand over Rufus, or they’ll attack River Run.
  • Claire and Jamie face an impossible choice — turn Rufus over, where he’ll be tortured and killed, or give him a painless death themselves.

Oh, and Ian learns about that fearsome North American mammal, the skunk.


Episode 402, “Do No Harm” does not mince words when it comes to making clear what an awful chapter of American history Jamie and Claire find themselves in. The show tackles slavery head-on, and despite wanting to do good, Jamie and Claire are pretty much slapped in the face by how powerless they are to make any difference.

First, though, we have the aftermath of the attack on the river. Jamie blames himself, of course, both for trusting Stephen Bonnet in the first place, and then for failing to protect the people under his protection. Poor Lesley has been buried on the riverbank. Now that Bonnet has stolen all their money and gemstones, Jamie and Claire arrive at Jocasta’s as poor relations, with basically nothing to their names but the clothes on their backs.

Auntie Jocasta, played by the amazing Maria Kennedy Doyle, is glorious. She’s self-assured and regal, and it’s not until Ian tries to present her with flowers that the Frasers realize that she’s blind. Aided by her right-hand man, the house slave Ulysses, Jocasta is always in control. Jamie is fond of her, especially as she reminds him so much of his mother (her sister), but Jocasta and Claire butt heads pretty quickly, as Claire expresses just how wrong she thinks slavery is.

Jocasta invites all her neighbors to a party welcoming Jamie and Claire, and makes the surprise announcement that Jamie will be both her heir and her business representative, effective immediately. As Jamie points out, it’s quite the Mackenzie move — by announcing it publicly, she basically backs Jamie into a corner and doesn’t leave him any room to decline.

Jamie immediately jumps in with his intent to free all the slaves once he’s in control and pay the men and women a wage for their work. His idealistic views are quickly shut down by Jocasta and her trusted friend Farquard Campbell. The law of North Carolina places so many obstacles in the way that even with the best of intentions, Jamie could not possibly hope to afford the amount that would be necessary to pay as bond for all of Jocasta’s slaves, not to mention being able to prove that each freed slave had earned their freedom through meritorious service — saving a life.

Jamie and Claire are never not in trouble for very long. When word comes that an overseer has been attacked by a slave, Jamie and Claire rush to the scene. The slave, Rufus, is being strung up on a tree by a hook through his belly. Claire has him cut down and brought back to the main house, where she proceeds to perform surgery on him right on Jocasta’s dining room table. Claire’s amazing, so of course she’s successful, and Rufus stands a good chance at recovering…

… but that sucks too, because the overseers are demanding blood. They want Rufus, or they’ll attack River Run and take him. A deal is struck — Jamie will hand him over at midnight. Ulysses points out to Claire that it would have been better for her to let the boy die. At least, it would have been relatively quick. Now with the furious overseers demanding “justice”, he’ll be ripped apart.

Jamie points out to Claire that perhaps her oath to “do no harm” might mean in this case that she give poor Rufus an easier death than the one that awaits him at the hands of the mob. In tears, Claire agrees, giving Rufus a tea laced with aconite, then talking quietly with him and holding his hands as he dies. As the clock strikes midnight, Jamie carries Rufus’s body outside, where the angry mob drags him through the dirt and strings him up from a tree.

Welcome to the South, Claire. Maybe North Carolina isn’t the best place for the Frasers to settle down after all.

Further musings:

We meet a favorite book character in this episode, John Quincy Myers, a mountain man who will interact with the Frasers in their future adventures. He and Ian share a very cute scene in which they treat Rollo after his encounter with a skunk and talk about Myers’s experiences with Indian women. Ian seems to be finding a lot to admire about Myers. It’s pretty much the only light scene in the episode, which may be why I enjoyed it so much.

I assume since we just saw Claire doing surgery on the dining room table, we won’t get the book scene of Claire doing surgery in the same location on John Quincy Myers’s… um… private parts… during a dinner party, with a crowd of onlookers. But damn, that would have been funny.

Other key book characters introduced include Phaedre, Farquard Campbell, and Lieutenant Wolff. These are all characters we see a lot of in the books, but I suppose it’ll depend on how much emphasis and screen time River Run gets in the TV version whether we see much more of them.

And one more thing:

Claire is gorgeous in red — reminded me of those bad old days at Versailles! She looks lovely in Jocasta’s white dress too. I really liked the scene of Jocasta deciding how Claire should look, even though she can’t actually see her. Jocasta is no one to be trifled with.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

Another strong episode, although the romantic in me missed having any Jamie/Claire intimacy this episode. Oh, get your minds out of the gutters! It’s not about the sex, but I missed seeing them having any deeply connected moments. (I know, it wouldn’t have fit at all in the mood of the episode… but I just love them together, always.)

And furthermore…

It was good to see that Jamie and Claire are on the same page when it comes to this chapter of history. In their earlier days together, Claire was often at odds with Jamie, who struggled to understand her point of view and often ended up explaining traditions and customs of the times to Claire. Here, they’re both strangers in a strange land, figuring it out together, and they’re a united team. Despite the painful subject matter and the no-win situation they’re in in regard to Jamie being Jocasta’s heir, it’s clear that Jamie is on the same side as Claire when it comes to slavery and the impossibility of them accepting the status quo or being a part of it in any way.





Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 1

Season 4 has begun! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.



I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 401: “America the Beautiful”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Claire and Jamie cross paths with Stephen Bonnet, a pirate and smuggler who enlists their help. Claire illuminates Jamie on some of America’s history, leading him to wonder if it’s possible for them to lay down some roots.

My take:

Major plot points:

Aaaaaand we’re back! It’s 1767, in North Carolina:

  • Jamie’s friend Gavin Hayes, who was imprisoned with him at Ardsmuir and came on the journey last season to find Ian, has been sentenced to death for killing a man. While Jamie had an escape attempt planned, Gavin feels he deserves to pay for his crime and asks for the rescue attempt to be cancelled.
  • Gavin is hanged, but other prisoners escape.
  • Jamie and Claire plan to sail back to Scotland as soon as they can sell some gemstones in order to afford the voyage. First, they need to bury Gavin, and take his body to a cemetery.
  • They find one of the escaped prisoners hiding in their wagon, a man named Stephen Bonnet, who describes himself as a smuggler and a pirate, and asks for help in escaping. Because he claims to have been a friend of Gavin’s, Jamie agrees to help.
  • Jamie and Claire, along with Ian and Lindsay, sail upriver. They’re heading toward River Run, the plantation owned by Jamie’s aunt Jocasta.
  • On the river, they’re attacked by a band led by Stephen Bonnet. He kills Lesley, beats Jamie, and steals their gemstones and one of Claire’s wedding rings.


Season 4 opens rather quietly, all things considered. It feels like the start of a new chapter — which it really is. Jamie and Claire are together, Culloden and the Rising are long in the past, and they have an opportunity to start a new life in a new country.

Of course, if life went smoothly, it wouldn’t be Outlander. What would Jamie and Claire do with peace and quiet?

The episode begins with a scene from 2000 BC, somewhere in North America, as a primitive tribe constructs and dances around and through a circle of stones**. Claire’s voice-over muses on the meaning of circles and the importance people attach to them as symbols… and we cut to the hangman’s noose, shortly before the execution in 1767. Jamie, being Jamie, can’t stand the idea of letting one of his men die (although he did actually kill a man, in self-defense) — but Gavin doesn’t want any thrilling heroics. He just wants to meet his end while seeing the face of a friend, and Jamie agrees.

**Sorry, I thought the dancing at the stones scene was a little silly. I suppose the show needed to demonstrate that there are stone circles everywhere, so when they stumble across one later on, it won’t be completely out of the blue… but really, 2000 BC? It came off a bit silly. (It also reminded me of the First Slayer from Buffy, but I digress.)


There’s a lovely moment later in a tavern, after Gavin is already dead, when first Lesley and then the entire group begin singing a Gailigh song in Gavin’s honor. Quite beautiful. (Of course, book people will be shaking their heads a bit, since book-Jamie is utterly tone deaf, can’t recognize songs, and certainly never sings.)

The priest has denied burial to the hanged man, so Jamie determines that he and the gang will take Gavin’s body to consecrated ground under cover of night and give him a decent burial. While driving the cart, Jamie and Claire discuss their gemstones and the plan to sell the stones so they’ll have enough money for all of them to book passage back to Scotland. Little did they know that a living man was snuggled up with the corpse in the back of the wagon… listening to every word.

At the cemetery, Jamie and Ian dig a grave. Ian has a flashback to Geillis (season 3) and freaks out, and Jamie has to talk him down. Ian describes being forced to have sex with Geillis, even though he didn’t want to, and asks Jamie if he’s ever lain with someone against his will. Yes, he has, Uncle Jamie tells Ian, and he offers him words of wisdom for getting past it. It’s a touching scene, showing Jamie at his paternal best, being strong for someone who needs him.

Stephen Bonnet turns up in the back of the wagon, and turns on his charm. He speaks fondly of Gavin, and asks Jamie to give him the chance to escape. He doesn’t seem particularly dangerous. Jamie and Claire agree to drive him in the cart into the woods and to a meeting point near the river, where he’ll find a way back to his friends. Despite a close encounter with a redcoat roadblock, they make it and say good-bye to Bonnet. Jamie and Claire settle in for some sexy cuddles and a night of camping in the woods, then wake to appreciate the beauty of the land all around them.

Back in town, Jamie and Claire prepare for a fancy dinner where they expect to meet a man who’s known for collecting expensive things, including gems. The governor of North Carolina will also be there. At the dinner, Claire wears a beautiful ruby around her neck, which definitely catches eyes as intended. Meanwhile, Jamie has caught the governor’s eye. He offers Jamie the chance to settle on his own piece of land and start a community of his own in the mountains of North Carolina. It’s a tempting offer. Claire reminds Jamie that the American Revolution is only a few years away, and they don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of history. Jamie thinks about Brianna growing up in the United States, and sees this as an opportunity to help create a country that will be a home for his daughter in the future.

Ian wants to stay with Jamie and Claire, but Jamie wants to send him home to his mother. Fergus and Marsali will stay in town, since she’s pregnant and not up to traveling. Yet another lovely bit, when everyone celebrates Marsali’s pregnancy. I love the look on Claire’s face — last season, Marsali and Claire first broke the hostility between them when Marsali asked Claire for advice on birth control. Guess she didn’t stick with the plan for very long! In any case, all are happy, and since this is Outlander, it’s actually a rare treat to see a group of happy people all at once.

And one of the most eagerly awaited moments happens this episode:

ROLLO!! Ian won a beautiful dog named Rollo in a dicing game. Awwwwww, Rollo! This is the start of a beautiful relationship. Rollo is the best.

So, things go south, as they tend to do for the Frasers. After a lovely day on a river barge on the way to visit Aunt Jocasta at River Run, near Cape Fear, the boat is tied up for the night. Stephen Bonnet turns up — because no good deed goes unpunished — and he and his men attack the Frasers’ company, beating Jamie fiercely, stealing the gemstones, slitting Lesley’s throat, and being super mean to Claire! Bonnet tries to take Claire’s rings from her. Thinking fast, she tries to swallow them, but he forces a finger into her mouth (gross, and also super intimidating) and gets the silver ring — Jamie’s ring!! — away from her.

And the episode ends, with America the Beautiful playing over the horrible scene.

Further musings:

Claire’s knowledge of the future is coming in handy once again. With the Revolutionary War on the way, America might not be the safest choice for a new home, and Jamie doesn’t want to fight any more wars — so it’s touching that he wants to help make a home for Brianna. At the same time, with the current state of affairs in 1767, sides aren’t neatly drawn, and Jamie has sworn an oath of loyalty to the King. But as Claire points out, they know the outcome of the coming war already. This time, they need to be on the right side of history.

We’ve had two scenes this episode of Claire asserting her 20th century view of the 18th century. First, when Claire describes a future US that will stretch all the way to the Pacific, Jamie asks about the people who already live there. Bad things, Claire explains. We’ll see how the show handles the upcoming encounters with native tribes. Later, Claire tries to criticize the boat captain’s treatment of his slave, only to find out that the man is free, working for a wage. Slavery will be an ongoing issue — Claire and Jamie’s next stop is Jocasta’s plantation. And yes, as you’d expect on a tobacco-growing plantation in the south, Jocasta is a slave owner.

And one more thing:

Spoilery bit ahoy: In the book, Stephen Bonnet takes Claire’s gold ring (she manages to swallow the silver ring.) Later, it’s that gold ring that catches a certain someone’s eye and leads to all sorts of trouble –and that always bothered me, because really, it’s just a plain gold band. How could someone recognize it as Claire’s while seeing it in passing in a crowded tavern, completely out of context, and with no idea that Claire’s ring had actually been stolen? So yeah, this way is much better. I’d wager all my gemstones that Claire is the only person in North American (or possibly the world at that time) with a silver ring made from a key — definitely recognizable as something quite distinct and unusual. So in my mind, the changing of the rings is big improvement. Yay, show.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

Such a great new beginning, promising new adventures in a new land. I love the changes to the theme song, as it now sounds more like an American folk song. Lovely, lovely version.

As I said earlier, this episode mostly feels a bit quiet, but that’s okay. It has to reintroduce us into the lives of the characters, establish their new circumstances, and set out their goals and challenges. The Frasers are at a crossroads, living in the colonies but aiming to return to Scotland. Their lives are in a lull as they prepare, but they seem to mostly be enjoying their rather peaceful times together as a family. The peace and quiet don’t last, of course — the last few minutes of the episode make clear that the new land has its own dangers in store for the Frasers. Still, Jamie and Claire are obviously still very much in love, Fergus and Marsali are happy and beginning a new chapter in their own lives, and Ian is… well, Ian is precious and wonderful, as always. So this episode can be excused for feeling like a family reunion at times — it’s nice for us to get a chance to appreciate some smiles and happiness before diving back into the drama and life-threatening peril around every turn.

And furthermore…

Once again, the start of a new season makes me happy all over again that so much care has been devoted to turning our beloved books into a beautiful TV series. Kudos to the cast and crew for making it lovely and special. It’s obvious how much love goes into each and every episode.





Top Ten Tuesday: Ten authors I’d love to meet

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Authors I’d Love to Meet. I could probably go on and on with this topic, but here are the top 10 on my mind right now, starting with favorite authors whom I’ve never seen in person:

1. Seanan McGuire: I’ve loved her books for quite a while, but this year I totally binged on the October Daye and InCryptids series, as well as the Newsflesh books by her alter ego Mira Grant. Sadly, I ended up out of town for a weekend in September when she was doing a signing event at a local bookstore, but since she’s incredibly prolific (I suspect she doesn’t sleep), I’m hoping it won’t be a long wait until there’s another book launch event to attend.

2. John Scalzi: Love, love, love his writing, and definitely need to read more.

3. Katherine Arden: I adored The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, and can’t wait for the trilogy wrap-up in 2019.

4. Amy Stewart: The Kopp Sisters rule! Her historical fiction is so much fun, and so full of terrific female characters straight out of history.

5. Jim Butcher: I’m a big Dresden fan, and loved Codex Alera and The Aeronaut’s Windlass too.

6. Jojo Moyes: Her books always move and inspire me.

7. Lisa See: I was fascinated by The Teagirl of Hummingbird Lane, and have enjoyed many of her books over the years. I’d love to hear her speak and learn more about her writing and research process.

8. Lisa Genova: Her books tackles such fascinating medical conditions. She’s another author I’d like to hear talk about inspiration, medical research, and the conditions she clearly cares so much about.

9. Dana Stabenow: I love the Kate Shugak series, and really enjoy reading this author’s blog posts on writing, general topics, and life in Alaska!

I’ll wrap up with an author whom I had the pleasure to meet once already, back in 2014 when Written in My Own Heart’s Blood was released — but I’d love to see her again (and again and again):

10: Diana Gabaldon: Author extraordinaire of the Outlander series!

Yes, I met her! What an amazing day!

Have you met any of the authors on my list? Which authors would you most want to meet? Please share your TTT link!







Three new stories by Diana Gabaldon

Well, June was quite a month for fans of Diana Gabaldon, who has graced us with with not one, not two, but three new stories! Actually, that should probably be 2 1/2, since the 3rd is coauthored. No matter! We fans will take what we can get.

Most excitingly, for Outlander readers, is the publication of Seven Stones to Stand or Fall, a collection of stories set in the Outlander-verse. Five stories have been published previously in anthologies and as stand-alones:

  • The Custom of the Army (a Lord John story)
  • The Space Between (about Fraser relations, Master Raymond, and the infamous Comte St. Germain)
  • A Plague of Zombies (more Lord John)
  • A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (about Roger’s parents during WWII)
  • Virgins (about Jamie and Ian as young, virginal mercenaries in France, prior to the events of Outlander)

Having read all of these previously*, I’ll just focus on the two new pieces from Seven Stones:

A Fugitive Green: A 100+ page novella about Hal and Minnie — that would be Lord John’s distinguished older brother Harold, Duke of Pardloe, and his beloved wife Minnie. This is their origin story, of sorts. In A Fugitive Green, we get the tale of how Minnie, the daughter of a spymaster and book dealer, met and ended up married to a young, newly widowed British officer on the verge of utter disgrace. Minnie is sent by her father from Paris to London to carry out some book deals as well as some espionage, with the ulterior motive of getting her a rich and well-placed husband along the way. Meanwhile, Hal is dealing with the aftermath of a scandalous duel and his wife’s death, and Hal’s best friend is busy trying to get Hal cleared of any guilt related to the duel. When Minnie and Hal meet, sparks fly. We’ve certainly seen both of these characters as adults and gotten a taste of their fiery marriage, and their unusual meeting and marriage has been spoken of, but here we see it first-hand (and yes, the famous hearth rug too.) It’s all quite delicious, and I enjoyed seeing Hal in his 20s, with a certain amount of romance and vulnerability that his older, more hardened self rarely (if ever) displays. Hal has become a favorite of mine over the course of the main Outlander series as well as in the assortment of Lord John novels and novellas, and I appreciated getting this new view of Hal and Minnie and the start of their relationship.


Besieged: In which Lord John, wrapping up his governorship of Jamaica, is informed last minute that not only is his mother Benedicta unexpectedly in Havana, but that the British fleet is about to invade Cuba. What’s a devoted son to do but sail off with his trusted valet Tom Byrd and rush to the rescue? I’ll be honest — despite my love for John and my joy at another adventure with Tom Byrd, this story left me cold. It was mostly people (well, John) rushing from place to place, lots of military talk, and not a whole lot of character depth. The action felt a bit mind-numbing after a while — haciendas and forts and rushing around — and I just didn’t enjoy it. Sure, it’s wonderful to spend time with John, but I would have liked to see him interact more with his mother and Tom rather than being caught up in an action story the whole time. There’s also a very sad development, if you’ve read the Lord John novels and are familiar with John’s extended family, but other than that, I actually found Besieged rather skippable.


And finally, a Gabaldon story that’s only kind of a Gabaldon story. In the new anthology MatchUp, bestselling authors are paired up — one male, one female — to create stories together featuring some of their well-known characters. For those who are into these type of stories (crime thrillers), I’m sure there’s lots to enjoy from authors such as Sandra Brown, Charlaine Harris, etc etc etc. For me, I picked up MatchUp at the library strictly for the sake of Herself.

In MatchUp, Diana Gabaldon is paired up with Steve Berry, and together they’ve written a story — Past Prologue — centered around Berry’s lead character, Cotton Malone. In Past Prologue, Malone is in Scotland (to be clear, that’s modern-day, 21st century Scotland) for a private book sale. When he wanders away from Ardsmuir for a walk across the moors, he finds himself at a stone circle… and then, poof! finds himself in the year 1755. And for those who know their Outlander history, that means that Ardsmuir is a prison housing Scottish rebels, among them a tall red-haired man who stands out in a crowd. Malone ends up meeting the one and only Jamie Fraser (pausing here for hearts to melt). The plot of the story isn’t that important, but the Jamie moments are a lovely little treat, with a lot of heartbreak squeezed into one small conversation.

Past Prologue isn’t essential to the Outlander canon, but for fans, it’s a fun way to get a glimpse of familiar characters and settings. Not a bad way to pass the time!


*If you’re an Outlander reader but haven’t yet read the five already-published stories, I’ll just say that my two favorites are A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows and Virgins.

**Further note: As always, I’ll mention that the audiobooks are a great option for enjoying the Gabaldon novellas. Jeff Woodman is particularly wonderful narrating anything related to Lord John, and I really enjoyed the Virgins audiobook as well.

***I’ve written about a few of the these stories/novellas in other posts. Check them out:
A Trail of Fire




The Outlandish Companion, Volume I (revised edition): A Reading & Listening Guide

Revised edition of OCI, 2015

Revised edition of OCI, 2015

Last week, I posted a reading and listening guide for The Outlandish Companion, Volume II — and working my way backward, I’m now doing the same for Volume I of this essential reference book for Outlander fans.

First, a note on editions. The Outlandish Companion was originally published in 1999, providing all sorts of reference information on the first four books in the Outlander series (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn). This book has been a go-to resource for book fans ever since, who have (pretty much non-stop since 1999) never stopped asking for a volume two.

In 2015, fans finally got their wish, and more. Not only was The Outlandish Companion, Volume II published in October 2015, but earlier in the year, Diana Gabaldon also released a newly revised and updated edition of the Companion, Volume I.


The 1999 edition

The new edition of The Outlandish Companion, Volume I includes most of the original, plus some additional essays on writing and being a writer, as well as a section on the Starz TV series. Although I already owned a copy of the original edition, I simply had to treat myself to the revised edition as well… and then immediately put it on my shelf once it arrived, figuring I’d page through it eventually.

But now, having listened to the OCII audiobook, I thought it would be only fair to give the OCI audiobook a listen as well. And, as a public service for anyone who’s interested, I’m here to share with you a guide to what’s inside the OCI revised edition, plus what’s on the audiobook and what’s not.

As I mentioned in my OCII review: What you get in the audiobook, which you don’t get in the hard copy, is the voice of Herself, our beloved author Diana Gabaldon. I actually can’t stress this enough: Most of the audiobook is narrated by Diana, and I’ll explain a bit further on why this really matters… and really, why this alone is worth the price of the audiobook, even if you already own the physical book.

[Note: Except where indicated, all sections of OCI are read by Diana Gabaldon on the audiobook.]

Without further ado, what follows is an overview of what’s in the book, what I especially enjoyed, and a few tips and comments for anyone thinking about listening to the audiobook, either instead of or in addition to getting a copy of the physical book.


What’s inside:


Well, it was all an accident, is what it was. I wasn’t trying to be published; I wasn’t even going to show it to anyone. I just wanted to write a book — any kind of book.

And with this opening, we’re off! Diana takes us through her background, explaining how Outlander was just supposed to be what she was writing “for practice” to learn how to write a novel, and how it grew from there. It’s funny and personal and a must-read, particularly if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of hearing Diana tell her own writing story.

Part One: Synopses:

This is a major chunk of the book, and well worth the investment for true fans. The synopses included — Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn  — are lengthy and incredibly detailed. The books’ plots are thoroughly summarized, start to finish, with plenty of passages directly from the original texts.

Lengths of synopses (hardcover edition):

Outlander: 10 pages
Dragonfly in Amber: 30 pages
Voyager: 34 pages
Drums of Autumn: 42 pages

Reading tip: If you find yourself picking up the series after a break and need a refresher on what’s already happened, these synopses are detailed enough to give you everything you need to keep going, if you just can’t spare the time for a complete re-read of the books themselves.

Listening note: On the audiobook, the synopses are read by the incomparable Davina Porter, who narrates all of the Outlander series audiobooks. Just listening to her read the synopses and the quoted passages is a total treat.

Part Two: Characters

This section starts with a lengthy essay entitled “Where Characters Come From: Mushrooms, Onions, and Hard Nuts”. Diana explains her approach to creating characters, how they talk to her, and where their names come from, as well as how she incorporates historical characters, and even which characters in her books have connections to people in her life.

The second section of Part Two is a Cast of Characters, which is an alphabetical index of all characters in the first four books, with a brief explanation for each, a notation of which book they appear in, and a marker for any who are historical figures. Beyond that, there is a list of various minor characters, named or not, who in general are part of a group but don’t particularly have roles of their own, including Dougal’s men, Monks at the Abbey of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, Lallybroch tenants, and more.

Additional sections of Part Two are:

  • “I Get Letters”  – in which Diana describes some of the various and sundry gifts and items she receives from readers. This part includes a rather lengthy section on astrology, including astrological charts for Jamie and Claire, sent to Diana by a reader named Kathy Pigou. The full charts and explanations are included here, along with diagrams and a basic introduction to astrological methodology.
  • “Magic, Medicine, and White Ladies” – an overview of women’s roles as healers, the concept of white women, Claire’s medical background, and why WWII makes sense as a starting point for Claire’s medical experience.

Listening note: The essays in this part are included in full on the audiobook. The Cast of Characters is not included, being more or less a dictionary, which would make is not very useful to listen to. The astrology-related pieces are narrated by a woman whose name I didn’t catch — not Davina Porter, not Diana Gabaldon. As I have no interest in astrology, I ended up fast-forwarding this piece once I realized how long it was going to be.

Part Three: Family Trees

Includes background, family trees, and coats of arms for the Beauchamp, Randall, Fraser, and MacKenzie families.

“A Genealogical Note” is a section concerning the genealogy of Roger MacKenzie Wakefield, in which Diana breaks down the detailed explanation of just where Roger came from and addresses certain points that always seem to confuse readers. Includes Roger’s family tree.

Listening note: The section about Roger is on the audiobook. The rest of this part is not.

Part Four: Comprehensive Glossary and Pronunciation Guide

For those with an interest in linguistics, you’ll love this part. After a brief introduction in which Diana addresses the difficulty of including so many languages (especially languages she herself doesn’t speak!) in her books, she includes some very helpful reference pieces, including:

  • A Very Brief Guide To Gaelic Grammar by Iain MacKinnon Taylor — this includes the Gaidhlic alphabet, a pronunciation guide, grammar overview, and spelling notes.
  • Comprehensive Glossary of Foreign Terms (including British slang) — a mish-mosh of all sorts of phrases and words from the books, from Scots, Gaelic, English, Latin, French, Spanish, and more — even Kahnyen’kehaka (Mohawk).

Listening note: Unfortunately, not on the audiobook at all. While no one would want to hear a list of words and definitions, it might have been fun to get at least a bit of the Scottish pronunciations of some of the phrases used most frequently in the Outlander series.

Part Five: Research

This section is sure to be fascinating to readers, and I can’t help imagining that writers and aspiring writers will find it incredibly helpful and inspiring as well. Diana talks about methods of doing research for historical novels and what works for her, and then talks about resources and basic skills, such as using a library, working with a card catalog, reading for information, and locating sources.

As I mentioned for a similar section in OCII, Diana is incredibly generous with her insights and personal revelations here. She goes into quite a lot of detail on how she organizes her research, what she finds most effective and why, and offers such practical advice that if I were even thinking of writing historical fiction (I’m not), I’d both want to follow in her footsteps and to give her a hug, for making it all sound so doable.

She’s also just funny — for example, one section of this part is called “I’ve Done My Research, and Now You’re Going to Pay”, in which she cautions against falling into the trap of cramming in so much detail that the story itself gets lost.

Don’t forget that the purpose of research is to support the story; not the other way around.

A further section of Part Five is entitled “Botanical Medicine: Don’t Try This At Home” Here, Diana explains some of the plants and natural substances which are used in the Outlander books as medicines, how she researched these and some of the sources used, and the properties of certain herbs and their healing effects. She also includes a word of caution:

Well… I really hope no one would use antiquated medical treatments described in a time-travel novel (I mean, it does say FICTION on the spine, after all …. ) but what with the increasing interest in herbal therapies and alternative medicine in general, I do get frequent questions regarding my sources, or requests for recommendations. People want to know how I know all this stuff — am I an herbal practitioner myself? Am I a professional botanist?

Definitely not.

This section concludes with “Penicillin Online: A Writer’s Thread”, in which Diana shares a conversation generated by her query to one of her online communities about a passage concerning penicillin which she was writing for The Fiery Cross (book #5). It’s a lengthy conversation (20 pages), but very interesting for the back-and-forth sharing of information, insights, and ideas.

Listening note: All of Part Five is included on the audiobook with the exception of the final section (“Penicillin Online”).

Part Six: Where Titles Come From (And Other Matters of General Interest)

Lots of terrific information on the crafting and shaping of the novels, with sections including:

  • Outlander vs. Cross Stitch — Discussing the main differences between the US and UK versions of the first book in the series, and some notes on foreign editions as well.
  • The Cannibal’s Art: Writing and Real Life — Diana talks about her writing life, and how she balances family, writing, and having a life. Amazing.
  • Book Touring for Beginners — Did you ever want to know what it’s like to experience a book tour. This very funny section gives us a pretty good idea.
  • A side bar section entitled “A Brief Disquisition on the Existence of Butt Cooties” — basically, Diana’s thoughts on the state of public restrooms, based on her extensive exposure to such as part of her book touring travels.
  • The Shape of Things — Quite a lovely piece on how thoughts turn into words on a page. I’ve heard a version of this before as part of a talk by Diana that I attended, but it’s really so amazing to read. She also explains how each of her books has a “shape”, and how that affects the overall tone and structure of the book.
  • The Gabaldon Theory of Time Travel — Exactly what it sounds like, and a must-read for devoted series readers, all of whom usually have theories of their own as to just how it all works.

Listening note: All of Part Six is included on the audiobook.

Part Seven: The View From Lallybroch: Objects of Vertue, Objects of Use

This section consists of passages from the various books that describe certain things (Claire’s pearls, her wedding bands, Jamie’s sword) and places (the stone circle, Lallybroch), interspersed with drawing and photos related to the objects described. It’s lovely to read and hear the descriptive passages and to admire how Diana paints a picture of these items and locations through her use of words.

Listening note: All of the text in included in the audiobook, but without the hardcopy book on hand, I did feel that I was missing something in this section. It definitely adds a great deal to have the physical book as a reference in order to see the illustrations that accompany the various quoted sections.

Part Eight: Frequently Asked Questions

Fascinating, of course. This section includes all sorts of questions related to the books, the characters, Diana’s personal experiences, and more, as well as some more esoteric questions such as why Jamie can’t blink and what ever happened to Claire’s pearls in Dragonfly in Amber. The answers are all thoughtful, amusing, and truly informative… and often quite tongue-in-cheek.

Listening note: This entire section is included on the audiobook.

Part Nine: Controversy

Diana discusses some of the topics about which she gets the most communication from readers, and shares with us some of her answers as well. Main topics include sex scenes, language (profanity/blasphemy/vulgarity), homosexuality, abortion, wife-beating (specific to the famous/infamous “strapping” scene in book 1), and other issues. The answers are all quite thought-provoking, and often funny too. (She’s a very funny woman, that Diana Gabaldon).

Also included in this section is the essay “Jamie and the Rule of Three”, which is also available via Diana’s website (or was, anyway, last time I looked for it). It’s a marvelous piece that explains why Outlander was constructed as it was, and why the terrible things that happen to Jamie had to happen for the sake of the story.

Listening note: This entire section is included on the audiobook.

Part Ten: From Book to Screen

A very interesting section on the making on the TV show, which explains how books in general get made (or not) into movies or other types of productions, and then goes into the background of the Starz TV series, from concept to production, including notes on the cast, the filming process, and Diana’s role as a consultant. Also included here are two blog entries she’d written on “My Brief Career As a TV Actor”, very funny pieces describing her days on-set filming a cameo appearance for one of the episodes.

Listening note: This entire section is included on the audiobook — and this is where the audiobook ends.

What’s left in the book? Well, the hard copy in my hands continues for another 125+ pages beyond this point! The remainder of the book is:

Annotated Bibliography

A lengthy listing of Diana’s sources and all sorts of reading material related to everything under the sun in her books.

Appendix I: Errata

As Diana says in the introductory paragraph to this section: “Well, look — nobody’s perfect.” This section includes all of the corrections to dates, language, and other minor facts (such as whether certain fruits would really be in season at the time they’re eaten in the books).

I won’t go into the contents of all of the rest of the appendices, as there are a whole bunch more — but they are:

Appendix II: Gaelic (Gaidhlig) Resources: A Writer’s Short Guide to Scottish Speech Patterns

Appendix III: Poems and Quotations

Appendix IV: Roots: A Brief Primer on Genealogical Research

Appendix V: A Brief Discography of Celtic Music

Appendix VI: Foreign Editions, Audiotapes, and Strange, Strange Covers

Appendix VII: The Methadone List (Diana’s recommended reading list — what she likes to read for fun and feels good about recommending!)

End papers: Several pages of photos from the Starz TV series.


What else do you need to know?

My wrap-up points and overall tips regarding the Outlandish Companion, Volume I are exactly the same as for OCII, so I’ll just re-post the main bits of my conclusion from that review:

Thanks to the audiobook, I spent much more time on [this book] than I might have if I’d only stuck to the physical copy. The hardcover edition is a beautiful physical specimen, but I don’t think it would have occurred to me to treat it as something to read from start to finish. By listening to the audiobook, I had the opportunity to slow down, pay attention, and really absorb all of the wonderful information contained in the book.

Highlights: What ended up really making this an extraordinary listen for me was the the narration by Diana Gabaldon herself. And I’ll tell you, I was skeptical at the start. Diana is not a professional audiobook narrator. For one thing, she is FAST. (Big tip: Use .75 speed if you can to listen to Diana’s sections — listening at regular speed is the equivalent of listening to any other audiobook at 1.5x!). It was an adjustment to get used to her speed and speech patterns, but once I got into the groove, I loved it! She shares so much of herself here, and hearing her deliver the content makes it an especially personal experience. Plus, in case you’ve never heard Diana Gabaldon give a talk before — she’s really funny. Listening to Diana narrate her own book lets us hear her emphases and inflections, and it becomes clear just what she finds funny about her content and where she’s being ironic or tongue-in-cheek.

Key advice:

The audiobook is a brilliant way to get a rich experience from [this book] — but it’s incomplete without the physical book at hand. My strongest advice for fans: Get them both.

If you’re a true fan of the Outlander series, then both volumes of the Outlandish Companion are essential books to have on  your shelves. I know I’ll be using mine, over and over again, every time a pesky question arises — such as “where have I seen that character before” or “how the heck is that even pronounced?” These books are about the same price as a standard hardcover novel, and I consider them really valuable investments for Outlander fans.

Interested in The Outlandish Companion, Volume II? See my reading and listening guide, here.


The details:

Title: The Outlandish Companion, Volume I (revised edition)
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication date: March 31, 2015
Printed book length: 577 pages
Audiobook length: 13 hours, 48 minutes
Genre: Reference
Source: Purchased

The Outlandish Companion, Volume II: A Reading & Listening Guide

OCIIThe Outlandish Companion, volume II, is a reference book. Does it surprise you to hear that it was also one of the most enjoyable reading and listening experiences I’ve had in months?

First, some background: As anyone who even occasionally visits my blog surely knows by now, I’m a pretty dedicated fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In 1999, Diana published The Outlandish Companion, a reference guide covering the first four books in the Outlander series (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn). And pretty much ever since, fans have been clamoring for a second volume to cover the rest of the books.

In March 2015, Diana Gabaldon published a new and revised edition of The Outlandish Companion, volume I, updated to include some additional commentary, especially regarding the Starz TV series. [Blogger note: I’m working a bit backwards here, I know. I’ll post a separate piece about volume I in the next week or so.] And in October of 2015, we finally got The Outlandish Companion, Volume II, and what a treat is is!


The 1999 edition

I bought myself a hardcover edition of OCII as soon as it came out, but hadn’t done much with it beyond opening it at random and flipping through. When I saw that the audiobook had been released, it seemed like the perfect way for me to enjoy the contents of OCII in a laid-back, kind of mellow sort of way.

What you get in the audiobook, which you don’t get in the hard copy, is the voice of Herself, our beloved author Diana Gabaldon. I actually can’t stress this enough: Large portions of the audiobook are narrated by Diana, and I’ll explain a bit further on why this really matters… and really, why this alone is worth the price of the audiobook, even if you already own the physical book.

Revised edition of OCI, 2015

Revised edition of OCI, 2015

An added bonus for those who’ve listened to the audiobooks of the Outlander series and the spin-off Lord John books is the participation of the books’ narrators. Davina Porter — marvelous Davina Porter — narrates all of the Outlander book synopses in OCII, and Jeff Woodman, who does such a fantastic job as the honorable and wryly funny Lord John Grey, narrates the synopses for all of the Lord John pieces.

Without further ado, what follows is an overview of what’s in the book, what I especially enjoyed, and a few tips and comments for anyone thinking about listening to the audiobook, either instead of or in addition to getting a copy of the physical book.


What’s inside:


Yes, this matters! Diana’s introduction is as funny and smart as you’d expect, explaining how the revised OCI and the new OCII came about. It’s also a great intro to her style throughout the book, which is liberally sprinkled with footnotes, often humorous and tongue-in-cheek, and sure to include at least a few nuggets of odd but interesting little known facts.

Part One: Chronology

Identifying and explaining the chronology of all the parts in the story — so if you’re wondering what to read when, and just where all those novellas fit in, this will tell you.

Part Two: Synopses:

This is the longest part of the book — in my hardcover edition, the synopses start on page 15 and end on page 245. On the audiobook, we’re talking hours and hours. (Sorry, I can’t be more specific… but if I had to guess, at last 8 – 10 hours out of the whole.)

The synopses for the four Outlander books — The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, An Echo in the Bone, and Written in My Own Heart’s Blood  — are lengthy and incredibly detailed. The books’ plots are thoroughly summarized, start to finish, with plenty of passages directly from the original texts.

Lengths of synopses (hardcover edition):

The Fiery Cross: 30 pages
A Breath of Snow and Ashes: 66 pages
An Echo In the Bone: 30 pages
Written In My Own Heart’s Blood: 80 pages

Reading tip: If you’re midway through the series, or perhaps took a break in between volumes, these synopses are so detailed that you could easily read these as prep before moving on to the next novel. Although, in my humble opinion, it’s never a waste of time to do a re-read of the books themselves!

After the four Outlander books, we come to the synopses of the Lord John books and novellas. These are much less detailed, with simple plot overviews, not much in the way of spoilers, and no details on the mysteries or their solutions. This section is useful as a refresher, but doesn’t provide enough information if you’re looking for a full-blown recap.

Part Three: Cast of Characters

As the introductory paragraph states:

This list includes all the characters from the second four novels and from the Lord John books, with brief notes as to which book each character is introduced in, who they are, their role in the story, and whether they’re fictional or real historical persons.

This is simply invaluable. Arranged alphabetically, this 118-page section is a must-have for series readers, providing instant access to the who’s who necessary to keep straight the huge number of people who come and go in the books.

Part Four: Sex and Violence (subtitle: Spanking, Beating, Flogging, and Other Interesting Topics Involving Physical Interactions of a Non-Consensual Sort)

Now here’s where it gets truly interesting! Up to now, the OCII is largely reference material. Finally, in Part Four, we get Diana’s insight into her characters and their actions, and it is absolutely fascinating.  She spends quite a bit of time on some of the more controversial elements in the books — the spanking scene in Outlander, the occurrence of rape in the plot and whether it’s too much, the historical context of rape in the Highlands, Black Jack Randall’s sadism — and for those with an opinion on any of these, or who’ve read or participated in any of the heated debates that seem to crop up among readers, it’s enlightening to hear the author’s take on the issues and understand the thought processes behind her writing of these elements.

Part Five: History and Historical Fiction: Organizing the Past

If I had to pick one section to recommend above all others as a resource for writers, this would be it. Whether or not you read the Outlander books, I think this marvelous section would be inspiring to anyone who ever dreamed of writing their own novel.

Diana is incredibly generous with her insights and personal revelations here. She discusses the challenges and pleasures of historical research, and just what’s involved in writing historical fiction, using documentary evidence to enhance and ground her fiction. Not only that, but she also shares her own organization and tracking methods for her research — everything from how she organizes her bookshelves to her computer files’ naming systems.

If I were a writer (and I’m not), I think I’d be incredibly uplifted by Diana’s no-nonsense approach to writing. You want to write? Then write. Don’t delay because you haven’t finished your research yet, or because you need a dedicated space, or until your kids are out of the house, or any of a thousand other reasons. She repeatedly stresses that she began writing Outlander for practice, just to see if she could. I’m simplifying things quite a bit here, but the bottom line is that this is a section that should be read and shared and appreciated. (Also, see Part Seven)

Part Six: A Comprehensive Scottish Language Glossary and Pronunciation Guide – by Adhamh O Broin

Comprehensive is right! 77 pages worth of Scottish phrases, with a guide to pronunciation, origin, use in the books, and meaning, written by the esteemed Adhamh O Broin, who is the official Gaelic (Gaidhlig) consultant for the Outlander TV series.

Part Seven: Writing, and Other Games You Play By Yourself

Along with Part Five, this is simply indispensable knowledge and advice for writers. Diana talks about her own writing processes, and digs deeply into “Mind Games” — the many ways that people’s minds get in the way of their writing. If you’re even thinking about maybe someday starting to write, read this section. Not kidding.

But wait, there’s more! A fabulous part of this section of the book is “A Coda in Three-Two Time” (Annotated). “A Coda in Three-Two Time” is an amazing section of Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, showcasing the wedding night experiences of three couples. It’s intimate, sexy, personal, and even funny — and here, Diana’s annotates the scene to explain the linguistic and stylistic elements behind the writing. The thought and craft that go into the creation of “Coda” is beautiful to learn about.

Also in Part Seven is a section called “One Word Speaks Volumes”, in which Diana explains that she has one word that for her sums up the theme of each novel. From Outlander (love) to The Fiery Cross (community) to A Breath of Snow and Ashes (loyalty) and beyond, the meaning behind the theme is explained and supported. As with so much in the OCII, it’s fascinating.

Finally, Part Seven includes Recipes — I’m not sure exactly why this fits in the writing section, but here it is. Diana shares some favorites recipes, with explanations about her family’s experiences with the dishes included and detailed instructions on cooking and serving them.

Part Eight: The Invisible Talent

As Diana states in the introduction to this section:

“Talent” is what publicists, producers, and agents call the people who provide the visible face of entertainment — actors, for the most part. But anyone who is even temporarily appearing in his or own persona is “talent” — even me. But what about the people who give so much to the TV show and the world of Outlander, who normally don’t show their faces and talk about what they do?

I asked a few of the many, many talented people who create the world of the TV show (and other aspects of the ever increasing world of Outlander) to give us a brief glimpse of what they do and how they do it.

Included are essays by four behind-the-scenes, exceptionally talented individuals:

Terry Dresbach, the show’s brilliantly gifted costume designer, writes about just what it takes to design and produce costumes for a production of this magnitude, and includes several of her sketches for outfits for Claire and Jamie.

[Listening note: The narrator for this section (whose name I didn’t catch) does a fine job, except she mispronounces a couple of character names — most notably, Jamie’s last name! It’s FRASER, not FRASIER. Seems like something that should have been corrected during the production.]

Bear McCreary, the show’s composer, talks about his love of Scottish music (especially bagpipes!) and the reasons for the types of music we hear throughout the episodes. While some of his information is rather technical, it’s presented in such a way that even a non-musical person like me could understand and appreciate it.

Dr. Claire MacKay: Dr. MacKay is an herbalist with expertise in the historical use of herbal medicine. She provides a really interesting overview of the history of herbal medicine in the  Highlands, as well as explaining nine herbs from Claire’s medicine kit, their traditional and modern uses, and their use in the Outlander books.

Theresa Carle-Sanders, author of the upcoming cookbook Outlander Kitchen, writes about “The Diet and Cookery of Eighteenth-Century Highlanders”, explaining not just what types of foods were eaten, but what this diet meant in terms of health, mobility, and class distinctions.

Part Nine: Maps and Floor Plans

Oh, what a treat! If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of mental energy trying to figure out just what’s where, and now we know! Included are floor plans for Lallybroch and the Big House on Fraser’s Ridge, as well as maps of the Lallybroch estate and the layout of the Fraser’s Ridge houses and cabins. Also included are maps of the American Colonies circa 1775, the British Isles, the city of Philadelphia, and the battlefields of Culloden and Saratoga.

Part Ten: The Methadone List

Diana’s fans are familiar with the concept of “The Methadone List”. Outlander is, after all, an addiction for its devoted readers — yet even the most devoted sometimes need to read something else. Diana shares this list in response to the question she’s always asked about what ELSE to read. “The Methadone List” is a list of some of her favorite books and writers, with brief plot descriptions and in some cases, excerpts from the books themselves.

Part Eleven: Bibliography

No explanation needed, right?

End papers: Several pages of photos conclude the OCII, include pictures of Castle Leod (seat of Clan MacKenzie) and a few behind-the-scenes photos from the TV production. The front and back inside covers are a detailed family tree (which you can download here as a PDF).

Listening tips:

Thanks to the audiobook, I spent much more time on the OCII than I might have if I’d only stuck to the physical copy. The hardcover edition is a beautiful physical specimen, but I don’t think it would have occurred to me to treat it as something to read from start to finish. By listening to the audiobook, I had the opportunity to slow down, pay attention, and really absorb all of the wonderful information contained in the book.

Highlights: What ended up really making this an extraordinary listen for me was the the narration by Diana Gabaldon herself. And I’ll tell you, I was skeptical at the start. Diana is not a professional audiobook narrator. For one thing, she is FAST. (Big tip: Use .75 speed if you can to listen to Diana’s sections — listening at regular speed is the equivalent of listening to any other audiobook at 1.5x!). It was an adjustment to get used to her speed and speech patterns, but once I got into the groove, I loved it! She shares so much of herself here, and hearing her deliver the content makes it an especially personal experience. Plus, in case you’ve never heard Diana Gabaldon give a talk before — she’s really funny. Listening to Diana narrate her own book lets us hear her emphases and inflections, and it becomes clear just what she finds funny about her content and where she’s being ironic or tongue-in-cheek.

As I mentioned earlier, getting another opportunity to listen to Davina Porter and Jeff Woodman is delightful. I’ve listened to the audiobooks of the entire Outlander series and Lord John books, and spending time with the narrators again here is like hanging out with old friends.

What’s missing: It may go without saying, but listeners should be aware that there are some elements of a reference book that just can’t be provided via audio. The OCII audiobook does not include the character guide, Scottish language glossary, maps and floor plans, or bibliography. And obviously, no illustrations.

Further tips:

Recipes and Methadone List — you can listen to these sections with the audiobook, but if you actually want to make use of them, whether to try the recipes or to track down books to read, you’ll need to refer to the hard copy.

Key advice:

The audiobook is a brilliant way to get a rich experience from the OCII — but it’s incomplete without the physical book at hand. My strongest advice for fans: Get them both.

If you’re a true fan of the Outlander series, then this is an essential and worthwhile investment! I know I’ll be referring to this book over and over again, whether it’s to look up a random character, check out a battlefield, or get some inspiration for my non-Outlander reading.

Blogger’s note: As I mentioned, I’m going about this backwards! Having listened to the OCII audiobook, I’m now going back and listening to the OCI audiobook as well. This is the longest piece I’ve ever posted, and I’m exhausted!! — but if I have the energy, I’ll write up a reading and listening guide to OCI once I finish.


The details:

Title: The Outlandish Companion, Volume II
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication date: October 27, 2015
Printed book length: 656 pages
Audiobook length: 21 hours, 17 minutes
Genre: Reference
Source: Purchased

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 All-Time Favorite Authors


Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Top Ten All-Time Favorite Authors. I had a really hard time narrowing it down, and changed my mind about half a dozen times, but finally decided to focus on living writers whose works I continue to read (and hope to keep reading for a long time to come).

Here we go:

1. Diana Gabaldon (like there was any doubt about this one!)


2. Mary Doria Russell


3. Stephen King


4. Patricia Briggs


5. Jim Butcher


6. Susanna Kearsley


7. Christopher Moore


8. Neil Gaiman


9. Bill Willingham


10. J. K. Rowling

Rowling[Note on images: Author photos scavenged from the interwebs; book photos taken by moi!]

I hate having to stop at just 10. This is just scratching the surface — and doesn’t even include some of the late greats, such as Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Ah well, I suppose that’s a list for another day!

Looking forward to seeing everyone else’s lists this week.

Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following Bookshelf Fantasies! And don’t forget to check out my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. Happy reading!


Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!


Thursday Quotables: The Custom of the Army


Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

The Custom of the Army

The Custom of the Army by Diana Gabaldon
(Novella originally published 2010 in the Warriors anthology)

All things considered, it was probably the fault of the electric eel.

This novella fits into the Outlander series as an interlude in the life of Lord John Grey. It’s a compact adventure, full of Lord John’s trademark understated humor and intelligence. There’s so much to love about this character, and I especially enjoy the snippets showing John and his older brother Hal, Duke of Pardloe:

“In Canada?” John’s exclamation startled Dottie, who crumpled up her face and threatened to cry.
“Hush, sweetheart.” Hal jiggled faster, hastily patting her back. “It’s all right; only Uncle John being an ass.”

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (, if you’d be so kind!
  • Leave your link in the comments — or, if you have a quote to share but not a blog post, you can leave your quote in the comments too!
  • Visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!