Review: Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Davina Porter

Drums of AutumnAs I make soap, I’ve been listening to audio books, and I just finished a really long one—Drums of Autumn, the fourth book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Like the other books in this series, Drums of Autumn is narrated by Davina Porter.

This book picks up the story of Jamie and Claire as they settle in North Carolina on Fraser’s Ridge. Their daughter, Brianna, who lives about 200 years in the future in the late 1960’s, discovers disturbing news about her parents and decides to go through the stones at Craigh na Dun and help Jamie and Claire. Roger Wakefield, sometimes known by his birth name of Roger MacKenzie, discovers what Brianna has done and follows her through the stones.

I have read this book once before. I will just lay this on the table: I am not a fan of Brianna’s. I don’t like her personality much, and I can’t put my finger on why. Claire, to me, is interesting because she’s so knowledgeable about medicine, and I found her understanding of herbal healing particularly fascinating. I’m not into herbalism per se, but as a soap maker, I do find it interesting. Claire is no-nonsense, passionate, intelligent, and above everything else, interesting.

Because this book focuses so much on Brianna’s trials and tribulations, I find I don’t like it as much as the other books. I like the parts that dwell on Claire, Jamie, and even Young Ian, however. I didn’t realize until I read it again this time, but I also don’t care much for Roger. I don’t know if it’s because the pair of them seem indecisive and dispassionate compared to Claire and Jamie. I do feel that Gabaldon tries to impart some passion in their relationship, but I don’t buy it as a reader. It doesn’t feel the same. I wonder if it has something to do with this interesting comment Gabaldon made in her book The Outlandish Companion:

These [hard nuts] are the most difficult characters for me to animate; the characters whose function in the story is structural—they’re important not because of personality or action, but because of the role they play.

One example of a hard nut is Brianna, Jamie and Claire’s daughter. She existed in the first place only because I had to have a child. The fact of her conception provides the motive for one of the major dramatic scenes in Dragonfly, but it didn’t matter at all at that point who this kid was or what she would be like…

But who the heck was this character? And having created her purely for plot purposes, how was I to give her a personality? (130-131)

Perhaps it’s just my opinion, and others might disagree, but I would argue that Gabaldon doesn’t succeed fully in making either Brianna or Roger as real or as interesting as Jamie and Claire, or even as real and interesting as other minor characters who pop off the page.

Davina Porter is a heck of a good narrator, especially deft with handling all the voices of the characters. I would definitely seek out other books she has narrated just to hear her read.

In case you are wondering at this point, I have been enjoying the new Outlander series on Starz quite a bit. It is very true to the book, and the casting is excellent. I haven’t missed an episode yet. Even my husband is watching with me, insisting, “I don’t get how this is considered a woman’s story. I mean, I guess the books are romances…” Not exactly. Sort of difficult to classify. At any rate, the series is beautifully shot with great music and some fine acting. Check it out, if you haven’t.

Book Rating: ★★★½☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Sunday Salon: Rereading Outlander

joshua radin:today

It’s been a rainy weekend, but that’s perfect weather for reading.

Because I joined the Outlander Series Reading Challenge, and because I haven’t read the last several books in the series, I have been rereading the first book, [amazon_link id=”1419381016″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link]. Actually, I’ve been listening to it. I used my Audible credits to go ahead and pick up the entire series in audio format because I had heard that the narrator, Davina Porter, was particularly good. She is.

It’s strange what you pick up on when you reread books. I have read Outlander twice before. The first time I read it was in 1999. At that time, I read the first four books in the series, which were the only ones published then. I have never finished any of the books published after [amazon_link id=”044022425X” target=”_blank” ]Drums of Autumn[/amazon_link], but I did start [amazon_link id=”0440221668″ target=”_blank” ]The Fiery Cross[/amazon_link]. One of the things I think Gabaldon is very good at is character development and description. She can really bring a scene to life. However, for the first time, and perhaps I noticed it because I was listening, sometimes she includes scenes that don’t necessarily move the plot forward. They do develop the characters more, but I wonder if that could be done more efficiently with scenes that push the plot forward. I wonder if it is a side effect of her writing process. I know she is a “scene stitcher.” She has described composing individual scenes and then sewing them together. Obviously, not all of her scenes work like that. Some of them are critical plot points.

Of course, in the case of Outlander, I don’t complain about these scenes, but every single book in the series is a chunkster, and I do wonder if it will become a problem as the series wears on, particularly on a reread. I happen to love the first book, and I remember loving the second, but it did seem to me that each successive book wasn’t quite as good. I know for a fact that I prefer Jamie and Claire in Scotland to just about every other setting, but I know that they must stay in America after The Fiery Cross.

One of the reasons I am particularly enjoying listening to the audio book instead of reading is that I can hear all the wonderful accents. Davina Porter gives a slightly different voice to each character, and listening to the book is quite enjoyable as a result.

The Sunday Salon

photo credit: visualpanic