Title: Drums of Autumn
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Narrator: Davina Porter
Length of Audiobook: 44 hours, 46 minutes
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“It began at an ancient Scottish stone circle. There, a doorway, open to a select few, leads into the past – or the grave. Dr. Claire Randall survived the extraordinary passage, not once but twice.
Her first trip swept her into the arms of Jamie Fraser, an eighteenth-century Scot whose love for her became a legend – a tale of tragic passion that ended with her return to the present to bear his child. Her second journey, two decades later, brought them together again in the American colonies. But Claire had left someone behind in the twentieth century – their daughter, Brianna….
Now Brianna has made a disturbing discovery that sends her to the circle of stones and a terrifying leap into the unknown. In search of her mother and the father she has never met, she is risking her own future to try to change history … and to save their lives. But as Brianna plunges into an uncharted wilderness, a heartbreaking encounter may strand her forever in the past … or root her in the place she should be, where her heart and soul belong….”
Thoughts: As this is the fourth novel in the series, there will most likely be spoilers for those who have not yet gotten this far in the story. Consider yourself warned.
I do love Jamie and Claire Fraser. They continue to be the couple that gets the entire idea of marriage – the give and take, the intimate knowledge of each other, the partnership of the entire relationship. Their banter and genuine support of one another is strikingly authentic and realistic. Any time the action revolves around them, the reader is in for a treat. If Drums of Autumn had been all about Claire and Jamie’s struggles to forge a new life in the frontiers of America, I personally would have been okay with that.
Unfortunately, Drums of Autumn also brings Brianna Fraser to the forefront, and this is its biggest, most distracting flaw. While Jamie and Claire are pragmatic, careful, thoughtful, and intelligent, Brianna is the exact opposite. She’s rash, impetuous, stubborn and frankly, childish. One could use her age as an excuse, and yet, she is not all that much younger than Jamie was when readers were first introduced to him. Any time the story revolved around Brianna, the story ground to a halt. The reader gets the distinct impression that even Ms. Gabaldon does not enjoy writing Brianna as much as she does Jamie and Claire, or even Roger and Ian, and the novel does suffer as a result.
This inertia in Brianna’s story makes for a very long novel. If I had been reading it, I personally would have skipped over or at least skimmed through those pages where she was the main character. In addition, in this novel more so than in the others, the switch in narrators was jarring and obvious. Too often, it was quite a difference between one sentence; the reader would be seeing the story unfold in the first person through Claire’s eyes and in the next sentence would switch to either another character’s or an omniscient observer in third person. While this technique may have been employed in the previous novels, I do not remember it resulting in quite as jagged a story as it does in Drums of Autumn.
While there has always been a sense of the fantastic in the Outlander series, I feel that in Drums of Autumn, Ms. Gabaldon truly does stretch the reader’s ability to accept the action. While it was one thing for Claire to be able to adjust to life 200 years into the past, Ms. Gabaldon does a sufficient job explaining why Claire is able to do so with relative ease. Yet, the reader is now expected to believe that both Brianna and Roger can also transition to life 200 years earlier without any problems, and this time, Ms. Gabaldon offers no explanations as to how this is possible. As a reader, I personally do not buy into this part of the story and find it a bit too far-fetched to stomach with ease. From Brianna’s ability to accept service from slaves to Roger’s ability to steal from a pirate back to Brianna’s ability to cross Scotland, an entire ocean and most of the Carolinas without harm or assault – it was all just a bit too convenient, too pat and too easy. For the first time, the story stopped being possible and moved into the highly improbable.
Davina Porter, as always, is delightful as the narrator. Her ability to encompass the gruff Scottish temper, the coquettish maid, and the pragmatic doctor continues to impress and improve the story. Unfortunately, the story itself was so weak that no amount of oratory skill was enough to overcome its weaknesses. I truly struggled with listening to the entire novel and even found myself forwarding through scenes with Brianna in them, as I personally did not care what happened to her. She is not the force or the magic behind the stories, and I found I did not miss much when I did skip through those scenes.
In expressing my displeasure at this fourth novel, others assured me that it was their least favorite of the entire series. To this I can say I am not surprised. It truly is a weak storyline with very little in the way of danger and forward progress for Claire and Jamie, and ultimately my love for them is the only reason why I continue with the series. My hope is that the fifth novel moves away from Brianna and back to Claire and Jamie, where the main story deservedly belongs. Otherwise, I am not certain I want to invest more time in slogging through these novels. Even on audio, the novels are too long to continue if the main feeling while reading is a desire to skip to the end. Even with Jamie and Claire, Drums of Autumn left me with that particular desire one too many times for me to be able to say that it was a novel I enjoyed, unfortunately. It also left me in no particular hurry to get to the fifth novel as I do not want to continue to be disappointed.