Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

51hv1fpx2ol._sl500_Fiction — audiobook. Read by Davina Porter. Recorded Books, 2005. 44 hours, 50 minutes. Purchased.

As the conclusion of Voyager, Claire and Jamie Fraser found themselves washed ashore the coast of Georgia with Jamie’s nephew, foster son, and step-daughter turned foster-daughter-in-law. A hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean destroyed their ship and waylaid their plans to travel back to Scotland from Jamaica and return Ian Murray back to his mother, Jamie’s sister.

At the start of Drums of Autumn, the fourth book in Gabaldon’s Outlanderseries, Jamie and Claire are debating if they should remain in the American Colonies. There is little left for the couple in Scotland; Jamie forfeited his claim to his family’s lands in the Highlands as well as his role as clan laird after the Uprising at Culloden. (Neither he nor his sister wanted the English to have justification for confiscating the land.)

In the Colonies, though, opportunity seems endless. Jamie’s maternal aunt, Jocasta Cameron, owns a large plantation in the Colony of North Carolina, and she is eager to name Jamie as her heir. Meanwhile, the Governor offers Jamie the opportunity to claim whatever vast track of land he wants, provided Jamie brings law-abiding men along to help him settle it. Unable to stomach the idea of owning slaves, Jamie accepts the Governor’s offer, and the couple along with Ian set up a homestead in an area they name Fraser’s Ridge.

The new settlers quickly learn life on the frontier is rife with danger and unknowns and decisions that often led to failure or further heartache. A bandit whom Jamie helps escape from the British soldiers turns on the couple, attacking Jamie and robbing Claire of the wedding ring from her twentieth-century husband, Frank. Ian eagerly makes friends with the local tribe of Indians, but not all tribes are as welcoming to the white settlers — and not all white settlers are eager to meet the people who first settled this land.

And then there’s Claire and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna. Left back in 1968 after her mother decided to return to Jamie, Brianna is horrified to discover an old newspaper article announcing the deaths of her parents in a fire in 1776.

Determined to warn them, Brianna travels back through the stones and sets out as a single, female traveler to find them. Her solo travel plans and her disregard for the threats that women face during this time led to devastating events – especially for her boyfriend, Roger, who uncovers Brianna’s plan and follows her six weeks later through the stones.

If I utilized a star ranking system on my blog, I would rateDrums of Autumnas follows: 2 stars for the fact it took 700 pages for the action to really begin. 4 stars for the last 350 pages. 5 stars for Davina Porter’s narration, always. Ergo, 3 stars average.

I started this book before the fourth season of the television adaption came out, thinking that I’d go into the season with a rough outline of what would occur. (Much like I did with the second season, which was based on Dragonfly in Amber). I set it aside only a few pages in because the slow start wasn’t grabbing my attention, and I decided to wait to try again until after the season aired in order to see how the TV writers adapted the novel.

This was my second attempt at following through on that plan. The first, back in December, ended about 20% of the way through the audiobook. None of the storylines I found compelling in the TV show had appeared yet, and I had other books vying for my attention.

Turns out, the bulk of the exciting plot points in the TV show occur after 700 pages of this 1,000+ page book (or roughly 30 hours of the audiobook) have passed by. There was a lot of uproar on Twitter about cut or changed scenes (of course, when is there notuproar on Twitter), which is part of the reason why I wanted to read the book. But I can understand why they took such a hatch to the story; the season would have dragged on endlessly otherwise.

In my review of Dragonfly in Amber, I wrote that “I’m not sure I needed that much detail or that Claire and Jamie needed to go through that many setbacks to make them the clear heroes of the series”. In my review of Voyager, I wrote that “Gabaldon can be quite long winded, and I felt my interest waning at particular points as I listened to the audiobook”.

Those sentiments still hold with this one, although I should point out that Gabaldon was more than willing to cast her main characters, especially Jamie, as less than heroic in this one.  If Jamie hadn’t been so quick to judgement, if Claire hadn’t been so intent on protecting his manhood, if Brianna wasn’t so obtuse, then Roger wouldn’t have ended up sold to the Iroquois.

Yet, without those behaviors and the (absolutely stupid) miscommunication that triggers most of them, the adventurous storylines in the last 300 pages never would have happened. And those last 300 pages are great examples of how Gabaldon’s descriptive writing and her settings are so enveloping, so intriguing. I largely knew what was going to happen, and still I was eager to pick up the book and follow Gabaldon deep into the forests of North Carolina once she reached the main focus of the novel.

Unfortunately, those last 300 pages couldn’t salvage my opinion of Brianna and Roger’s relationship. The actors who portray them in the television show badly lack chemistry, and I picked up Gabaldon’s novel thinking that maybe something was lost in translation between the novel and the show.

Yet, I’m even less sold on the notion that Roger and Brianna love one another than I was while watching the show. The two met because of Claire’s decision to go back through the stones, and they stayed together because they’re the only two people in the world who shared the experience of watching her time travel. Their relationship feels like they defaulted into it, which is shame given how Brianna explicitly says she wants a relationship more like Jamie and Claire than Frank and Claire.

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