After being shipwrecked on the Georgian coast of America, Jamie and Claire Fraser slowly make their way toward North Carolina and the plantation owned by Jamie's Aunt Jocasta. Once there, Jocasta wishes to make Jamie her heir and have him run her affairs, but that doesn't seem like the right thing to do for either Jamie or Claire. Instead of staying on with Jocasta, they head for the mountains of North Carolina where they start a homestead and begin gathering together many of the men with whom Jamie had been imprisoned after the Rising. They manage to carve out a nice life for themselves and are finally enjoying some normalcy, but all that changes when their daughter, Brianna, shows up.
In the 20th century, Brianna has been building a relationship with Scottish historian, Roger Wakefield Mackenzie, but has many unanswered questions and concerns that make it difficult for her to really get close to him. There is a part of her that feels incomplete without having known the man who fathered her, so when she finds a newspaper account of her parents' deaths in a fire, her desire to know Jamie Fraser, as well as save her parents' lives, compels her to travel back in time through the stones like her mother did. When Roger realizes what Brianna has done, he follows her, but no sooner do they reunite than a heated argument separates them again. When Roger comes back for Bree, a terrible misunderstanding leads Jamie to do something rash in an effort to protect his daughter. When the truth finally surfaces, Jamie and Claire must risk their lives to bring back the man their daughter loves.
In Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon has once again created another enjoyable installment in the Outlander saga. I don't think I'll ever tire of spending time with soul mates, Jamie and Claire and their collection of family and friends, although I have to admit that the romance in this book seemed more subdued than in the earlier stories. When they were originally released, the first three books of the series were marketed as romance, but Drums of Autumn seems to be something of a turning point, in that it decidedly had more of the flavor of historical fiction with a romantic element. There are implications of intimacy written in veiled terms or with the door being shut before any juicy details are revealed, but there were only two moderately descriptive love scenes that I recall, one for Jamie and Claire and one for Roger and Brianna. Having the love and romance aspect of the story toned down a bit was somewhat disappointing but by no means a deal-breaker. I just love Jamie and Claire so much, I think anything they do would be interesting to me.
There is no doubt that Drums of Autumn was intriguing and enjoyable, but the first half of the book moved at a relatively slow pace. Unlike with the first three books, it was not particularly difficult to put down. I think this is because Jamie and Claire have finally settled into a more "normal" life and are just kind of going through the motions of day-to-day living. It was also very different having them in the American Colonies. They have a number of mini-adventures, but for the most part it seemed like a series of unconnected events. Some of these things did end up being related to other events later in the book, but at first glance, it was like a whole new story was being set up for Jamie and Claire. There also was initially no main objective that the couple were working toward like there was in the first three books of the series, and although a villain does rise up for them to "battle," I didn't find him to be quite as compelling as Jack Randall or Geillis Duncan. I know we haven't seen the last of him yet though, and perhaps he will come into his own in the next book. About halfway in, Brianna travels through the stones, followed by Roger, and at that point things began to gradually get more exciting and imbued with a greater sense of urgency, but it wasn't until about the ¾ point that things really got intense as Brianna reveals some shocking news and I really worried for Roger's safety after his inauspicious first meeting with Jamie. All of this led to a fairly climactic and satisfying ending. Although there were a few loose threads which I'm sure will be built upon in future books of the series, overall, the story had a more finite ending that the first three.
In the first three books, Jamie had some tremendously romantic and noteworthy lines. He wasn't quite as quotable in Drums of Autumn, but by no means has he forfeited his spot as my all-time favorite romantic hero. It's so sweet that even after all these years, Jamie still occasionally shows shades of innocence in his sexual relationship with Claire. I love Jamie's intelligence too. He's extremely well-read and multilingual with a true talent for picking up new languages fairly easily. He's never questioned Claire being a time traveler and her own knowledge of things that he doesn't fully understand. If anything, he shows an innate curiosity about things like baseball and a man traveling to the moon. I've always liked that Jamie treats Claire as an equal partner in their relationship, which is far more than many men of the era would have done. He also greatly respects her for her knowledge of the future and her medical expertise and supports her practicing medicine in any way he can. Jamie is a man with dignity and honor who doesn't want to appear a beggar even if he is currently penniless. It's almost inconceivable that Jamie would think he isn't a good man, but the fact that he does question his own goodness, I believe, shows great vulnerability and self-awareness on his part. He is also still greatly respected as a leader among the Scots who populate the Colonies, and it was great to see Jamie wearing the plaid again. I've always thought it so sad that fate robbed Jamie of the privilege of raising either of his biological children, but he's been a great father in every sense of the word to Fergus and young Ian, treating them like his own blood sons. It was great to finally get to see him interacting with Brianna. Even though he isn't quite certain what place he has in her life, he loves her to a fault and would do anything to protect his "little girl." Too bad he ended up beating up the wrong guy to do it. Although Jamie and Bree can both be stubborn and end up hurting each other more than once, they had an equal number of tender father/daughter moments. I also loved the scenes with Jamie and William. Unlike Brianna who is grown, Willie is still a boy, and I like that Jamie has at least had a few stolen moments with him. Jamie truly is a wonderful father and his family is only expanding.
Claire is a wonderful life partner for Jamie. I think she understands him in a way that no one else fully can. Their soul deep love for one another shines through to Brianna so that she sees the difference between loving someone because you feel you must and loving someone because you simply can't stop. I think that Claire still struggles a bit with guilt over her failed relationship with Frank, but has no regrets about loving Jamie. I love how Claire stands by Jamie and doesn't try to push him into one decision or another, but instead just says she'll follow him anywhere. As a doctor, Claire cares very deeply for her patients, and even if they are a hopeless case and can't be saved, she still grieves for their loss. Throughout the story, she has to make many difficult decisions as a medical practitioner, but I believe that she always did the right thing. When John shows up, old jealousies flare up for Claire, but it was nice to see that she recognized where those feelings were coming from and that John posed no true threat her happiness with Jamie. Still Claire and John definitely have a strained relationship at first. Although each of them sees the good in the other, it doesn't stop them from feeling those pangs of jealousy. I loved the scenes where they were forced to spend some time alone together, because it helped them to grow as individuals and build a mutual sense of respect and admiration for one another that I'm sure will continue on throughout the series.
Drums of Autumn was not just about Jamie and Claire this time though. It was almost equally about their daughter, Brianna, and her growing love for Roger Wakefield Mackenzie, the young Scottish historian who had helped Claire locate Jamie in the past. I really enjoyed this burgeoning love story, but they sure don't have an easy time of it. Brianna doesn't initially trust in their love, because of feeling like her parent's (Claire's and Frank's) marriage was a lie. Roger patiently waits for her, but by the time she finally does come to terms with it, she has decided to go back through the stones. Of course, his love for her makes him follow. I thought it was sweet how they married themselves in a traditional Scottish hand-fasting ceremony. Their first love scene was full of tenderness and realistic awkwardness but an undeniable passion. I was saddened to see them fighting so soon after, but understood each of their positions. Unfortunately though, it led to a great deal of heartache and a terrible misunderstanding which caused them to be separated for a very long time. When they finally do come back together, they've both changed so much, it was like they had to get to know each other all over again.
Brianna is a very intelligent young woman. Much like her mother, she went against the grain by studying to be an engineer which was still primarily a male profession even in her own time. I would have loved to see her use her skills in that area more once she's in the past. When the story opens, Brianna is still very conflicted about her parentage. She loves Frank and still views him as her "real" father, but she can't help being curious about Jamie even though she hasn't entirely warmed up to the idea that he is her father too. She worries a great deal about becoming like her mother who loved Frank in her own way, but whose real passion lay with Jamie. Brianna definitely inherited her mother's frankness and her father's stubbornness. When Bree travels back through the stones, I loved how she put her fiery temper to good use, standing up to Loaghaire just minutes after meeting her. I also enjoyed seeing Brianna learn about her father through the eyes of Ian, Jenny and their family. Even before she met him, I think she was finally starting to admire Jamie and believe that her mother's assessment of his character was true. Much like Claire, Brianna is a very strong young woman who gets along pretty well on her own two centuries in the past. It was funny how she insisted on wearing men's clothing at first and scandalized nearly everyone she met because of it. Even Roger, who'd seen her in much less in their own time, became jealously possessive of her when he saw her dressed like that. Brianna finally meeting Jamie and reuniting with Claire seemed a little rushed and anti-climactic. I guess I was expecting a bit more form this moment, especially the meeting with Jamie. If I were them, I would have been shocked to see her and had all sorts of questions about why she had come back in time, but they just seemed to mostly take it in stride. I did like how Brianna blended in with them almost like she had always been a part of them. Not long after she arrives though, Bree drops a bomb on her mother that I honestly didn't see coming, and the stress of those events plus Roger going missing puts her on an emotional roller-coaster, during which time she doesn't always act entirely rationally. In an eventual fit of desperation, she proposes to John which was actually rather funny. I like how she and John became fast friends and he supported her through a difficult time when she really had no one else to lean on.
Roger can be very sweet at times, but when Brianna tries his patience, he sometimes looses it a little. Roger is very protective of Bree and in many ways is a lot like Jamie, so it's not too surprising that they ended up butting heads more than once. At first I thought it rather interesting that Brianna would fall for a man who is so much like her father even though she had never met Jamie, but the more I got to know Roger, the more I realized that he is kind of a cross between Jamie and Frank. I love that Roger respected Brianna enough to want to marry her before making love to her, and even though she was willing to have sex with him, he always made it crystal clear that he wanted far more than that from her. I thought Roger following Bree through the stones proved his love for her, but even still, the poor man got put through the ringer to continue proving himself before they could finally find some peace and happiness.
Lord John has a very significant role in this book that advanced his character development. He is a man who is every bit as honorable as Jamie. Since Jamie can't be there to raise his son, it's something of a comfort to know that a good man like John is there in his stead. From what I can tell so far, John has done a great job of fathering Willie. Jamie and John have a very interesting and remarkably close relationship. They both seem to treasure their friendship deeply even though there have always been other feelings bubbling beneath the surface for John. It's even more unusual that Jamie is able to accept John knowing how he feels about him. However, I believe it is John's love for Jamie that makes him incredibly loyal not only to Jamie, but his family too. I love what he did for Brianna when she proposed to him and his frank discussion with her after that event was utterly refreshing. She definitely chose the right man to approach, because John is every bit as protective of anyone Jamie loves as Jamie would be himself.
As with the other books in the series, Drums of Autumn is populated with a plethora of secondary characters, some old and some new. I'd say that the two most significant ones were Jamie's aunt, Jocasta and his nephew, Ian. Jocasta is the aging matron of a North Carolina plantation who has been widowed multiple times. For being an older woman and blind at that, she was very strong and determined and gets on quite well on her own with the help of her servants. She definitely has a head for business and could run the plantation by herself, if it weren't for the fact that no one would do business with a woman. Even though Jocasta could be rather meddlesome at times, I think her heart was in the right place and I admired her for that. In spite of all he's been through, when the story opens, Ian is really still just a boy, but by the time it ends, even though he's still only seventeen, he has definitely become a man. While gambling, Ian wins a scruffy wolf/dog who becomes his best friend and constant companion. He is a great help to Claire and Jamie as they build their own homestead in the mountains. When John arrives with young Willie, the lad and Ian get into some hilarious mischief right away. Ian makes friends with a group of Indians, learns their language, and often goes hunting with them. In hindsight, it's almost like everything he does throughout the whole book is preparing him for his penultimate moment. Where things end for Ian was rather bittersweet, but he seems to have openly accepted his fate. He is a strong young man who I believe is up to the task before him.
I may have had a few minor complaints about Drums of Autumn, but overall, it was still an excellent book. Jamie and Claire have essentially become pioneers, carving out a new life for themselves in the North Carolina wilderness and making new friends and acquaintances along the way. As with the other books in the series, the hardships of the era are vividly painted, but Jamie and Claire's love for one another sustains them, much like I think Roger and Brianna's will in the future. Jamie and Claire's soul-deep bond is one that certainly breaks the barrier of time and space. Just like they will always love each other, I think I will always love reading about them, no matter what they might be doing.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook