Listen, I love the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. The characters are the main draw for me; I can’t help but admire Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser! But this series is not for the faint of heart. I think I have to use every trigger warning out there for these books.
Drums of Autumn, the fourth in the series, is no exception. The third novel, Voyager, ends with Claire and Jamie in the 1700s finding themselves on the shores of the Carolinas in the soon-to-be United States. It picks up with them, now reunited with Young Ian Murray and Fergus and Marsali Fraser, in North Carolina to support a former condemned prison mate of Jamie’s from Ardsmuir. In fact, many of his former comrades emigrated from Scotland to the Carolinas, along with many other Scots.
At the comrade’s hanging, another prisoner — Stephen Bonnet — escapes. Later, Jamie and Clair help him escape, which turns out to be a huge mistake for them and Roger and Brianna.
One of the storylines I’ve love the most in this series is between Roger and Brianna, still in the 1960s. In fact, they travel to a Scottish heritage festival where Roger can introduce Brianna to the traditions and customs of the father she’s never met.
“perhaps they could come to each other again. Not as supporting players in the drama of her parents’ life, but this time as the actors in a play of their own choosing.”Gabaldon 63
When Roger’s more traditional values clash with Brianna’s modern sensibilities, the blooming relationship comes to a halt. But, that doesn’t stop Roger, a historian — or Brianna, now an engineering major — from tracking Claire through the annals of history.
“Might there be common ground for them, a historian and an engineer? He facing backward to the mysteries of the past, she to the future and its dazzling gleam?”Gabaldon 90
Once they find her, Brianna cannot resist the temptation to find her mother and father in time. Roger, deeply in love and concerned for Brianna’s welfare, follows her through the stones.
“It was a leap of faith — to throw one’s heart across a gulf, and trust another to catch it. His own was still in flight across the void, with no certainty of landing. But still in flight.”Gabaldon 639
They, too, encounter Stephen Bonnet. As a result, the Fraser-Randall-Mackenzie Clan will never be the same.
“‘The Crown doesna always pick the wrong man to hang, Sassenach . . . . More often than not, the man on the end of a rope deserves to be there. And I shouldna like to think I’ve helped a villain go free.”Gabaldon 47
Meanwhile, Jamie makes a deal with the British to homestead land in the backwoods in the mountains of North Carolina. Upon discovering a moving vista, Fraser decides to settle there, naming it Fraser’s Ridge. Jamie, Claire, and Ian conduct backbreaking work to build their cabin, survive in the wilderness, and recruit other Scottish immigrants to settle on their land from the British.
“‘How shall I tell ye what it is, to feel the need of a place? . . . The need of snow beneath my shoon. The breath of the mountains, breathing their own breath in my nostrils as God gave breath to Adam. The scrape of rock under my hand, climbing, and the sight of lichens on it, enduring in the sun and the wind. . . . If I am to live as a man, I must have a mountain.’”Gabaldon 358
Claire finds herself honing her healer’s skills without the modern instruments of her surgical training. One of her most valuable resources is the nearby Tuscarora shaman, Nayawenne, the grandmother of a Tuscarora man who befriends Jamie. Nayawenne teaches Claire how to leverage the fruits of the land in healing. She also brings Claire an intriguing prophecy:
Despite being a woman of medicine and science, Claire has her fair share of encounters with the supernatural. Beyond traveling multiple times through the stones of Craigh na Dun, Claire crosses a severe-looking Native man while lost in the woods during a storm after finding a skull and opal in a tree nook. When she awakes, Jamie finds her because of a trail, seemingly left by the ghost of the Native man.
“I’ve never been afraid of ghosts. I live with them daily, after all.”Gabaldon 1
Of course, Claire must also battle the nonsensical superstitions of European settlers in the backcountry to keep her community safe and healthy.
In addition to Bonnet and Nayawenne, there are several new characters in Drums that capture readers’ attention. The most formidable is Jocasta Cameron, an aunt on the Mackenzie side of Jamie’s family. She is a wealthy landowning woman in North Carolina and manages a plantation. Claire and Brianna both struggle with accepting slavery in the 1700s and often butt heads with Jocasta as a result. John Quincy Myers is a backwoods resident who aids the Frasers in homesteading and brings plenty of comedic relief and warmth throughout the novel.
However, I think my favorite new character is Rollo, a wolf breed that Young Ian adopts as his companion because, well . . . I just love dogs!
Several characters also return in this novel. Jamie has the opportunity to reunite with Lord John Grey and his son, William. Additionally, Brianna and Lord John form a charming friendship. Brianna encounters Marsali’s mother and Claire’s former rival, Laoghaire, and her Fraser aunt and uncle, Jenny and Ian Murray, along with all of her cousins.
“She had set out thinking only to find her father; she hadn’t realized she might discover a whole new family in the process.”Gabaldon 558
Drums of Autumn is rich in its look at how Scottish settlers conflicted with Native Americans, despite having experienced the robbery of indigenous land at the hand of the British themselves. The similarities between the Scottish immigrants and the Native Americans often bring them together. Still, it is never enough to fully bridge the cultural divide. This conflict leads to near-fatal choices each character must confront throughout the novel.
“‘What if a bunch of strangers came round and tried to kill you and shove you off the land you’d always lived on?’
‘They have . . . . If they hadna, I should still be in Scotland, aye?’
. . . ‘you’d fight, too, under those circumstances, wouldn’t you?’”Gabaldon 53
Drums of Autumn has plenty of action, violence, romance, family reunion, and time travel. Despite the horrors and traumas of various characters, this installation in the series is perhaps the richest as it brings multiple worlds together.
Trigger Warnings: abuse; blood; death; explosion; forced marriage; gun violence; illness; loss of a loved one; lynching; medical stuff; misogyny; murder; pregnancy/childbirth; PTSD; racism; scalping; sexual assault (rape); slavery; snakes; sword violence; trauma; victim blaming