The Book List: Which should I read first?
written by Diana Gabaldon. Copyright © 2013 by Diana Gabaldon; All Rights Reserved.
The Outlander series includes three kinds of stories:
The Big, Enormous Books that have no discernible genre (or all of them).
The Shorter, Less Indescribable Novels that are more or less historical mysteries (though dealing also with battles, eels, and mildly deviant sexual practices). And…
The Bulges—These being short(er) pieces that fit somewhere inside the story lines of the novels, much in the nature of squirming prey swallowed by a large snake. These deal frequently—but not exclusively—with secondary characters, are prequels or sequels, and/or fill some lacuna left in the original story lines.
Now. Most of the shorter novels (so far) fit within a large lacuna left in the middle of VOYAGER, in the years between 1757 and 1761. Some of the Bulges also fall in this period; others don’t.
So, for the reader’s convenience, here is a detailed Chronology, showing the sequence of the various elements in terms of the storyline. However, it should be noted that the shorter novels and novellas are all designed suchly that they may be read alone, without reference either to each other or to the Big, Enormous Books—should you be in the mood for a light literary snack instead of the nine‐course meal with wine‐pairings and dessert trolley.
OUTLANDER (novel)—If you’ve never read any of the series, I’d suggest starting here. If you’re unsure about it, open the book anywhere and read three pages; if you can put it down again, I’ll give you a dollar. (1946/1743) In the U.K., the title of my first book is CROSS STITCH.
DRAGONFLY IN AMBER (novel)—It doesn’t start where you think it’s going to. And it doesn’t end how you think it’s going to, either. Just keep reading; it’ll be fine. (1968/1744-46)
VOYAGER (novel)—This won an award from EW magazine for “Best Opening Line.” (To save you having to find a copy just to read the opening, it was: “He was dead. However, his nose throbbed painfully, which he thought odd, in the circumstances.”) If you’re reading the series in order, rather than piecemeal, you do want to read this book before tackling the the novellas. (1968/1766-67)
LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS/“Lord John and the Hellfire Club” (novella)—Just to add an extra layer of confusion, THE HAND OF DEVILS is a collection that includes three novellas. The first one, “Lord John and the Hellfire Club,” is set in London in 1757, and deals with a red‐haired man who approaches Lord John Grey with an urgent plea for help, just before dying in front of him. “LordJohn and the Hellfire Club” also appeared as a special, standalone paperback edition, at right.
LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER (shorter novel)—Set in London, in 1758, this is a historical mystery steeped in blood and even less‐savory substances, in which Lord John meets (in short order) a valet, a traitor, an apothecary with a sure cure for syphilis, a bumptious German, and an unscrupulous merchant prince.
LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS/“Lord John and the Succubus” (novella)— The second novella in THE HAND OF DEVILS collection finds Lord John in Germany in 1758, having unsettling dreams about Jamie Fraser, unsettling encounters with Saxon princesses, night‐hags, and a really disturbing encounter with a big, blond Hanoverian graf.
LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE (shorter novel)—The second full‐length novel focused on Lord John (but it does include Jamie Fraser) is set in 1759, deals with a twenty‐year‐old family scandal, and sees Lord John engaged at close range with exploding cannon and even more dangerously explosive emotions.
LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS/“Lord John and the Haunted Soldier” (novella)—The third novella in this collection is set in 1759, in London and the Woolwich Arsenal. In which, Lord John faces a court of inquiry into the explosion of a cannon, and learns that there are more dangerous things in the world than gunpowder.
“The Custom of the Army” (novella)—Set in 1759. In which his lordship attends an electric‐eel party in London and ends up at the Battle of Quebec. He’s just the sort of person things like that happen to.
THE SCOTTISH PRISONER (shorter novel)—This one’s set in 1760, in the Lake District, London, and Ireland. A sort of hybrid novel, it’s divided evenly between Jamie Fraser and Lord John Grey, who are recounting their different perspectives in a tale of politics, corruption, murder, opium dreams, horses, and illegitimate sons.
“A Plague of Zombies” (novella)— Set in 1761, in Jamaica, when Lord John is sent in command of a battalion to put down a slave rebellion and discovers a hitherto unsuspected affinity for snakes, cockroaches, and zombies.
DRUMS OF AUTUMN (novel)—This one begins in 1766, in the New World, where Jamie and Claire find a foothold in the mountains of North Carolina, and their daughter, Brianna, finds a whole lot of things she didn’t expect, when a sinister newspaper clipping sends her in search of her parents. (1968‐1969/1766‐67)
THE FIERY CROSS (novel)—The historical background to this one is the War of the Regulation in North Carolina (1767‐1768), which was more or less a dress rehearsal for the oncoming Revolution. In which Jamie Fraser becomes a reluctant Rebel, his wife, Claire, becomes a conjure‐woman, and their grandson Jeremiah gets drunk on cherry bounce. Something Much Worse happens to Brianna’s husband, Roger, but I’m not telling you what. This won several awards for “Best Last Line,” but I’m not telling you that, either. (Mid‐1760s)
A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES (novel)—Winner of the 2006 Corine International Prize for Fiction, and a Quill Award (this book beat novels by both George R. R. Martin and Stephen King, which I thought Very Entertaining Indeed). All the books have an internal “shape” that I see while I’m writing them. This one looks like the Hokusai print titled “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” Think tsunami—two of them. (Early to mid‐1770s/1970‐71)
AN ECHO IN THE BONE (novel)—Set in America, London, Canada, and Scotland. The book’s cover image reflects the internal shape of the novel: a caltrop. That’s an ancient military weapon that looks like a child’s jack with sharp points; the Romans used them to deter elephants, and the Highway Patrol still uses them to stop fleeing perps in cars. This book has four major story lines: Jamie and Claire; Roger and Brianna (and family); Lord John and William; and Young Ian, all intersecting in the nexus of the American Revolution—and all of them with sharp points. (1777‐1778/1972)
WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD (novel)—The eighth of the Big Enormous Books, this book was released in the summer of 2014. It begins where AN ECHO IN THE BONE leaves off, in the summer of 1778 (and the autumn of 1973—or possibly 1974, I forget exactly).
“A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” (short story (no, really, it is)) — Set (mostly) in 1941‐43, this is the story of What Really Happened to Roger MacKenzie’s parents.
“The Space Between” (novella)—Set in 1778, mostly in Paris, this novella deals with Michael Murray (Young Ian’s elder brother), Joan MacKimmie (Marsali’s younger sister), the Comte St. Germain (who is Not Dead After All), Mother Hildegarde, and a few other persons of interest. The space between what? It depends who you’re talking to.
“Virgins” (novella)—Set in 1740, in France. In which Jamie Fraser (aged nineteen) and his friend Ian Murray (aged twenty) become young mercenaries.
NOW REMEMBER . . .
You can read the short novels and novellas by themselves, or in any order you like. I would recommend reading the Big, Enormous Books in order, though.