Drums of Autumn had the feeling of getting back on its feet after the last two books in the series. Not that Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager weren’t enjoyable — quite the contrary — but this book finally has Claire and Jamie back together throughout the entire duration, free from any timey-wimey separations. It’s not free of the sort of laughably ridiculous moments that I’ve quasi-complained about becoming more commonplace as the series advances, something about the ‘rootedness’ of this volume had more emotional resonance with me than the second and third books.
Claire and Jamie, the original heroes of this crazy, whirlwind adventure, have just washed up on the shores of Georgia after being shipwrecked en route from the West Indies. From there, (and I’m going to condense quite a lot here) they nest for a minute at Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta’s before pioneering into a ravine in backwoods North Carolina to found a more permanent settlement for themselves. While there is no shortage of drama either along the journey or once they start building their homestead, it was nice to finally move away from the “Jamie on the run from the English crown” narrative that shaped the first three books and begin a new fixed point their lives. With the two reunited in the previous book but still only jumping among temporary living arrangements, Claire and Jamie found little time to breathe together and create the loving home that they wanted.
Now, not only do they get to settle (at least for a few years; they don’t know what Brianna knows at the time that they make camp) in Fraser’s Ridge, but along comes Brianna herself, fruit of their loins, and they actually get to live together for some time as a family. Jamie getting to meet his daughter, finally, was so sweet — both heartwarming and, in typical Jamie fashion, humorous. (As an aside, it always happens that when I wrap up one of the books, the events that stand out in my memory and that I tend to include in reviews are the more epic/dramatic ones, and so every time I start a new book I am pleasantly surprised by how many laugh-out-loud moments there actually are while reading it. Jamie and Claire are both very funny people!)
Of course, this wouldn’t be an Outlander book without sexual violence or threat thereof, so it is revealed some time after Brianna’s reunion with her mother that she was raped on the way to joining up with them. I have to be honest: from the time that we found out about the rape onward, I enjoyed the book significantly less, and it took some time for me to parse out why I think that was. At first, my reaction was a very superficial annoyance at Gabaldon yet again including the rape of a major character and manufacturing drama in the aftermath. But then I started to wonder if that was fair, and if maybe the problem wasn’t with the author’s choices but with the possibility that maybe I just don’t like reading about rape in my escapist fantasy novels, period. The longer I sat with it, the more I thought that, no, I didn’t like the way that it was handled here. I had some problems with the way that Jamie’s rape was resolved earlier in the series, but in retrospect at least I can say that, flawed though it may have been, at least the aftermath paid lip service to Jamie and his emotional turmoil and psychological state, treating those as the primary concerns following his assault. In Brianna’s case, her rape was more like a cog in the wheel that is Roger Wakefield/MacKenzie’s story. That is to say, outside of one conversation between Brianna and Claire and another explosive argument Brianna has with Jamie (the worst look on Jamie I’ve seen so far), the greatest consequences of the rape in terms of plot advancement are that Jamie and Ian turn Roger over as captive to the Iroquois, and then Roger needs to decide if he is going to be father to Brianna’s baby, even if the baby is maybe the rapist’s and not his. In other words, Brianna’s rape becomes all about Roger. She’s more or less fridged so that Roger can have a more interesting story. In general, I just wasn’t too happy with Roger in this book, actually. Even before he becomes the tortured hero of Brianna’s rape story, he undergoes a remarkable transformation from a man with a 1960’s era understanding of gender politics (which is to say, not great, but still better than the 18th century) to a total caveman just by virtue of traveling back in time. “Rawr! You’re in pants, you hussy! I can see the shape of your legs and my boner CANNOT deal with it!” “You need me to protect you even though you’re like a foot taller and broader of stature than everyone else in 1768 and I have no more experience fighting off violent types than you do!” Anyway. Pfft.
With all of that said, my icy heart was sufficiently thawed by the end, that has the two couples reunited and looking toward a bright future. Now, we know that between the American Revolution and the portended fire in Fraser’s Ridge that all’s not well that ends well, but for the time being the family is all together, and that’s as comforting an ending as any book in this series has had in some time.