Publication Date: January 1, 1994
Length: 870 pages
This week I finished my third read of this book. I have wanted to read and review all the Outlander books for my blog eventually but this one is especially important to me as it is my favorite of the series. This book is magical. The first three Outlander books are the best but Voyager has it all. Battles, time travel, sea voyages, Pirates, plague, exotic islands, and witchcraft. And that's only the beginning of the unique storylines and settings found between the covers. I already know someday I will read it again, which sounds crazy because I can't think of another book I've read four times. But it is also 870 pages and every time I think I will be bored and remember everything I am proven wrong. It just never gets old for me.
The story begins with Jamie's perspective of the Battle of Culloden and his miraculous survival. In the first two books of the series it feels as though one is waiting forever to get to this moment and it makes the opening of the story so satisfying. We see him go from Scottish warrior, to fugitive, to prisoner, and indentured servant in the first parts of the story and this timeline is overlapped with his time traveling wife Claire's life back in 1960's Boston. She is trying to raise their daughter, Brianna, with her husband Frank, failing miserably in her grief over losing her 18th century life with Jamie and believing he has died on Culloden Moor. Although her life as mother, and eventually, doctor is rewarding in its own way, Claire can never escape her ghosts, and she and Frank pretend, for Brianna's sake, to get along in their shaky marriage.
This storyline develops over a period of twenty years. Gabaldon masterfully switches back and forth through the first third of the book between their two centuries, letting the reader in on each of their lives in detail, weaving memories with current situations all of which lead them to a joyous, tumultuous reunion and ultimately, a test to see if they are still made for each other. Jamie and Claire are reunited but what makes the story so realistic and unique is that the challenges they face seem to worsen and test them instead of a world of romantic nostalgia where they just live happily ever after. Both have changed dramatically, while still retaining deep love and connection, but with the maturity that comes with age and life experience. Jamie has a somewhat shady past and occupation, and Claire struggles to fit back into the world of long ago, having had to create such a different life after she traveled back through the stones in the previous book. All of this takes place while mourning what they have lost over the last two decades and feeling guilt for certain choices they have had to make.
As we settle in for the second half of the book things become a bit more stable between Jamie and Claire, but not with their lives. Starting from Jamie's ancestral home, Lallybroch in Scotland, they end up halfway across the world, looking for one of Jamie's kidnapped relatives. Plague, pirates, and pursuing British officers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their troubles and with a displaced Chinaman and young married couple in tow, Claire and Jamie find themselves struggling to manage it all without losing each other again. We are taken on a wild ride from the island of Hispanola, where we meet a strange, befuddled priest, to Jamaica where we meet not one, but two characters from the past. Finally, they are blown off course to a new life which will begin in the next book, Drums of Autumn.
I don't want to give away too much of the details because I find half the joy of Voyager is in the not knowing, or in my case, not remembering, all the tiny, moving parts throughout the novel. There are so many surprises, coincidences, and exotic settings that it makes your head spin at times. Just when you think you've figured things out, another side story is thrown in. I especially love the atmospheric surroundings created in Jamaica, and when I visited the island in 2019, I re-read the section of the book in which they travel there. It had been described perfectly, and I even toured Rose Hall, a real plantation that is mentioned, although it is slightly different from the one used in the story. The small bits of history, including the Maroons of the island made me want to research more on my own, and to appreciate the people I met in Jamaica all the more.
The hardest part of reading Voyager for me is when it ends. I feel like the first three Outlander books are their own story. When we reach book four a new chapter in Jamie and Claire's lives begins and for me, it just never feels quite the same as before. I love all of the series books in their own way, but the world created in Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, and Voyager will always stand out as a cut above. The heart of the story never returns quite as much as it did before so I'm always a little sad to see it go. Luckily these books are so long and detailed they never get old and you can always start again at the beginning, knowing you will likely pick up some new detail you missed the last time.