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Diana Gabaldon – Drums of Autumn

June 20, 2008

79. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon (1997)
Outlander, Book 4

My Review of:
Book 1, Outlander
Book 2, Dragonfly in Amber
Book 3, Voyager

Length: 880 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 08 June 2008
Finished: 20 June 2008

Summary: Jamie and Claire, shipwrecked in the American colonies in 1769, travel to North Carolina, to one of Jamie’s relatives and to the prospect of a new life in the New World. Cutting that life out of the backwoods is a daunting prospect, but they are resourceful and brave, and they have each other to lean on while facing the dangers of life on the far edge of civilization. Claire doesn’t regret her decision to return through the stones to the man she loves, but she fiercely misses their daughter Brianna, left behind in the 1960s. However, when Brianna discovers unsettling news about her parents’ fate, she has choose to risk her own future to travel back and warn them, hoping to change the course of history.

Review: This book took me forever to read – at least given my normal reading pace. However, I don’t want that to be taken as an indication of its quality – it was very absorbing, but I’ve been doing a LOT of labwork recently, and while that’s great for my rate of audiobook consumption, it tends to fry my brain so that I have a hard time focusing on reading when I get home, as well as suck away my free reading time on weekends. Combining my dead brain with an almost 900-page book, and the result is two weeks spent (uninterrupted) on the same book, which I don’t think has happened in the past few years. Yeesh.


This book is a worthy continuation of the Outlander series, containing all of the same elements that made the first three great: wonderful, complex characters, a wealth of historical detail, a modest (or not so modest, I guess) splash of romance and sex, a few dollops of the supernatural, and a great understanding of real and multilayered emotions and relationships to bind it together. However, if you’ve read the first three but are starting to get a bit worn out (either from the style or from the weight of the giant fat books), stopping before Drums of Autumn is a natural place to take a break – the first three form a “Scottish Trilogy”, while this one starts the “American Trilogy”. Gabaldon’s good about putting references to past books in context, so even though I didn’t have all of the details fresh in my head, she reminded me of their importance as we went, and I didn’t get at all lost.

This book, like Voyager, shifts focus at about the halfway point, moving from Jamie and Claire’s homesteading to focus more on Brianna and Roger’s story. It’s a natural shift (anyone who has even heard of the term “foreshadowing” can predict the rough course of the story from relatively early on in the book), and it provides a wealth of very rich, moving moments, but I found that I missed Claire’s narration when it was absent for long stretches. I also felt like Roger underwent a bit of character assassination… or maybe assassasination is a bit harsh, but the Roger at the end of the book did not feel like the same Roger that we’d fallen in love with at the beginning of the book. In any case, these are pretty minor issues – I was still utterly absorbed in this book and will be reading the next one as soon as I can get it into my hot little hands. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you liked the first three in the series, this one carries on their tone and style admirably, although in a new setting. Not the most literary tome, but definitely an enjoyable way to spend your reading time.

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First Line: I heard the drums long before they came into sight.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 5: “The captain of the guard glowed crimson between the white of his wig and the metal of his gorget, flushed with fury as much as with sun.” – a crescent-shaped ornament worn on a chain around the neck as a badge of rank by officers in the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • p. 65: ““I found these, going through my dad’s old bumf in Inverness”” – memoranda, official notices, or the like
  • p. 82: ““Why, you’ll maybe be a yarb-woman, won’t you?”” – No help from the interwebs, but presumably herb-woman?
  • p. 91: “Cousin Edwin, who had undoubtedly been the source of this information, buttered his roll with sedulous concentration.” – diligent in application or attention; persevering; assiduous.
  • p. 104: ““God, I hate boats!” With this heart-felt valediction ringing in my ears, we swung slowly out into the waters of Wilmington harbor.” – an act of bidding farewell or taking leave.
  • p. 106: ““Aye, well, Black Hugh – they called him so for a great black wen on his knee – he was killed hunting, and so then she wed Hector Mor Cameron, of Loch Eilean – “” – a benign encysted tumor of the skin, esp. on the scalp, containing sebaceous matter; a sebaceous cyst.
  • p. 106: “We had not yet cleared Wilmington’s harbor, and small pirettas and sculls darted past like water bugs, whipping in and out between the larger, slower-moving craft.” – Again, no help from google. Clearly a small boat of some kind.
  • p. 112: “The instruments gleamed under the smoky sun, bright despite a hazing of disuse. Each had its own pocket, carefully fitted and lined in green velvet. A small, heavy-toothed saw; scissors, three scalpels – round-bladed, straight-bladed, scoop-bladed, the silver blade of a tongue depressor, a tenaculum” – a small sharp-pointed hook set in a handle, used for seizing and picking up parts in operations and dissections.
  • p. 124: ““God kens best what will happen to the lad; if he’s not shot or knocked on the head in some tavern, he’ll likely come home wi’ an ostrich he’s won at faro next.”” – a gambling game in which players place bets on a special board or layout, betting on each series of two cards as they are drawn from a box containing the dealer’s or banker’s pack.
  • p. 144: “Perhaps a bit more formal than was usual for afternoon, but it was important to Jamie that we must look decent – especially now, after our encounter with the pirates – and my only alternatives were the filthy muslin or a clean but threadbare camlet gown that had traveled with me from Georgia.” – a durable, waterproof cloth, esp. for outerwear.
  • p. 151: ““No ma’am,” he said. “I cannot thole the creatures, nay more than my lassie.” – a pin, or either of two pins, inserted into a gunwale to provide a fulcrum for an oar.
  • p. 158: “One snatched out a traveling inkwell and a sharpened quill and set them down in front of the Lieutenant; Mr. Campbell whipped out a folded quire of paper from his coat and laid it down, ready for signature.” – a set of 24 uniform sheets of paper
  • p. 194: ““Even if a man wishes to manumit one of his slaves, and is given permission to do so, the freed slave is required to leave the colony within a short time – or he may be captured and enslaved by anyone who chooses to take him.” – to release from slavery or servitude.
  • p. 203: “Still in the grip of a cold grue, I swung around and strained my eyes toward the far side of the cavernous room, half expecting to see the scene engraved on my memory materialize again out of darkness.” – to shudder.
  • p. 245: “The older man cradled a gun in the curve of his arm; it was an ancient French wheellock, the hexagonal barrel rimed with rust.” – a gun with a firing mechanism that uses a rotating steel wheel to provide ignition.
  • p. 249: “It was the gralloch prayer he had been taught as a boy, learning to hunt in the Highlands of Scotland.” – Offal of a deer.
  • p. 298: “The only trouble was that if I didn’t manage to do it right, we’d all die of ptomaine poisoning.” – any of a class of foul-smelling nitrogenous substances produced by bacteria during putrefaction of animal or plant protein: formerly thought to be toxic.
  • p. 337: “It was the smell of hemlock, as we passed through one grove, that reminded me of the beginning of this hegira, and the mysterious band of Indians we had seen.” – any flight or journey to a more desirable or congenial place.
  • p. 397: “His Lordship yawned hugely, then catching his father’s minatory eye, made a belated attempt to cover his mouth.” – menacing; threatening.
  • p. 455: “Roger tried to think which photo she could mean; most of them were black-and-white snapshots taken with the Reverend’s ancient Brownie, but there were a couple of the larger cabinet photos – one of his parents, another of the Reverend’s grandmother, looking like a pterodactyl in black bombazine, taken on the occasion of that lady’s hundredth birthday.” – a twill fabric constructed of a silk or rayon warp and worsted filling, often dyed black for mourning wear.
  • p. 510: “It was crowded and busy inside, with four harried clerks behind a battered wooden counter, scribbling and stamping, carrying bundles of paper to and fro, taking money and conveying it carefully into an inner office, from which they issued moments later, bearing receipts on japanned tin trays.” – varnished and figured in the Japanese manner with a hard black lacquer.
  • p. 531: “Through the narrow aisles between the ranks of crates, past the huge bellies of the serried water casks.” – pressed together or compacted, as soldiers in rows.
  • p. 547: “Modesty prompted her to step outside when the apothecary drew down the linen sheet to make his examination, and it was not until she heard a small cry of distress that she flung open the door, to find the young apothecary, fleam in hand, and Lizzie, her face white as chalk, red blood streaming from a cut in the crook of her elbow.” – a kind of lancet, as for opening veins.
  • p. 568: ““I raise my athame to the North / Where is the home of my power, / To the West / Where is the hearth of my soul, / To the South / Where is the seat of friendship and refuge, / To the East / From whence rises the Sun.” – a ceremonial double-edged dagger, one of several magical tools used in New Age Witchcraft
  • p. 697: “Brianna choked again, and I hastily placed an ashet on the table in front of her, just in case.” – A large, shallow, oval dish used for serving food.
  • p. 820: “The bricks curved up from the floor in groynes, making arches all along both sides of the corridors.” – the curved line or edge formed by the intersection of two vaults.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. Venetia Buxton permalink
    September 29, 2012 2:41 pm

    Regarding page 151: “thole” – I believe the definition here is in error…I believe it is a synonym of something like cannot endure, tolerate….in other words, he does not like, cannot tolerate, alligators.


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