Wednesday, 22 September 2010

‘The Exile’ – Diana Gabaldon (Del Rey)

Every so often, I get a strange kick out of parading the fact that there is a multitude of sci-fi/fantasy authors out there that I haven’t checked out yet. Have a click on the ‘Random Thoughts’ tag and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t ask me why I’ll quite happily admit to not being as well read as I could be, I don’t honestly know...
Diana Gabaldon is one of those authors who would have made it into the ‘I’ve never read anything by...’ posts sooner or later. One of those authors with loads of books under her belt that everyone else seems to have read, apart from me that is.
Well, I’m sure that one day this would have been the case if I hadn’t received a copy of ‘The Exile’ for review. Not only have I got a bit of a graphic novel thing going on right now but ‘The Exile’ also looked like just the right kind of book for me to find out what Gabaldon is all about (without getting bogged down in something that I don’t have the time to read).
As it turned out, I had a lot of fun with ‘The Exile’ but couldn’t help wishing that I’d perhaps started with something else instead...

It’s 1743 and Jamie Fraser has come home to Scotland, after a lengthy exile overseas, but it’s not a happy homecoming. Not only is there a price on Jamie’s head, courtesy of the British Captain Jack Randall, but he is also set to become an unwilling pawn in the machinations of the MacKenzie Clan where the only two possible choices he could make may well lead to his death.
And then Claire Randall suddenly appears, a woman who will throw everyone’s plans into chaos but who also has an agenda that she cannot reveal to anyone. Jamie falls in love with her but just what is she hiding from him? As events play out in the stronghold of Clan MacKenzie, Jamie Frasier wonders if Claire is a witch but the truth is a little harder to swallow...

‘Experience Jamie’s side of the story!’ Well, that’s what it says on the cover. The only problem I had here was that Jamie’s side of the story was the only side that I’d experienced... ‘The Exile’ works best for those who have already read ‘Outlander’ and are after a little change in perspective in order to flesh things out. It doesn’t give you the whole story here, it was never really meant to. For people like me, it’s like reading half a story with tantalising glimpses of what the rest of the story is really all about. This isn’t the book’s fault at all but is worth bearing in mind if you’re thinking about picking it up without having read ‘Outlander’ first. Just a thought ;o) (Although I was left wondering if someone who had already read ‘Outlander’ would feel that they were reading the same story again…)

Having said that though, the story here is worth following to its end. Like I said, I’m not how I’d feel if I was reading the same story over again but I had fun reading it this time round. Gabaldon really kept the pages turning for me with a nice mixture of mystery and action along with a burgeoning relationship that developed naturally and wasn’t forced in all those directions that I seem to see fictional relationships going these days (you know the ones I mean). The pacing is deceptively gentle yet smooth at the same time. Half the time I didn’t even realise that I was turning the pages, things were executed that smoothly. I knew how it had to end but I still found myself wondering right up until the last panel, just the way I like it sometimes.

The real star of the show is Hoang Nguyen’s absolutely gorgeous artwork and that very almost proved to be the downfall of the book itself. Nguyen’s male characters all look suspiciously similar (which made following the story difficult at times) but I could just sit there and stare at his landscapes for hours, they are wonderful and really capture the spirit of the Scottish Highlands. The only problem there is that I found that the artwork was taking over from the story itself, at least as far as I was concerned. Either Nguyen needed to tone things back a little or Gabaldon needed to inject a little urgency into her tale to balance things out; that balance wasn’t there though.

‘The Exile’ proved to be a very entertaining read; one of those books that has me thinking that I really should go back and try the earlier works if I ever get a spare second. However, I would have got a lot more out of it if I’d read those earlier works first and I’ll reckon that you’ll feel the same. If you’re a Gabaldon fan already then I reckon you’re in for a bit of a treat.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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