Are you an Outlander fan? Book or TV show, it makes no matter. With the Season 4 finale of the Starz television series recently airing and book nine of Diana Gabaldon’s wildly popular Outlander series expected somewhere in the (hopefully) not far distant horizon, Outlander fans have a bit of a wait to get through, a wait known in the fandom as Droughtlander. It’s real and it’s here. At least until Season 5 or the publication of Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone – whichever come first. Meanwhile, there is time to kill and you can can rewatch and reread but you can also try something new!
Here’s a very brief synopsis of Outlander if you’re scratching your head and trying to figure out what we’re all talking about. Claire Randall is a WWII nurse who accidentally travels through time and meets the dashing James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, a Highlander in the 1700s. Claire is already married when she travels through time, and that story interweaves with her narrative in the 1700s. The set of novels chronicle Claire and Jamie’s lives and family over generations. Eight are published so far, with ten as the expected total number in the series. As I said above, book nine is in the works complete with a name but no publication date.
We’re taking a trip to the 80s and 90s today, revisiting some of the novels I remember from around the time Outlander was published, books and authors that either preceded or came up the ranks with Gabaldon. There’s plenty of read-alike lists on the internet suggesting current titles for Gabaldon fans longing for a substitute, and I’m not discrediting those at all. I, however, want to time travel a little on my own and share some of my favorites that are worth the search at libraries and used bookstores. Most are also still in print.
I have to admit, although Outlander is a favorite of mine, I lost interest in the series somewhere in the third book for a variety of reasons and never finished it or the rest of the saga. I have read Outlander more than once, though, and I really love what has been done with the television adaptation. I feel the need to say that because despite my waning interest in the books, Jamie Fraser is one of my favorite all time romantic heroes in a novel and Outlander will always hold a special place on my shelf. In fact, my first copy looked just like the image I chose above from back in 1991. Outlander is a sweeping story, full of romance and adventure and just the slightest bit of fantasy with the time travel component: all the elements I love in a story and, as you’ll see in the list, mirrored and complemented by the other titles here. Let’s go!
Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine (1986): Jo Clifford is a journalist out to debunk past-life regression. When she goes under hypnosis, she relives the life of Matilda, Lady of Hay, wife of a baron during King John’s reign. The story alternates between Jo’s real life and the periods of regression. There is history, romance, love triangles, betrayal, heartbreak, and family drama. Jo’s men in her 1980s life are intertwined with the men in Matilda’s life and, as usual, they are not always who they seem. The past-life regression takes the place of time travel and Matilda is a real person from history, although facts are changed somewhat to suit Erskine’s story. The novel is self-contained, not part of a series, but Erskine has written quite a bit and you may find additional titles by her that interest you.
Through A Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen (1986): Barbara Alderley is a 15-year-old noblewoman engaged to a much older (than her) man, handsome 40ish Roger MontGeoffry. Barbara is close to her duchess grandmother but not so much with her mother, a somewhat nasty piece of work. The story takes place in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries of England and France, so a grand backdrop with a fair share of drama, intrigue, romance, family, and history. This is the first novel by Koen, and she wrote both a sequel (Now Face to Face, 1995) and a prequel (Dark Angels, 2006) to this novel. Admittedly, I had to wait 10 years between the first and second book but it was totally worth it and I love the pair of them, even though they made me cry more than once. Haven’t read the prequel, but now I’m inspired to go back and read all three!
North and South by John Jakes (1982): Talk about making me cry – I wept and wept during this trilogy. Jakes wrenched my heart with this set of novels and I loved the miniseries, too! North and South is the first of the three, followed by Love and War, then Heaven and Hell. Yes, I cried, but I also laughed and talk about steamy! Girl, please. I was a late teen reading these things and let me tell you. They were smokin’ to me and my friend. Definitely the swoon factor, but blood, war, death, love, family, history. Jakes knows how to write his stuff and he was prolific with other series that are, I’m told, just as riveting. These are the holy trinity for me, though, and I haven’t ventured away from them!
Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel (1980): You have to give Auel credit – she wrote an impressive odyssey of six books over 30 years. Each book is rich in detail, although science and fiction are blended by Auel for the sake of storytelling. She did loads of research, though, and you will not be disappointed in protagonist Ayla’s saga and the story of the beginnings of mankind as we know it. Once again, you’re given family drama, history, adventure, tragedy, and human foibles. Clan of the Cave Bear was amazing and even if you don’t like your history Prehistoric you owe it to yourself to at least read this one!
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (1996): The Stark family is rewarded/punished for their loyalty to the King in this medieval-style fantasy that spans several years and several families battling for the ultimate rulership of the land. How is this similar to Outlander? There’s more these two series have in common than you might realize. First books published just a few years apart, both series are hefty with high family drama, both series have highly successful television adaptations, and both book series are still unfinished with authors giving fans the blues by not writing faster! One is just a little more bloody and incestuous than the other, that’s all. The other coincidence? I didn’t finish this series either, but I am crazy about the TV show! As with Clan of the Cave Bear, at least read this first book if you think high fantasy is not your genre. Martin is a great author and fearless in his decision to kill off absolutely anybody. Plus, Gabaldon and Martin are apparently friends, so that’s a fun bonus!
Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small (1980): Getting back to romance, this series has several books following the vibrant Skye O’Malley and her life and loves and family. Several books follow her children, as well. Set in Elizabethan England, the series is rich in period detail and historical figures mixed in with the fictional. Skye is a strong heroine and author Small was know for her steamy sex scenes, so I certainly remember this book being a page-turner! Loved the whole series and you see the span of Skye’s life as it plays out through her many adventures.
A Knight In Shining Armor by Jude Devereaux (1989): I mean, come on – when you go to an author’s website and you can search through their body of work where the titles are sectionalized by alphabetical tabs? That’s a large body of work and Devereaux ruled romance for many, many years. A Knight In Shining Armor is part of Devereaux’s massive Montgomery family saga (that starts with The Black Lyon), and Douglass is our heroine who tugs Lord Nicholas Stafford forward in time from his own year of 1564. She then travels to his time as well. Again, there is history, romance, a larger family saga in other books, and time travel.
There’s more. There’s always more. Read This Calder Sky by Janet Daily and the rest of the Calder series. Johanna Lindsey’s Malory series was big during the timeframe I’m talking about. I read the hell out of those, especially if Fabio was on the cover! Judith McNaught’s Whitney, My Love was another favorite. Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote some great historical-type fantasy with strong women protagonists. I especially loved The Mists of Avalon and The Firebrand.
This should give you a good start on finding something to get you through Droughtlander. Please feel free to let me know your favorites!
**I have to mention these titles may not all be PC by our current standards and the #MeToo movement. I’m aware that the bloom might be off the rose if I go back and reread some of these, and I do remember forcible sex between hero and heroine in several books, like on a wedding night in the historical fiction books. It was the time of Luke and Laura on daytime TV, remember? He raped her and then they fell in love and had one of the highest-rated weddings ever? I’m not saying it was right, I’m just saying that it was a common storyline at that time and go into some of these books understanding what was accepted by society as a “manly man” at that time or what the historical perspective was for the book. (Sexual assault plot points have never been a favorite and turned me off of more than one author, including Gabaldon.)