The love affair between the highlander Jamie and his Sassanach Claire continues. Having successfully reunited and finding themselves in America, it's time to build a life together at last, after a twenty year separation. Though Claire and Jamie love each other, their life path certainly cannot run smooth and whether it is the Indigenous people of the area, the untamed land, or the continual threat from the English, they must stay on their toes.
For her part, Brianna is having trouble reconciling the fact that her mother is gone. Due to the difference of time between them, Claire is technically long dead but for Brianna, her mother remains alive in many ways. Chief among Brianna's concerns is to discover whether Claire found Jamie and if they are happy in the life they share together. Brianna must also deal with the growing love she feels for Roger but before she commit her life to him, she must find her parents, no matter how dangerous the journey is.
The POV for Drums of Autumn changes several times but the story remains easy to follow, even if the characters seem to become more and more despicable with each word they utter. Gabaldon continues along with the homophobia, racism and yes, rape that we have become accustomed to in this series. At this point, I believe that Gabaldon must deem these problematic elements necessary to her story.
Having the Frasers in the New World and exposed to Indigenous people gives rampant opportunity for racist behaviour. To some degree, Jamie is a man of his time and has a racist attitude towards the Native Americans; however, this didn't have to happen this way simply because the Outlander series is a historical fictional novel. Obviously, even then, there were those who saw the humanity of the indigenous communities and it would not have broken the tenuous historical setting of the series to have Jamie see people of colour as his equals. Jamie and Claire both consistently refer to the Native American tribes with which they interact with as savages. Claire however does not have the same excuse as Jamie, because having lived in 1968, she is completely knowledgeable about the disastrous effects of colonization on the Indigenous peoples of America. Claire is only interested in the Indigenous tribes to the degree that she can learn about herbs from them.
Since the Frasers are in pre-revolutionary America, slavery as an institution is flourishing. For her part, Claire continues to be extremely against slavery and considering the problems Jamie has had with the English, he is not in favour of it either. Jamie turns down a large inheritance, in part because it would make him the owner of a large amount of slaves. Don't get excited, remember whose series this is. Claire and Jamie's daughter Brianna feels akin to her parents on the issue of slavery and also attempts to reject the same inheritance her father turned down to avoid becoming the owner of slaves. Brianna, however, is partial to the way she benefits from slavery.
"She ought to feel guilty at being waited on by slaves, she thought drowsily. She must remember to, later. There were a lot things she didn't mean to think about until later; one more wouldn't hurt." (841)
Owning slaves is wrong but having them do labour for you apparently isn't all that bad. Yeah, for soul crushing white supremacist institutions, as long as those near it can manage to twist the narrative away from their privilege and culpability.
Since the Outlander series is at its heart historical fiction, in Drums of Autumn we are offered what at first seems like the star crossed love affair between Brianna and Roger. Roger, like Frank, is a historian and, like Jamie, he is a horrible love interest by any stretch of the imagination. When Roger pursues Brianna and asks her to marry him, she refuses and instead suggests that they have sex. Roger is quick to reject the offer and slut shame Brianna.
"What d'ye mean by making me such an offer - and you a nice Catholic girl, straight out of Mass! I thought ye were a virgin." (341)
Keep in mind that this is happening in 1968 and not the 1700's and yet Roger is scandalized. Instead of considering the offer or reasonably turning it down, Roger pulls Brianna into an embrace and forces a kiss on her, though she kicks struggles and even bites him. Isn't he romantic folks? Nothing screams romantic like a man being horrified by being propositioned for sex and then forcing himself on you because he wants to mark his territory.
That's right, Brianna is a virgin and Roger has had his dalliances. So much for the earlier subversion of Claire and Jamie. Roger is absolutely insistent that he and Brianna marry before they have sex. Brianna's virginity will feature largely in the story. In many ways, Brianna is little more than a possession to Roger. When Brianna travels through the stones to find her parents, Roger swiftly follows, fearing that Brianna isn't prepared to deal with harsh life in pre-revolutionary America. When the two are finally reunited, Roger's first instinct is to threaten violence.
He slid a hand down her back and got a firm grip on one round buttock. She wore no underclothes beneath the loose breeches.
“I mean that were I a man of this time, instead of my own, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to lay my belt across your arse a dozen times or so.”
She didn’t seem to consider this a serious threat. In fact, he thought she was laughing.
“So since you’re not from this time, you wouldn’t do it? Or you would, but you wouldn’t enjoy it?”
“Oh, I’d enjoy it,” he assured her. “There’s nothing I’d like better than to take a stick to you.”
She was laughing. Suddenly furious, he shoved her off and sat up.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“I thought you’d found someone else! Your letters, the last few months…and then that last one. I was sure of it. It’s that I want to beat you for—not for lying to me or going off without telling me—for making me think I’d lost you!”
She was silent for a moment. Her hand came out of darkness and touched his face, very softly.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I never meant for you to think that. I only wanted to keep you from finding out, until it was too late. (pg 660)
So, he crosses space and time and survives the treacherous travel from Scotland to America to find her because he loves her so much but it would give him pleasure to beat her?
This isn't even the last time Brianna is attacked. On her way to finally meet her parents, Brianna seeks to retrieve Claire's gold wedding band from a pirate and is raped for her trouble. What would a Gabaldon novel be without rape? Like many rape victims, Brianna blames herself, wondering whether or not she would have been victimized if she had fought. As a fellow rape victim, Jamie decides to assure his daughter that she could not have prevented what happened and of course, the best way to accomplish this is to physically assault her. Nothing like re-victimizing a victim to make them feel secure I suppose (yes, that's snark).