Nov 5 2011 2:00pm

Time Traveling Is Not Romantic: Life Lessons from Devereaux, Niffenegger, and Gabaldon

A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude DeverauxThe very first romance I ever read was Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college (1992), and I was staying with a friend for a few days of R&R. My mother had read romances all my life, old-school styling with Fabio on the front and sweeping vistas of pirate ships and dangerous seas. I was more discerning than that. But Jude Deveraux grabbed me by the gut and held on until I got to the very end and...hated it.

Oh, my God, I have never felt such despair at the end of a book than when Nicholas had to remain in 1500s England and Douglass had to return to the present. It’s one of the few books I have ever actually cried while reading, and wound up in such a maudlin, depressing mood for days afterward. Just writing it now makes my throat close up. Because until the crappy ending, I loved it.

Talk about an indelible impression: I haven’t willingly picked up a book that I knew beforehand was about time travel in 19 years. But there are always those rope-a-dope titles that are popular and “you-have-to-read.” Two more come to mind: Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. And you can forget me including passages from any of these books; I’m in a good mood today and intend to stay that way.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerLet’s start with the Niffenegger story. Obviously, I knew ahead of time this was about time traveling of some fashion. But I didn’t realize it was a romance because my mother-in-law’s book club had chosen it, and they’re famous for choosing the Oprah-type downers. But on this rare occasion they invited me, so I indulged.

Can you guess that I didn’t like it? Again with the depressing departure and waiting and waiting and waiting for your love to return. It’s like ripping your heart out through your chest and letting it roll around on the ground and get dirt and grass and grime imbedded in it while Henry’s traveling, and then shoving it back in your chest without washing it off or disinfecting it when he’s back in the same timeline with Clare. Painful, to say the least. But because I didn’t want to disappoint my MIL, I finished it and discussed it and was then finished with it.

Outlander is a different story all together. It doesn’t even sound like a time traveler. But it is. It’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And when you add to the mix that Jamie Fraser is one of the sexiest, most romantic heroes in all of literature and a bit like catnip to this reader, avoiding this whole series of books is like trying to stay away from chocolate. But then my friend lent me her copy for a road trip I had with my boys about two weeks before Christmas one year. I started reading it and, despite the fact that Clare finds herself in Jacobian Scotland one day, I loved it. So I stayed with it…until it became painfully obvious that Clare would be leaving Jamie. Damn it!

Outlander by Diana GabaldonBut by the time I had the realization it was too late. My mister had bought the first four books in the series and wrapped them up under the Christmas tree—that’s what you get when you start a series well after its publication. It was a HUGE investment. So I had to read on. Right? Again, damn it!

Every time I think consistency will prevail, they travel. And as the series progresses, their daughter Brianna also begins to travel. I found that I couldn’t just read one book at a time, jumping here and there in time and storyline, like reading some R-rated Dr. Seuss. So I would sit on the floor in the living room with all four books fanned out in an array in front of me, so I could flip through and find the same timeline to follow. It was exhausting. And it took me weeks to read like that. When I finished the fourth book, I put them on my bookshelf and cursed fate for drawing me in.

And don’t you know that for my birthday two months later, in February, he bought the fifth installment, The Fiery Cross. I have never cracked it open. Not once. I know that more books in the series have been published, but I have no idea how the story progresses. I don’t want to know if they die. If they suffer and perish horribly at the hands of fate. Oh, my God, I don’t want to know if Clare travels back to her modern time and leaves Jamie to flounder for himself alone for 20 more years, or if he dies horribly and alone while Clare sits in air conditioning with sanitary conditions and electricity.

And don’t you tell me.


Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and in the spring of 2012, her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.

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Sandi Jones
1. Sandi Jones
I, too, read and loved the Devereaux book, and I'm a huge fan of the Outlander series, as well as other time travel romances. Even wrote and had one published myself! But I had to stop reading about Claire and Jamie. It's not a romance to me without that HEA, and I wanted them to have theirs sooo much! Lol. Thanks for your post! Enjoyed it.
Sandi Jones
2. Reader's Edyn
I feel exactly the same about A Knight In Shinig Armor. I also was somewhat depressed for a few days after finishing it. It haunted me almost. I had a difficult time wrapping my head around why Deveraux separated them. Sorry, but the way she "brought them together" just didn't sit well with me. I felt exactly the same when I read Rememberance. I was so depressed I stopped reading for a month. I never don't read, but I was afraid I would read another terrible ending from an author I had trusted. Reminds me of the song by Eve 6: "Want to put my tender heart in a blender, watch it spin around into a beautiful oblivion, rendezvous then I'm through with you". ACK!
Carrie Strickler
3. DyslexicSquirrel
I never got into the Outlander series. I couldn't even make it through the first book. I had heard so many great things about it from so many people that I caved and bought it and... hated it.

I started skipping ahead thinking that perhaps it got better and I was just having trouble getting into it. But it never got better. I have too many issues with this books to name. I never even finished it. I disliked it so much, in fact, that I sold my copy so I wouldn't have to look at it.

I have read some time travel books that I loved and others that I just could never put aside reality enough to enjoy them.
Louise Partain
4. Louise321
I have to say, Dolly, the most impressive thing about the blog is that YOUR HUSBAND ACTUALLY BOUGHT YOU BOOKS FOR GIFTS! How cool is that? Do you even realize how sweet that is?
Carmen Pinzon
5. bungluna
Yes, the husband buying books as gifts is very romantic!

I read "Knight" while living in Spain; it was one of the few English books I could get my hands on. Back then I'd buy anything in English, my preferred reading language. After reading it and crying copious tears at the ending, I never again bought a time-travel book, no matter how desperate I was for reading material.

The only exception to this was the Linda Howard one which title escapes me right now and I didn't like that ending either. I mean, give up modern medicine and sanitary conditions? NEVER!
Dolly Sickles
6. Dolly_Sickles
Thanks Sandi! @Reader's Eden: I also always have a book going, and the depression I felt from these books put me off of literature, for a couple days, too. I suppose, though, that it's a sign of a good book that it had the power to hold that much influence over us. @Squirrelly, I actually liked the story, but couldn't (and still can't) bring myself to find out how it ends ... like, really ends. Sigh ... And Louise and bungluna, my husband's actually really good about gifts, even books. But he'll appreciate the snaps. He's especially fond of me reading aloud from my own books. Just sayin'. :)

All, thanks for taking the time to reply!
Sandi Jones
7. laura browning
Okay, I have to admit, I like Knight in Shining Armor, and I've read a couple of others that I liked. One -- I can't remember the name -- the heroine travels back in time after diving into her swimming pool and surfacing in frontier America. As for Outlander -- I'd heard wonderful things as well. I didn't even make it past the first page. My hubby bought me a complete set of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books for Christmas one year. That was so much better than
Sandi Jones
8. Reader's Edyn
I just remembered one that I read that actually ended pretty well. If you can bring yourself to give it a try, please do. Johanna Lindsey's Until Forever. That one actually had an acceptable ending. *cross my heart*
Sandi Jones
9. AsiaMorela
I loved the ending of A Knight in Shining Armor! It's unusual for a romance, but so full of optimism in my view. And, I think, that's what I read romance for. It isn't so much about the two people ending up together (I've read discussions on HEA that left readers depressed, too, either because they weren't believable or were loaded with a lot of painful shit), but about knowing that good things happen, that you can make them happen. And, IMO, that's what Deveraux says in that book: Dougless was miserable at the beginning of the book, and thanks to Nicholas, she's now strong, knows what she wants, and will be able to live her life just fine, and we cannot doubt one minute that she will be happy. A tear or two cried over the loss of Nicholas doesn't take away the shining beauty of the lesson the whole adventure carries.

I also loved Outlander, but haven't been able to get my hands on the next books in the series so far.
Dolly Sickles
10. Dolly_Sickles
These time travelers are sort of like zombie movies to me: I love the story lines, love the characters, but just when you're letting your guard down and loving the story, one of the undead sneaks up and takes a bite out of you. Every damn time, they get me. In Outlander, I do wish Claire hadn't been gone 20 years before going back to Jamie after that first visit. Man, that's a lot of time for him to have been alone. And Laura, you're right: books are better than jewelry. :) Again, thanks for commenting, y'all!
Sandi Jones
11. kreads4fun
The Outlander series is my absolute favorite for all time read. As a frequent reader of romance novels, I understand why Outlander appeals to romance readers. But I have never thought of Outlander as a romance novel. It is on a different level altogether. If anything, I think of it as an epic swashbuckler. And I really don't think Diana Gabaldon considers it a romance either.
12. kimsbooks
Outlander isn't a romance, it is an historical epic that features a couple. I love the series--Claire and Jaime are one of my top five favorite couples. They are both so flawed, but so very right for one another.
As for Jude Deveroux, I think I started growing disenchanted with her books starting with A Knight In Shining Armor. I kept thinking "yes Douglas got a hea with Nicholas' decendant, but what about Nicholas?" I didn't apprectiate the break in the genre rules either.
Sandi Jones
13. Karen H
I really liked A Knight in Shining Armor and really disliked Outlander. Fortunately I got it free on my Kindle and I did finish it because everybody said how great it was but I didn't like it one little bit. All the horrible, I mean really really horrible, things that happened just kept piling up. I know the witch killings and the rapes and the other killings may be historically accurate but I sure don't want to read about them. And, I didn't like Claire at all and Jamie was just okay. No way am I going to put myself through reading any more of them. In general, I do like time travel and I did like The Time Traveller's Wife even though I cried buckets at the end (and had already seen the movie so knew what was going to happen) but I prefer straight romance time travel.
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