Warning: May contain some slight spoilers for book 1.
Book 2 of the 'Outlander' holds up surprisingly well to it's predecessor. Having established her characters and her setting (Claire Randall travels back in time to 18th century Scotland, falls in love with Jamie The Perfect Highlander), Gabaldon rushes ahead with a book that's bigger, better and all around just as entertaining as the first one.
As we know from the end of the first book, Claire decides to stick around with Jamie the Most Dashing Man in History instead of going back to her own time. But this second book starts with Claire back in the 20th century, around 1965. We learn that she returned after three years with Jamie, as war broke out in Scotland. So the book is largely told in flashback style, as Claire tells her daughter Brianna and her an historian friend, Roger Wakefield, about her time travel and how she came back to her own time. They find out early on that Jamie didn't die at the battle of Culloden (where Charles Stuart attempted to regain the Scottish throne in 1745), and so they decide to look for him and find out what really happened after he sent Claire back through the stones. So we jump between Claire's telling of what happened between the last book and her return, and Claire, Brianna and Roger doing some investigations.
The parts in the 18th century are definitely the most exciting in the whole book. Claire tells Jamie about the upcoming Rising, and together they decide to try and find a way to stop the destruction of the Scottish clans. They travel to France and are (conveniently enough) put to work in the service of Prince Charles Stuart, the young man who is the heir to the Scottish throne. They find themselves as part of the French court, getting to meet Louis XIV and going to fancy parties as they spy and plot their way to stopping the rebellion. As with the first book, the best part of all this is that the amount of research Gabaldon has done creates this incredibly detailed world for the characters, and with Claire and Jamie actually being part of an historical event, well, it's just that much more exciting.
Claire and Jamie are just as perfect as ever, of course. They are seriously entertaining characters, and while the sex scenes are still all-around ridiculous, their relationship is really well done and we get to really like the both of them. And, knowing that their time together is limited, it becomes pretty tragic eventually, as they're unable to stop the rebellion and find themselves going to war. This is definitely the highlight of the book. By putting her characters right in the middle of everything, we get a seriously badass account of the battles and sieges, and it's perfectly done.
Unfortunately, the parts where she breaks away from Jamie and Claire are pretty damn boring. We're introduced to Brianna, Jamie and Claire's daughter. I don't quite know what it is about Brianna, but I almost immediately disliked her. She just really doesn't fit into the story and sticks out like a sore thumb. She's whiny and impulsive, which I guess we're supposed to find charming, but she has none of the likeability of the other characters. Which is really too bad, because she quickly becomes a main character, but everything involving her is just lackluster and boring. She instantly falls in love with Roger (because in Gabaldon's world, people either want to rape you or become your soulmate), who's an OK character when he's not being profoundly bland, and we have to read through some of their adventures in...going to the library and falling in love. Snore.
But thankfully, there's enough meat in Claire and Jamie's story to keep the book entertaining. The villain from the first book returns, adding more drama. As usual there's always someone wanting to kill either Jamie or Claire. There are, I think, about 3 more scenes of rape or near-rape. Plenty of killing and chases, a lot of intrigue and a lot of nasty, detailed medical scenes. And, again, the fact that they're being part of history adds another level of excitement to the book, even if their efforts to change things seem pretty weak to me. Call me cold-blooded, but I think I'd just go up and shoot the damned Prince instead of trying to reduce his funding. But people in time-travel stories never just go for it. I guess time-travel makes you a morally upstanding wuss.
I definitely recommend getting this one along with the first book. It nicely completes the story, and the historical aspects of it make it an even better book than the first. I'm fascinated by everything related to France in the 18th century, so this one was just perfect for me. It also sets up the third book rather nicely, so you'll probably want to get that one as well. It's just too bad that Brianna and Roger don't hold up to Jamie and Claire, but who could? They're the most perfect couple in history, after all.