They're not for everyone. I've heard criticism of their length, their historical detail, their portrayal of Jamie as a wife beater, and - in a forum that left me rather shaking my head - some very vehemently opposed readers who were shocked and appalled because Claire was an adultress (which seemed an odd thing to stab at given that 1. she is lost in time 200 years before she married her modern day husband - do the rules still apply? Really? And 2. the book actually does a pretty good job of debating the moral ambiguity of this issue, amongst other (more relevant) issues such as how our actions can affect the future and what our responsibilities are).
As an editor I am impressed how this book completely flouts so many genre conventions. 1) the hero and heroine are married (pretty early on) so the book is not about that; 2) the heroine is a strong woman in her own right (pretty common now, but never used to be); 3) the author has bad things happen to her hero - including torture and sadistic bondage (NOT something you see in many romances); 4) the HEA is not something you can take for granted; 5) sometimes it is up to the heroine to save the hero's butt because he is too sick or stupid to do it for himself.
I love long books steeped in history, but the first time I read these (the first three, at the recommendation of my Beaujolais friend who looked at me over the rim of her wine glass and said YOU will LOVE Jamie. He's exactly your type.) I found them a slow read. But by the end of the second book I was hooked and there was no turning back. I find them well researched and well written, and I am awed how Gabaldon brings the period to life so vividly. Her words pulled me in and she layers the characters so beautifully, giving us bits and pieces of them so that they are only fully revealed sometimes over the course of many books.
I thought her characters believable and realistic.
Also there is Jamie.
Okay, as Andrew points out,
Jamie is way too perfect to be real...he speaks 11 languages, fights like a warrior, looks like a god, says things women love but which no man would ever actually say, can survive certain death, build a house with his two bare hands, fight bears, make his own scotch, and his only "weakness" is a bit of sea-sickness. Puh-lease!(Andrew's snarkiness aside, he did wear a kilt to my sister's wedding. Guess if you can't beat em, join 'em heh heh!)
But all that said, the characters, even the minor ones seem real. More to the point, Outlander was the first book I read that made me realize there was more to reading than the classics and literary fiction. It took me off my high horse that genre fiction was to be avoided, and that a well done romance had every bit as much a place on my shelf as so many other novels.
Okay, I'm booked out. A different topic tomorrow, I think.