In 1968, Claire Randall brings her daughter Brianna to Scotland on holiday, and introduces her to the young historian Roger Wakefield, for whom Claire has a few research requests concerning the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Roger's curiosity grows as he begins to sense that Claire is hiding something from him and from her daughter, until finally she begins to tell her extraordinary story of finding herself transported two hundred years into the past. Claire recounts the time she spent with Jamie Fraser, the Scottish Highlander she married and fell in love with, their intrigues in Paris and Prince Charles' inner circle during the Rising, and their struggle to alter the disastrous course of history in Scotland.
Claire returns to Scotland with her twenty-year old daughter, Brianna, hoping to find out what happened to the men of Lallybroch after the battle of Culloden. After discovering Jamie Fraser's gravestone in an abandoned churchyard, Claire ends up breaking the news of Brianna's true paternity to her and Roger Wakefield. She begins to tell them the story of how she accidentally traveled more than two hundred years into the past to 1743, and the consequences of her decision to stay there for three years.
After Claire revealed her pregnancy, and as Jamie began the healing process in the Abbey, he left it up to Claire to decide where they should go – stay in France, go to Italy, even return to Scotland – knowing what they do about the coming Jacobite Rising. After learning that Charles Stuart has left Rome for France, possibly seeking the favor of his cousin, King Louis XV, they travel to Paris. There Jamie agrees to work for his cousin Jared, running the wine business in Jared's absence.
In his new position, Jamie is well-placed to cultivate relationships with several powerful players in Paris, inquiring after the level of interest in a potential Jacobite rising. Claire and Jamie quickly learn the delicate art of subterfuge, putting their skills to the test over dinner parties and balls at Versailles. Jamie also befriends Charles Stuart, even as he hires an orphaned pickpocket to intercept His Highness' correspondence, and uses the intelligence gained to thwart Charles' attempts to raise money for a rebellion. While Jamie is busy with Jared's business, Claire spends much of her time volunteering at L'Hôpital des Anges, a charity hospital headed by the redoubtable Mother Hildegarde, and befriending the strange, mysterious apothecary Master Raymond.
Even as they toe the line between loyalty and treason, the Frasers face additional, unanticipated threats: the Comte St. Germain, bent on revenge against Claire for a huge loss of profit; a would-be assassin that chases Jamie through the streets of Paris; masked rapists who desist at the sight of "La Dame Blanche"; and the startling appearance of Alexander Randall, whose resemblance to his older brother nearly sends Jamie over the edge.
Ultimately, it is the apparent resurrection of Jack Randall that presages tragedy. Despite promising Claire that he would spare Randall's life in order to save her twentieth-century husband, Frank Randall, Jamie challenges Randall to a duel in the Bois de Boulogne. Claire, who has been experiencing worrying symptoms during her sixth month of pregnancy, runs desperately after them, but arrives too late to stop the fight. While watching the duel, Claire collapses as the pain in her belly worsens, and experiences a miscarriage. She drifts in and out of consciousness until awakening in L'Hôpital des Anges, where she suffers from a life-threatening fever. The nuns believe she will not recover, but Master Raymond secretly enters Claire's room and helps her to step away from the abyss, and begin to heal – physically, at least.
Claire's friend, Louise de La Tour, whisks her away to Fontainebleau, where Claire lives ensconced in a protective numbness, unwilling to confront her grief. When Claire learns that Jamie has been sent to the Bastille for dueling, she briefly returns to Paris to seek the King's favor for Jamie's release – for if she does not, Jamie will fail to meet up with Murtagh during a crucial attempt to derail Charles Stuart's fundraising activities. After a bizarre meeting with the King, Master Raymond, and the Comte St. Germain, as well as a brief interlude in the King's bedchamber, Claire returns to Fontainebleau, intending to resume her aimless existence.
Three months after that fateful day in the Bois de Boulogne, Jamie finds Claire at Fontainebleau, and they reconcile themselves to their grief and to each other. With Jamie's pardon in Scotland secured, and orders from King Louis to leave France as a condition of Jamie's release from prison, the Frasers leave France to return to Lallybroch.
Scotland, 1745 and the RisingEdit
After recovering from her illness and subsequent depression, Claire manages to free Jamie from prison. A condition of his release is that they must leave France, so they sail to Scotland, with Jamie pardoned for his crimes. Once in Scotland, Claire and Jamie settle in to farm life at Jamie's home at Lallybroch with his sister, Jenny, and her family. However Jamie receives a letter from Charles Stuart announcing his attempt to retake the throne of Scotland. There is no escape, as Charles has had Jamie's name on the letter as one of his supporters. The Rising has begun.
Seeing no option but to fight for the Stuarts, Jamie gathers the men of Lallybroch to join the Stuart army. They fight and win at the battle of Prestonpans, but the tide soon turns against the Jacobites. The Rising culminates in the disastrous battle of Culloden. While Jamie and Claire are discussing if they should kill Charles to save the soldiers, Dougal overhears them and tries to kill Claire, which ends in Jamie killing him instead. Knowing he will be killed either by the British or the MacKenzies, Jamie takes Claire and heads for Craigh na Dun, where he forces her to travel back to her own time, to spare her the battle's aftermath. Before she goes however Jamie tells Claire that he knows she is pregnant again. After sending her through the stones, Jamie returns to Culloden intending to die.
After finishing her story, Claire explains that Frank asked her where she had been during her absence but refused to believe her, thinking she was mentally unstable. Claire told him to leave her, but suspecting he was sterile and desperate for a child, he asked Claire to allow him to be father to her baby and only tell Brianna the truth after his death. The novel ends with Roger informing Claire that Jamie didn't die at Culloden.