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Diana Gabaldon – A Breath of Snow and Ashes

November 14, 2008

142. A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (2005)
Outlander, Book 6

Read My Review of:
– Book 1, Outlander
– Book 2, Dragonfly in Amber
– Book 3, Voyager
– Book 4, Drums of Autumn
– Book 5, The Fiery Cross

Length: 992 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, with touches of Fantasy and Romance

Started: 24 October 2008
Finished: 13 November 2008

If Jamie and Claire
die in a fire, how can
there be book seven?

I was eating lunch yesterday with a friend who has read the first two and a half books in the Outlander series, but is probably not going to read any further and thus is not afraid of spoilers. I was talking about this book, and she asked me what was happening… and about ten minutes later, I was still going, and she was laughing at the preposterousness of all of these calamities befalling one person (well, group of people). On the one hand, she’s right, Jamie and Claire do occasionally seem to have the worst luck on the planet, and these books can get more than a little soap-opera-y. However, I think in any novel, there’s a sense that the events happening to the characters are a lot more noteworthy than events happening to most real people – that’s why there’s a book written about them. In historical fiction, especially, the crises seem a little more critical simply because life was more fraught with peril – your car breaking down is annoying, but it just doesn’t have the same dramatic tension as having to treat an outbreak of amoebic dysentery with home-grown penicillin. So, yes, the Outlander books are pretty melodramatic, but not so much that I think they’re outside the range of reasonable suspension of disbelief.

Summary: A Breath of Snow and Ashes opens in the spring of 1773. There has been a spate of arsons – homesteads burnt with their families inside. This strikes an uncomfortable note for Jamie and Claire, since they are still living under the looming specter of the newspaper clipping predicting their own deaths by fire, the same clipping that forced Brianna to travel back in time in the first place. But that’s still three years in the future, and in the meantime, there are the daily matters of life, and the larger political matter of the looming Revolution to worry about. Revolutionary sentiment is growing, and Jamie can no longer walk the line of neutrality, but declaring for what Claire has told him will be the winning side means alienating himself from family, friends, and countrymen. When Claire is abducted by a band of thieves and brigands, events are set into motion that will encompass life, death, pregnancy, sickness, scandal, religion, love, hate, politics, and murder, and by the end, several long-running storylines – among others: Stephen Bonnet, Jem’s paternity, Jocasta’s gold, Ian’s time with the Mohawk, North American time-travelers, and that haunting newspaper clipping warning of fire – have all been resolved.

Review: I think I’ve finally figured out how to approach Diana Gabaldon’s books. I can’t treat them like a regular novel, one that I can sit down, get lost in for a few hours per day for two or three days, and polish off. Instead, I need to take my time with them, let them gestate, and not push myself – if an hour of reading only gets me through 40 pages, then so be it. I’ve also finally figured out where and when in these books I can skim – in an almost-1000-page book, it’s inevitable that there will be bits of description and action that just aren’t as interesting as the rest. To Gabaldon’s credit, though, she does keep things moving along fairly steadily throughout this book (no spending three hundred pages at a wedding, to pick an example entirely at random *cough*TheFieryCross*cough*). There are certainly scenes which could have been excised without sacrificing anything crucial from the plot, but by this point, Claire, Jamie, Brianna, Roger, and the rest are so much like family that character sketches and vignettes still held my interest, even if they didn’t advance the main story.

That’s what I mean about taking time with it: If you read it hunting for the plot in every paragraph, it’s bound to get quickly frustrating. If you approach it like you’re just taking some time to catch up with old friends, however, then it’s a wonderful comfort-read. And, to anyone who’s toughed it out for the preceding five books and 4000+ pages, they really are old friends. I was certainly absorbed and involved enough in their story that multiple bits made me cry – although not so hard as the bawl-fest at the end of Dragonfly in Amber. The ending also somehow simultaneously wraps up most of the storylines from the “American Trilogy”, and leaves me wanting the next book to hurry up and be published so I can find out where she’s going to take things from here. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you’ve made it this far in the series, you won’t be disappointed by the most recent installment. A Breath of Snow and Ashes is not as tight as the earlier books in the series, but definitely gets things moving again after the meandering of The Fiery Cross.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Outside of a Dog, Curled Up With A Good Book, The Compulsive Reader
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The dog sensed them first.

Vocab:

  • p. 25: “Putting the story down simply as one of the tales whores often told to elicit sympathy and the odd extra glass of geneva, he had not bothered to ask for further detail.” – A strongly alcoholic liquor, flavored with juniper berries; gin made in Holland.
    .
  • p. 363: “We’d seen few newspapers through the winter, but even so, the level of disagreement between the Governor and the Assembly was clear; he’d resorted to a practice of continuous proroguing, repeatedly dismissing the Assembly in order to prevent them passing legislation at odds with his desires.” – to discontinue a session of (the British Parliament or a similar body).
    .
  • p. 494: “In my own time, it might be ten, twenty, or even thirty years after the appearance of the intial chancre before further syphilitic symptoms developed; in this time, though, syphilis was a much more fulminant disease – a victim could die within a year of infection.” – the initial lesion of syphilis and certain other infectious diseases, commonly a more or less distinct ulcer or sore with a hard base; occurring suddenly and with great intensity or severity
    .
  • p. 720: “Jamie Fraser was an honorable man, he was deeply uxorious – and he had been in the depths of despair and exhaustion during Claire’s illness.” – Excessively submissive or devoted to one’s wife.
    .
  • p. 729: “The public houses, taverns, ordinaries, and pothouses in Charlotte were doing a roaring business, as delegates, spectators, and hangers-on seethed through them, men of Loyalist sentiments collecting in the King’s Arms, those of rabidly opposing views in the Blue Boar, with shifting currents of the unallied and undecided eddying to and fro, purling through the Goose and Oyster, Thomas’s ordinary, the Groats, Simon’s, Buchanan’s, Meuller’s, and two or three nameless places that barely qualified as shebeens.” – An unlicensed drinking establishment, especially in Ireland, Scotland, and South Africa.
    .
  • p. 732: “Having missed the beginning, Roger had no idea how the conflict had begun, but so far into it as they were, the exchange was focused on cowardice and arrogance, Jamie’s remarks aimed at Forbes’s leading the attack on Fogarty Simms as a low-minded and cowardly attempt to make himself look the big man at the price of a defenseless man’s life, Forbes – shifting into English here, as he realized that they had become the cynosure of the room – taking the view that Jamie’s presence here was an unwarrantable affront to those who truly held the ideals of liberty and justice, as everyone knew he wasw in truth the King’s man, but he, the puffed-up cock o’ the walk, thought that he could pull the wool over everyone’s eyes long enough to betray the whole boiling, but if he, Fraser, thought he, Forbes, was fool enough to be gulled by antic tricks in the public street and a lot of talk with nay more substance than the shrieking of gulls, he, Fraser, had best think again!” – (my luck that the one word I didn’t know in 100 pages was in the middle of a paragraph-long sentence.) – something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance, interest, etc.
    .
  • p. 765: “It was only the mercy of God that it hadn’t been worse – that, and Claire’s rage, which had interrupted the attack, as everyone stopped to watch the engrossing spectacle of her hatcheling her assailant like a bundle of flax.” – To separate flax fibers with a special comb
    .
  • p. 976: “In fact, only half her attention was focused on the heavyset gentleman’s murmured remarks to his helot, a small young woman…[excised for spoilers].” – serf or slave; bondman.
    .

And, just because I’ve never used the WordPress poll feature, and am feeling indecisive:

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. emmegail permalink
    November 14, 2008 11:45 am

    Nice review! I especially like your vocab. section! I’ve read the first two and Voyager has been in my TBR pile for awhile. This review makes me want to move it back up to the top! =)

  2. November 14, 2008 1:25 pm

    I’ve heard such great things about this series but didn’t realize there were so many books! Hmmm…Christmas wishes?? :) Actually, I think I’ll get the first couple of books for my best friend as well. Thanks for reminding me of these!

  3. November 14, 2008 1:55 pm

    emmegail – There’s actually not so much vocab for this one compared to previous books in the series – maybe I’m just getting used to all of the Scottish-isms?

    Trish – If it makes them any less daunting, they break into trilogies fairly well – the first three are the “Scottish” trilogy, and the second three are the “pre-revolution American” trilogy. Basically, I’d recommend reading Outlander, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be hooked and immediately off to order the next two.

  4. November 14, 2008 5:37 pm

    I think I’m unusual in this, but after Outlander’s horrifying ending, I’ve never been able to talk myself into continuing with the series — even though I loved the book and gobbled it up in three days (except for that last bit . . . just too mean for me).

  5. November 14, 2008 6:12 pm

    I quit reading these after the second book. I’m still crazy about Jamie, though. Jamie, my darling…ahhhhh.

  6. November 14, 2008 8:07 pm

    I can’t wait to start this series. Although Nancy’s comment has me feeling a little nervous!

    Nicki, your reference to The Fiery Cross cracked me up.

  7. November 16, 2008 7:52 pm

    Nancy – I’m maybe not the best judge, since I don’t tend to be bothered overmuch by swearing, sex, and violence in my books, but I think the end of Outlander is about as gruesome as the books get, if that helps. There’s more violence, of course, since they were pretty violent times, but no more torture (that I remember.)

    chartroose – Heh… It’s true, although by the later books, he starts to get a bit old to still have a crush on – I’ve had to transfer some of my affections to the next generation.

    Shana – They’re super-addicting! I hope you like them!

  8. November 16, 2008 8:41 pm

    Congrats on finishing! It’s been so long since I read it. I discovered Outlander after this one had just come out so I read them all at once. The first two are my favorites (really disliked Fiery Cross) and then I had to continue the story after that despite the fact that I didn’t love the characters (Jaime) as much. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to read the next book An Echo in the Bone when it comes out next year.

  9. barbara permalink
    July 12, 2009 3:17 pm

    A thought … this series has led me into fascinating places. It took me to Scotland so I could see the real areas involved in the Jacobite ’45 rebellion. It took me to walking the battle field at Culloden. I am now someone who studies the Scottish 1700s, the immigration to America, etc. Fall, 2008 I joined 5 other people & took a Gabaldon tour. It was with ClansandCastles.com and I chose them because I wanted to be shown Scotland by a Scot. Unbelievable trip that changes a person forever. Go beyond the books and let them take you into real history. My bookshelves are filled with reference books now & I own 2 newspapers of that time (1745, Dec. & 1746, Apr) The latter will strike a note with you. Read what common thinking was by folks living then. Lyon in Mourning is unbelievable. This was no game.
    Made my 2nd trip to Williamsburg recently. All because of Outlander & Diana Gabaldon. :) Many thanks for expanding my world and enriching it beyond Jamie & Clare.

  10. drakon permalink
    January 23, 2010 10:11 am

    Read the whole series, the companion book is sort of like a big cliff notes of the whole series.

    I just joined a Outlander Fan club on a nook book sharing website.

  11. Denise permalink
    September 14, 2010 12:33 am

    A mighty THANK YOU for your summaries and reviews of the ‘Jamie Books’ (as all my reading buddies call this series). I just bough ‘An Echo in the Bone’ and it has been so long since reading the last book, I needed to refresh my memory.

    Thanks…and your reviews are spot-on!

    Cheers!

    Denise

  12. Penny permalink
    October 7, 2010 2:35 pm

    I agree with Denise. I’ve just started “Bone” & needed a recap of what happened in “Ashes”. Thanks for the summary.

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