A BREATH OF SNOW AND
Delacorte, October 2005
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES is Diana Gabaldon's sixth installment in the Outlander series. The Outlander series features two central characters, Jamie Fraser, a Highland warrior from Scotland, and an English nurse, Claire Beauchamp Randall, a time-traveler from the year 1945.
This epic begins with Jamie and Claire Fraser living in North Carolina on Fraser's Ridge with a community of Highland settlers on the eve of the American Revolution. Jamie and Claire are summoned at dawn to a burned out cabin in a remote area of Fraser's Ridge. The Dutch inhabitants were unknown to them, but the dead parents and children are the most recent victims in a rash of attacks by government Regulators. Trouble from the Regulators, patrolling bands of citizens appointed as a Committee of Safety by the Governor, are the first signs of the conflicts to come.
A representative from the Governor arrives to ask Jamie for his support in pacifying the angry settlers and uniting the Indian tribes in support for the King. Jamie is a charismatic and natural leader, but his wife, Claire and daughter, Bianna, have warned him of the eventual results of the war to come. He finds himself caught in the middle of another political conflict where he must walk a line between his oath to the King and protecting those he loves.
Claire strives to help the settlers with her 20th century medical cures. She has found a way to make life-saving penicillin and produce ether, which will allow her to perform minor surgeries. Her medical cures continue to keep her under a cloud of suspicion of witchcraft.
Jamie's nephew, Ian Murray, and his dog, Rollo have returned home -- without his Indian wife and child. He arrives at Jamie and Claire's house half conscious with a bloody head wound. He was attacked while making his way home by a band of men slipping through the woods in the night. They are eager to know what has become of his new family, but Ian isn't ready to explain. Coming home to his Uncle Jamie and cousin Brianna is plainly a healing balm for his troubled heart.
Roger and Brianna MacKenzie and their four year-old son, Jem have carved out a place for themselves on Fraser's Ridge, but they are struggling with adjustments to life in the 1700's. They are still dealing with the effects of Roger's near death by hanging and Jem's birth. Roger moves ahead to come to terms with his questions about Jem's paternity and the loss of his singing voice. Bianna discovers a gift for invention and uses her new skills to try to improve their lives.
Before coming to the 1700's Brianna discovered a news clipping in ancient copies of the Wilmington Gazette. The prophesy still haunts them and overshadows their fears of the coming war. It foretold of a fire in Jamie and Claire's house on January 21, 1776-- it was reported that everyone perished. However, Jamie's outlook helps to balance their fears of the future. He believes, "if you ken your house is going to burn on a particular day, wouldn't you be sure not to be in it?"
A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES is an extraordinary tale, but not a book for the faint of heart. I highly recommend reading the entire series -- new readers would be lost if you tried to start with this particular installment. I've read the entire series and I found this book was equally as compelling as the original novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
All of Gabaldon's remarkable writing skills are on display in A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES. It is filled with rich, lush descriptions, sharp dialogue, humor, passion and adventure. I was sorry when the story ended and this book is 980 pages long. There are abductions, medical emergencies, betrayals and life threatening situations that will take readers on an emotional and heartbreaking journey. Old villains resurface and new villains evolve from unexpected places and trusted friends. Along the way the story finds a soothing rhythm that makes Fraser's Ridge come to life in a magical way.
There are some subjects that require prior warning -- graphic descriptions of rape, detailed medical procedures, graphic childbirth, homosexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, battles scenes, death and sexually explicit scenes. Gabaldon captures the raw reality and casual brutality that was a part of everyday life on the frontier. She isn't shy about tackling any subject, including nosepicking. Her writing is earthy, detailed and sometimes crude, but always engaging.
For avid fans of Gabaldon's series, this installment will answer many critical questions. A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES isn't the end of the series and many new mysteries and adventures lie ahead. The current series titles, in order, are: OUTLANDER (1992), VOYAGER (1994), DRAGONFLY IN AMBER (1993), DRUMS OF AUTUMN (1997), and THE FIERY CROSS (2002). There is also THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION (1999), a handbook to help readers navigate the historical period and huge cast of characters.
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