Desert Isle Keeper Review

A Breath of Snow and Ashes

Diana Gabaldon
2005, Historical Fiction (1770s [Colonial] North Carolina)
Delacourte, $28.00, 979 pages, Amazon ASIN 0385324162
Part of a series

Grade: A-
Sensuality: Warm

Set a large chunk of time aside if you are planning to read A Breath of Snow and Ashes. Make that several large chunks of time, unless you are blessed with the ability to read at super speed, and have a cast iron behind. This book is 979 pages of small print and narrow margins.

("All right, so it's a long book. It's by Diana Gabaldon, and that's a given. How was it?"

It was wonderful! I was engrossed in it, and if I hadn't had to work, or sleep, I'd probably have read it straight through. All the time I was working, I was looking forward to going back to Fraser's Ridge and seeing what was going to happen to all these people I have come to love so dearly.

It is 1773. Jamie Fraser, his wife Claire, their daughter Brianna and her husband Roger MacKenzie, their nephew Ian, their adopted son Fergus and his wife Marsali, are among those living in the small community of Fraser's Ridge, North Carolina. Even though they live far from the ferment of revolution that's been brewing, Jamie and his family are being touched by it. Regulators are killing people and burning their cabins, and mobs are bringing out the tar and feathers. The governor of the colony asks Jamie to help quiet the mobs, and persuade the colonists and the Indians to support the King. Jamie, of course, knows from his time-traveling wife that there will be war and the Americans will win it. But Jamie can't afford to be seen as a traitor.

This is only the beginning of a long and complex story that covers a three-year period. All the characters have stories, but the main focus of A Breath of Snow and Ashes is on Jamie and Claire, who are as magnetic a couple as they were in Outlander.

Gabaldon's newest is a much better book than The Fiery Cross, the book just before it. Her technique is to write sweeping epics that are composed of many vignettes. One criticism of The Fiery Cross was that all the vignettes didn't come together to make a coherent whole. While this book has its share of vignettes and is chock full of information (want to know how to treat hemorrhoids before Preparation-H was invented?), it advances the overarching storyline and sets up situations for the next book in the series as well. The ending is not really a cliffhanger, but it is very open ended - I don't know how I am going to wait for the next book.

While there is so much going on in this book that I can't begin to give a summary, I have to mention one scene in particular. A group of renegades come to Frasier's Ridge and it's very clear that they are dangerous and evil men. They beat Marsali, steal all the whiskey and burn one of the out buildings, and then they kidnap Claire and take her into the wilderness with them. Strong and capable as she is, Claire is one against a gang and this episode was painful to read. I couldn't help but remember Jamie in the dungeon in Outlander. But just as Claire rescued him in the earlier book, Jamie comes to her rescue in a scene that melted my heart.

While Jamie and Claire are first and foremost in this book, the other characters are not given short shrift. Roger and Brianna, Ian, Fergus, Lord John Grey, and all the others in the saga get their fair share of time in the story, and when Roger and Brianna decide to...well, I'll let you discover this on your own. It's a scene that's almost as tear worthy as the one in Dragonfly In Amber.

Readers who have been pining for a good, long, meaty novel will rejoice in this one. Fans of the Outlander series will find some of their questions answered, but more posed and they (and I) will be anxiously waiting for the next book in the series. Please, let it be soon!

-- Ellen Micheletti

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