Diana Gabaldon

"A Breath of Snow and Ashes"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie DEC 12, 2005)

"Ye'll ken the Declaration of Arbroath, will ye? Four hundred years since, it was our sires, our grandsires, who put their hands to these words....'for as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.' He stopped to steady his voice, then went on. 'It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honors that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.'"

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series is without a doubt my favorite in all fiction. (I consider J. R. R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Ring" trilogy to be in a category of its own). I had been hoping for another novel about the fabulous time-traveling Fraser family but thought The Fiery Cross would be the last. When I heard that a sixth book was in the works, I reread my already well-worn copies of the first five installments, and pre-ordered A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I must say that Ms. Gabaldon is the only author I know of who is able to maintain her storyline, the tension and excitement, through thousands of words, and six novels, over a period of fifteen years. She continually invents new adventures, accurately recreates history, and allows her characters and their relationships to grow to extraordinary depth. I can only say BRAVO(!), as she has yet again come up with a winner.

As Gabaldon fans know, Claire and James Fraser have weathered more storms than most. They crossed oceans and centuries to make a life together. Readers were first introduced to Jamie and Claire in Outlander, right after Claire made the voyage from peaceful 20th century Scotland to 18th century Scotland and total mayhem. We witnessed passion, love and friendship grow between this couple as they began married life, and experienced adventure, adversity and attempted to alter history. They finally settled in North Carolina along with their daughter Brianna, her husband Roger, their son Jemmie, many of their family members and friends from Scotland, including most of Jamies fellow prisoners from Ardsmuir and hundreds of refugees in exile in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion.

Claire, now a beautiful matron in her 50s, spends much of her time utilizing her physician's skills and searching for ways to bring 20th century science to her 18th century practice. James is the founder of the Fraser's Ridge community and acts as an unofficial clan chief to the families who look to him for leadership. Brianna and Roger, and Fergus and Marsali are young couples coping with a heavy daily work load and parenting. This is a period when backbreaking work, from first light to last, is necessary for survival.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes opens in the year 1772 on the eve of the American Revolution. Even in the backwoods colony of Fraser's Ridge, NC, people are rebelling at the increased taxation by the British, with no representation for the people who are forced to pay the Crown more money every year. Word of the Boston Massacre has reached the Frasers and their neighbors, and, in fact, one of the novel's characters was involved in the event. The American colonies are in turmoil. Tension builds as isolated cabins are burned in the wilderness and families murdered. North Carolina Governor Josiah Martin asks James Fraser to help unite the backcountry population, including the Native Americans, in support of the King. However, Jamie knows about the revolution to come. His wife, Claire, has traveled back in time from the twentieth century, as have his daughter Brianna and her husband. They are well aware that it's only a matter of a few years before the start of the War of Independence.

Looming over the Frasers is the threat of a tiny newspaper clipping from The Wilmington Gazette, dated 1776, which Claire discovered before returning to the 18th century. The article reports the destruction of the house on Fraser's Ridge, and the death by fire of James Fraser and all his family. Claire and James know from experience that it is not possible to change or effect future events, but they are determined to do all in their power to prove the newspaper report wrong.

While not as good a read as The Outlander, (but what is?), this is a fabulous novel and the historical events portrayed are fascinating. I am from the Northeast and when I studied the American Revolution I usually focused on events in Philadelphia and New England. Ms. Gabaldon gives another perspective here, which has motivated me to further explore the history in the southern colonies.

The author has an imagination for which I will always be grateful, and she is as skilled a writer as there ever was. She develops characters so that they truly come to life and remain with the reader forever - no small accomplishment. Her ability to capture the essence of a loving relationship, whether between lovers, spouses, parents and children, or friends can easily move her readers to tears. The dialogue is excellent and the wonderful Scottish dialect, interspersed with Gaelic, adds much to the novels' credibility and the readers' enjoyment.

I highly recommend A Breath of Snow and Ashes. And for those who have not read the other books in the series, do yourselves a huge favor and begin with Outlander and read straight through all five sequels. You will be delighted and richly rewarded.

Just a closing note: I know many men who have read and enjoyed these books. These novels are much more than chick lit.

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Outlander Series:

Lord John Novels:

 

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About the Author:

Diana GabaldonDiana Gabaldon GAB-uhl-dohn (long o) was born in 1952 and grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona

She has an M.S. in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a Ph.D. in quantitative behavioral ecology. She wrote comic books (free-lance) for Walt Disney for a year or two in the late 70's-- while holding a post-doc in marine biology at UCLA. Then she was a professor at Arizona State for twelve years or so, in the Center for Environmental Studies. What she actually did there was to develop an expertise in the brand-new field of scientific computation (the use of computers to do scientific research--in botany, ecology, physiology, meteorology, etc.). As part of this, she started and ran a scholarly journal called Science Software for several years. She was one of maybe a dozen people in the world who knew anything about scientific and technical software and could write coherently about it.

From the late 70's to the early 90's, she wrote anything anybody would pay her for. This ranged from articles on how to clean a longhorn cow's skull for living-room decoration, to manuals on elementary math instruction on the Apple II (written for the State of Arizona), to a slew of software reviews and application articles done for the computer press--BYTE, Infoworld, PC Magazine, etc.-- to documentation for private software developers.

She retired from the university in 1992, when her contract came up for renewal, simultaneously with finishing (and getting paid for) the manuscript of Dragonfly in Amber.

Diana currently lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband, three children, and a large number of animals.

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