Customer Reviews: A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander)
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on September 30, 2005
I was one of those many readers who loved the first four books but was harshly critical of The Fiery Cross, her fifth book. However, this book is terrific. First of all Claire and Jamie are more present in this book with all their love and passion, fierceness and courage, which had been dimly expressed in The Fiery Cross. Brianna and Roger are more believable and loving towards each other - Roger is less of a wimp, Brianna has gotten over her whinny self, and Jemmy is a terrific kid, not just a pooping, nursing machine.

Ordinarily, I am impatient of a lot of description, do a lot of skimming, and want to get down to the meat and potatoes of the plot. But not in this book. Every vignette, even if not central to the plot, is vivid and fascinating, giving the reader a glimpse into life in those days. I found myself devouring every word, enjoying the journey rather than being in a rush to the destination. Gabaldon is just such an incredible writer; such an imagination - you find it hard to believe she wasn't actually there. And when Jamie says things like "If I die, dinna follow me. The bairns will need ye. Stay for them. I can wait." I find myself crying and feeling like an idiot, since this is fiction, but it touches me so.

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on September 28, 2005
If you've been waiting for certain things to be resolved . . . well, you're in luck. It was with a great deal of satisfaction that I finished this book (at 2:30 this morning), because I finally had answers to a lot of the things I'd been wondering about.

Unlike Fiery Cross, this book is much faster moving, with no long descriptions of diaper-changing. Brianna and Roger seem to have found their places at Fraser's Ridge . . . Brianna is much more likeable, much more mature, and a lot less whiny. And, of course, Claire and Jamie are featured very prominently . . . it's still their series. There's action, adventure, abduction, illness, war, and of course, sex.

A book more in the tradition of Voyager and Drums of Autumn . . . I wasn't disappointed.
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on October 5, 2005
Bodice-ripper romance? Check. Historical fiction with oodles of period detail? Double-check. Time-traveling fantasy? You bet. A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES (actually, all six volumes in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series) combines most of the genres I love, which means I couldn't put it down --- and at a hefty 992 pages, that's saying a lot. While immersed, I felt I was never far from Fraser's Ridge, the North Carolina homestead where Jamie Fraser, an exiled Scotsman, and his wife Claire, doctor and displaced 20th-century person, make their home. There are two other refugees from the contemporary world in the community: the Frasers' daughter Brianna (conceived in the 18th century, born in the 20th), and her husband Roger --- plus assorted saints, ruffians, eccentrics, rogues, floozies and fanatics.

Gabaldon's conceit, for those new to the books, is that certain individuals are able to pass from one century to another by means of ancient circles of standing stones. In OUTLANDER, the first volume, Claire time-travels quite by accident while vacationing in the Highlands; from 1946 she is hurtled back some 200 years, when the Jacobites, Scottish supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie, were fighting to oust the English and reestablish their own king. She meets and marries Jamie, but after the rebels are crushed at Culloden in 1745 and he is condemned to death, she returns to modern life (and her bemused 20th-century husband) to save her unborn child.

Sounds pretty crazy, but Gabaldon makes it plausible because her research is so meticulous and her characters so sympathetic: heroic, yet attractively flawed. You get to know the central quartet --- Jamie, Claire, Brianna and Roger --- especially well, since they take turns narrating the book. Okay, I'll admit that the two couples' literally timeless devotion and undying ardor (sex scenes galore!) are so idealized that lots of plot action is essential to keep the reader from becoming bored and/or skeptical: Somebody (Claire twice and Brianna once) is always getting abducted by villains and rescued by the clan.

But A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, though a close cousin of the historical romance (think a more prolix version of Philippa Gregory), has another dimension, thanks to the sci-fi element. A modern sensibility and vision lurk within the pre-electric interiors and wild, uncharted scenery of Fraser's Ridge --- Brianna dreams of hot running water; Claire struggles with the concept that she is Jamie's property; Roger, originally an historian, looks ahead to the triumph of the revolution and the bitter fate of the Native Americans. The book reminds us how dangerous it was to be on the "right" side of the Anglo-American conflict, and how hard and labor-intensive it was to accomplish the simplest tasks of everyday life. It shows us Claire and Brianna recreating resources we take for granted, from matches to ether (Claire's medical adventures, wherein she combines contemporary knowledge with herbal traditions, is my favorite part of the series; in this volume she handles a breech birth, fixes a twisted hand, and treats syphilis with a home-grown form of penicillin). The women characters are not only amazingly strong, but also possess a feminist consciousness that they bring to bear on an impressive number of unwed pregnancies and other local scandals. And always the modern refugees are wondering whether there are other time-travelers like themselves --- whether, in fact, every invention is really a reinvention by people from the future.

The temporal ambiguity of the book also gives it emotional depth. All the characters, time-travelers or political exiles, have a feeling of displacement and a deep longing for the home they've parted from. Jamie, contemplating the "glorious, terrifying" emptiness of the land, becomes aware of a "more terrifying emptiness within": He "had said good-bye to Scotland at the rail of the Artemis, knowing full well it was likely his last sight of the place. And yet the notion that he would never set foot there again had never fully settled on him 'til this moment."' Our stories of pioneers and immigrants have passed into myth, so it is easy to forget how much courage it took to break with the old and familiar and sail off to a whole new continent.

A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES isn't great literature. It's way, way too long; full of breathless prose, cornball archaic language, and Gaelic phrases; easy to make fun of or relegate to the status of guilty pleasure. And yet, there is something so honest, rich and complete about the alternative worlds Gabaldon creates that I think she is a kind of genius. I can't wait to find out what happens next in the story of the Frasers and their kin (the end is quite a cliffhanger).

If you're already addicted to Claire and Jamie, this review probably isn't even necessary. But for Outlander "virgins," I have some advice: Pick up a copy of THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Gabaldon's handbook to the series, which includes not only synopses of the first few books but also family trees, character analyses, research minutiae, a Gaelic glossary and grammar, and more --- all the insider info a hardcore fan could want and a newcomer could need.

--- Reviewed by Kathy Weissman
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on February 17, 2006
So far, none of the last few books at least for me has even come close to matching the first two. This was more of the same - not a lot of tension, and pages and pages of just life at the Ridge. And how many pregnant out of wedlock girls, cheating husbands, and rapes can possibly happen to one group of people?!

I liked it and read it because I love the characters, but not even close to the fun of the first two books.
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on December 31, 2005
"Snow" is better than FC, but I still have some major complaints about the book:

1) The recycling of characters/plots from Gabaldon's previous books:

Claire ends up in the gaol after trying to save a baby's life; A man to whom she shows mercy returns not to thank her, but to threaten her life; Claire is betrayed by her only close female friend; Claire is kidnapped and Jamie must track her down; Claire is saved by an unlikely admirer...well, gosh, we've read all this before.

2) Too many tangents

Gabaldon's storytelling reminds me of the network coverage of the Olympics. You tune in to watch the men's gymnastic all-around competition and are quite absorbed and entertained for an hour. Then, suddenly, you're told to "stay tuned" and the next thing you know you're sidetracked watching women's tiddlywinks. You have zero interest in tiddlywinks. Yet you find yourself watching tiddlywinks anyway because it is what you must endure to find out how the men's all-around gymnastics competition ends.

That's how I feel about both FC and ABoSaA. I am reading these books because I was, and am, intrigued by Jamie and Claire's story. In all honesty, I have very little interest in Roger and Brianna except how they affect Jamie and Claire's story. I care even LESS about Lizzie's perverted relationship with the Beardsley twins, whether Manfred infects his prostitute lover with syphillis, whether her brother had incestuous feelings toward Malva, or whether Aunt Jocosta and Duncan are sleeping with their slaves. (By the way, what is it with Gabaldon's pre-occupation with sexual perversity? What's next? Ian's unnatural attraction towards Rollo?) The ONLY reason I continue to read all these distracting side-stories is because it is what I must endure to know how Jamie and Claire's story ends.


FYI, this is NOT the last book in the Outlander series. The author herself believes the series will end in 1800 and she simply refers to this book as the "sixth" in the series.: [...]
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on January 7, 2007
Diana Gabaldon is a very talented writer. When she's "on" her prose has a freshness and intensity that can take your breath away. Her plots can be fascinating and page-turning. At their best, her stories give the reader an exhilarating mix of historical fiction, fantasy and romance. Unfortunately, this sixth installment in her Outlander series, which began 15 years ago with the marvelous book of the same name, is a tedious and disjointed mishmash of a read.

Some reviewers here have bemoaned the lack of strong editing on this book and I wholeheartedly add my voice to theirs. Gabaldon writes like she's getting paid by the word. Descriptions go on forever, irrelevant tertiary characters receive way too much attention and time, and too many of the main story lines from the previous books are barely advanced. In addition, Gabaldon recycles plot elements, such as the violent rape of main characters, that are becoming close to preposterous.

The story of the saga's hero and heroine--the 18th century Scottish laird Jamie Fraser and his 20th century time-traveling wife Claire--which is the reason Gabaldon's fans buy these books, is told in only small snippets throughout this 900+ page whale. Pages and pages are spent describing, in minute detail, physician Claire's medical practices and her daughter Brianna's attempt to bring plumbing to the family's frontier home, yet way too little effort is put into showing the reader the emotional landscape and psychological progression of the characters, something Gabaldon excelled at in the earliest of the series' books.

The first two books in the Outlander saga, Outlander and Dragonfly In Amber were pure magic. The next two, Voyager and Drums of Autumn, were highly readable for fans of the first books. The Fiery Cross was, I thought at the time, a forgiveable misstep. With the publication of ABOSAA, however, I believe Ms. Gabaldon has seriously lost her way--and that's a sad development for her legacy as a writer of historical fiction and for her many fans.

I give this book two stars because there are oasis' in the book of Gabaldon's stellar prose. Those respites are few and far between, however. In short: ABOSAA is abysmal.
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on February 8, 2006
I have loved all of Diana Gabaldon's books (even Fiery Cross!) and even purchased several copies of A Breath of Snow and Ashes for Christmas gifts. If I had read the book first, I wouldn't have bothered. It left me feeling very disappointed. This is the first book in the series that I haven't wanted to reread. What made the difference? Claire's rape was just over the top. Now everyone in the family has been raped. Who is next, the grandchildren? The rape was bad enough, but the reactions by the major characters to the rape was shallow and glossed over. Lizzie's relationship with the Beardsley twins was unbelievable and totally out of character. It makes one wonder if Ms. Gabaldon is reacting to criticism of The Fiery Cross by trying to make A Breath of Snow and Ashes full of action (rapes, kidnapping, murders, etc.) even if the action is not believable and not necessary to moving the story along. The book seems to plod along for hundreds of pages and then is summed up hurriedly as if she had to hurry and wrap things up to get it published by the deadline. She says that she writes in chunks and then puts things together, and it really shows in this book. It seems disjointed. The whole issue with dates, ages, etc. is getting worse in each successive book. These books really cry out for a good editor, especially this last one. After having said all that, I am still a Gabaldon fan and will contiue to buy and read the next installments. I'm not as hooked as I was before, though.
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on September 3, 2009
I loved Outlander, though there were things I did not love, like the descriptions of sadism and rape, but fair enough, I thought. If people are going to be tortured, you might as well have to put up with reading about it. But each book was less good, more full of absurd action-for-the-sake-of-action, while the whiff of deus ex machina got stronger and stronger.

This book just plain made no sense--the whole thing with the stones was tedious, unbelieveable and incredibly boring! I can't stand Brianna, and Roger is a simp. I am so sick of peopel being kidnapped, raped and also of impossible coincidences. I was hoping and praying this would be the last book--but no such luck. I can't do it any more! I wish they would all get shot, stabbed and burned up in a big fire--just END it, please! At the least, I agree--EDIT! EDIT! EDIT!
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on January 7, 2009
I have been slogging through this tome for two months now (and I am a very fast reader) and feel like nothing has been accomplished.

It was less than 50 pages when Brianna had a temper tantrum--didn't take long. That put me off straight away, but for the sake of loyalty I stuck with it. I'm now wondering why.

Gabaldon's often praised for her use of historical detail, but in this book it seems she's gone in for more shock value instead with the rapes, the illnesses, the many, many birthing scenes and maladies...really, must one interject so much horror when one's plot gets a bit thin?

In this book it's easy to see where Brianna gets her aloofness and "better than" attitude...straight from her mother who seems to have lost all trace of the human touch and really becomes the ruthless surgeon that Jamie called her previously.

The scene that really galls me is when Brianna is held captive by Stephen Bonnet and actually holds and comforts him during his nightmares. I guess she's forgotten that this was the man who raped her and made her wonder for years who the real father was of her child. How convenient.

I gave this book two stars out of loyalty to Gabaldon and a hope that this sinker (and the previous wretchedness of "The Fiery Cross") mark the end of a slump for her, but somehow, I think she's lost the ability to engage her audience. The whole book feels like it's meant to be read at arm's length, and there's not a single character (aside maybe from Ian) who rings true and is approachable.

Sorry, Ms Gabaldon...more matter, less art next time.
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on April 7, 2006
Ever since a friend introduced me to the Outlander series 5 years ago, I have been hooked on Jamie & Claire's riveting story. I read the first four books within 2 months and The Fiery Cross as soon as it was published. After an agonizing wait I was very excited to finally read ABOS&A.

While I was glad to once again be amongst 'friends' and catch up with what has been going on in Jamie & Claire's life, I do believe there were quite a few bits that could have been done away with. First of all, how many members of this family must be raped before we can finally put this sub-plot to rest?!?! I also believe some of the wording and back-story was a bit superfluous and could have been eliminated.

On the other hand, I was very happy to ready more about Roger & Brianna (.. and the 'vrooms!) and loved that we got to see more of Young Ian, who has always been one of my favourite characters in the series. I was also pleased to see more of Fergus and Marsali.

All in all, I am glad I read this book - although it is not among my favourites in the series. Still, it has left me longing once again for the next installment. Let's just hope we don't have to wait so long for this one!!
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