Anyone who has read even selections from the vast body of Diana Gabaldon’s work will know and understand the magic of her characters and the events that sweep them into action. A Breath of Snow and Ashes is the fifth book in her series begun by Outlander. Every one of the five draws the reader into a historical world, seemingly without effort on the part of the author. Snow and Ashes boasts this same magic, but only in pockets here and there.
Ever eventful, this portion of the saga boasts dramatic births and equally dramatic deaths, emotionally wrenching departures, skirmishes and battles and mighty fine fistfights. And what story would be complete without mobs hellbent on tar and feathering, setting fires, and unexpected confessions? This is perhaps the first of these books to feel a bit slow here and there, even with all the intense moments and fierce events. It feels as though there is a lot of setup for the next book - important, mind you, but it can make the story drag a wee bit.
The cast of characters is large and very diverse. Claire is the modern-ish English woman gone back in time inadvertently to be caught up in the events of history from the 1700s in Scotland, France, and finally in this book, America. Claire is feisty, emotional and intelligent. In that time, she marries Jamie, a stubborn but honorable Scotsman. Family, from daughter to nephew to aunt, are all seen to play important roles. They tiptoe - and sometimes stomp - through the often deadly world of the young, dangerous colonies. Slaves, government officials, and pirates round out the colorful cast. Old favorites like Roger Mac, Lord John and Stephen Bonnett put in colorful appearances. Regardless of which character takes center stage, the believable faux reality of any given situation is astounding when written by this author. That they continue to grow and adapt is perhaps the greatest asset in these books.
There are amazingly annoying twists and turns and secrets, but one has to love that Diana Gabaldon leaves her readers with more answers than questions in the end, answers that may or may not be figured out before the end. What is perhaps most comfortable and fascinating is her ability to write with flair about the mundane, domestic activities of life in a remote setting. In any other book, reading about hauling hay or making blood sausage might be painfully dull. In this book? Not a bit. Even those moments draw the reader in, to forget there is a world outside the one that Clair and Jamie inhabit.
While it can easily be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, this fat volume is best devoured in line after the first four books. The most obnoxious, devilish detail ends the book with a wry smile. She has, indeed, done it again with A Breath of Snow and Ashes.
So, remind me again please, when is the next dose of Gabaldon magic due out? Oh yes. Thank you. Not nearly soon enough…