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A Breath of Snow and Ashes    by Diana Gabaldon order for
Breath of Snow and Ashes
by Diana Gabaldon
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A Breath of Snow and Ashes follows The Fiery Cross as the sixth in the wildly popular Outlander series. It's quite a tome, and though there's a great deal of focus on details of daily life, this book is not as mired down in them as previous episodes, interleaving plenty of action. Overall, I'm finding the last couple of Outlander volumes surprisingly reminiscent of Sergeanne Golon's Angélique series. They both present a great romance (subject to many separations) between passionate (actually, perpetually aroused) leads. Both cross the ocean from Europe to the Americas, and give credible details of daily life based on thorough historical research. Of course, Angélique skipped the time travel element.

This part of the epic story opens in 1772, in North Carolina just before the Revolutionary War. Claire, Brianna and Roger have all warned Jamie of the coming Revolution, and he knows this is 'a time when I must tread wi' some care, if I'm to walk betwixt the fires.' Jamie's nephew Ian is injured by raiders, and makes his way back to their settlement around Fraser's Ridge. These same raiders are burning homesteads, killing some occupants and selling others into slavery. At one point they kidnap Claire, who discovers that one of them has also traveled back in time - and was part of a larger group. Jamie is coerced into becoming an Indian agent, which takes him away from home more than Claire likes. She practices medicine and works out how to produce ether for her surgery. Brianna keeps busy inventing things like matches. And Roger goes back to his religious roots after an influx of wary Highland Protestants adds to their growing set of tenants.

Diana Gabaldon has a way with words, whether in the engaging sparring between her leads or descriptions like this one of All Hallows' Eve: 'Now is the time when we reenter the womb of the world, dreaming the dreams of snow and silence ... returning from our brief and necessary labors to food and story, to the warmth of firelight in the dark.' This calm doesn't last, as the author puts her hero and heroine through the usual wringer. The winds of war begin to gust and Jamie's son William will be on the other side. The Frasers' nemesis Stephen Bonnet re-enters their lives. Jamie and Claire are both accused of dire crimes. And family members go through the stones again. Much that was left hanging is resolved by the end of A Breath of Snow and Ashes, but there will be many more opportunities for adventure when the war rages, presumably in the next in this thrilling series.

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