Six down, however many to go. If you find the tone of this review sardonic, more appropriate for panning the book, please believe me that I enjoyed this, even when there were lulls in the plot and emotionally difficult passages. Do not read this title without reading its five predecessors.
Snow and Ashes is, IMHO FWIW, the best-written of the series that I have read thus far. Dr. Gabaldon, fondly known as "Herself," truly solidified her writing style and her sense of narrative space by Book 6 of the Outlander saga. She also ratcheted up the sex and the violence for this one, as well as the sexual violence. The extended Fraser family's kill count increases dramatically—we Ian Murray, for example, has absorbed a shall-we-say very different view of life and death from his brief time as a Mohawk—and there's some wrenching rape and post-rape recovery narrative.
The paperback copy that I read came with a most ironic flaw: In addition to its 1400+ pages, in its middle third it has two clumps of 32 pages each that are repeats of pages already read. It's almost as if someone in the print room said, "Damn, this book just isn't thick enough. I know a way to fix that."
In my mind as I read, the soundtrack to this book consisted entirely of 10cc's "Things We Do for Love" on endless loop. Why did 20th century surgeon Dr. Claire Beauchamp Randall want so badly to return to the 18th century back in Voyager, gambling that she might not become Claire Fraser again, knowing the perils of the times? Oh yeah, that love thing. If it can make people kill, torture, steal, build elaborate webs of lies, and sacrifice themselves the way Gabaldon's characters do, love must indeed be the most powerful force in the universe. If that isn't Gabaldon's intended message, indeed of the entire series, I reckon it should be.
After 7,000 pages of the Outlander saga, I can usually tell shortly after a character's introduction whether that character will survive into the next installment or die in some grisly way. I will not tell you which of these types my two favorite minor characters are:
- young Malva Christie, the teenage daughter of an ex-Jacobite Jamie Fraser knew from his stay at Ardsmuir Prison, who settles on the Ridge with her father and brother; and
- Wendigo Donner, one of a troop of 20th century Native Americans who have failed catastrophically in their mission to change history by warning 18th century Indigenous folk of Whitey's boundless treachery.
Easy to overlook, amid all the chaos in the run-up to the American Revolution, is the wickedly Faulknerian subplot involving Jaime's relatives at River Run and their 150-odd slaves who almost never run away. I really didn't want to mention the Starz TV adaptation in this review, but...here goes. If you're watching Seasons 4 and 5 of the miniseries, and you have grown to despise the ever-genteel Aunt Jocasta MacKenzie Cameron Cameron Cameron Innes, prepare to get your hate on even more. Jocasta isn't willfully evil, but she is a most unfortunate product of her times and her family tree.
And then there's the whole Stephen Bonnet mess, about which I'll say only this: The psychopaths and narcissists in this saga always show their human side and gain a smidgeon of sympathy from the reader; nonetheless, the reader still wants them dead.
Gabaldon's real strength is weaving history into the tapestry of bodice-ripper romance and sci-fi trappings. Unless you grow up in the Carolinas, you probably don't get much information in your history classes about how the Revolution went down in the southern colonies. We mostly learn of Boston and Philadelphia, not much else. Just as in the other twelve, North Carolina had its share of nasty colonist-on-colonist violence between the War of Regulation and the siege of Boston. Declaring yourself for one side or the other could be not just a death sentence but a "whole family tortured and killed plus your servants and your livestock stolen" sentence. But staying neutral didn't improve the situation. A group of settlers on a 10,000-acre plot in the Carolina Piedmont in the 1770s could take nothing for granted and had to remain on armed alert. Herself doesn't hit us over the head with a history lesson, but lets the characters interact with the history in intensely believable ways.
I am glad that my wife encouraged me to read this volume while we've been taking in Season 5 of the TV version, mostly because Season 5 borrows rather heavily from Book 6. What it borrows, I'd rather not spoil for you.