Diana Gabaldon: A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Bantam, 2005)

A Breath of Snow and Ashes

I read Drums of Autumn and The Fiery Cross too quickly to actually have anything useful to say about them, other than that they were too long and rather meandering in places. I have a list of random bullet points sitting in a post draft that I’m never going to finish, so I guess I’ll throw it here so I have some context for this discussion:

  • I wasn’t 100% down with DG’s treatment of the Native Americans, but I’m not Native so I have no idea what is okay and what isn’t. Particularly in Drums of Autumn, if I recall correctly, there were just things that rubbed me the wrong way.
  • Treatment of slaves—I don’t remember all that well, but apparently the language used to describe Ulysses upset me at some point.
  • Wow, more rape. 😐 More about that later.
  • Brianna and Jamie butting heads even more than Claire did when they first met, bless
  • Ian going to live with the Indians and how I bawled. I love Ian Murray (junior AND senior)!!!
  • Jamie and Roger’s relationship. Just. God, Jamie, stop being such a dad.
  • The “WHY CAN’T Y’ALL JUST COMMUNICATE” plot device; thanks a lot Lizzie!!
  • “What is the actual point of this book, like… there isn’t much in the way of plot.” Things I have thought many times while reading these three volumes.
  • Drums of AutumnI live in Boston now, and I used to live in Wilmington! This series is my life, god. I was trying to figure out where the hell they lived after they left Wilmington, and it turns out Cross Creek is part of modern day Fayetteville! It takes about an hour and a half to drive there from Wilmington; I can’t imagine having to take a wagon or sail up the river like that. I mean, the drive on I-40 is boring enough; it must have been mind-numbing without the expedience of modern travel!
  • Brianna goes to MIT, and I work at MIT!! She would have started there right after the MIT Press opened, actually! It began in 1965, and she matriculated in 1966. 😀
  • Kind of a bummer that she showed up in the past and basically was immediately raped and became pregnant. I’m so glad it ended up being Roger’s (which we find out in book 6), because Stephen Bonnet is a rat bastard and I was glad she went to tell him he was a meaningless piece of garbage to her before he died. AND THEN HE DIDN’T DIE. UGH.
  • How awkward to have your mom there with the metaphorical catcher’s mitt while you’re pushing out a baby…
  • When Brianna met the Fraser-Murrays!!! I CRIED THOUGH.
  • This book reminded me of the Little House books what with their cute homesteading and hunting and planting and stuff. I think that’s why I wasn’t totally bored while reading it.
  • Thank goodness they got the jewels back—maybe they will all be able to go back to the future?
  • The Fiery CrossI could sort of see a connection between the Natives and the Scots — to have inhabited a place for so long, and then be either thrust out or colonized and have your entire culture destroyed… I wonder if that’s part of the reason they generally stayed on good terms with the Tuscarora? I really wish Jamie hadn’t sold them the whisky, though.
  • I think I wept a little when Jamie wore his kilt again because he was safe in America
  • Brianna/John Grey is my platonic OTP forever and ever, amen. Especially at the end of A Breath of Snow and Ashes.
  • So Roger basically saved his own bloodline by keeping Bonnet from tossing Morag’s baby overboard, right? Because her husband was Geillis Duncan’s son, and thus Roger’s direct ancestor.

Okay. With that out of the way… let me rant about something real quick.

I’m getting real tired of rape as a plot device in this series. By the time we’re about a third of the way into ABoSaA, we’ve seen five major characters raped over the duration of the series (one of them more than once, now that I think of it). Jamie’s was horrible, but it felt like that served some kind of narrative purpose—establishing the depths of Randall’s depravity, setting up Jamie’s relationship with Lord John, etc. But then there was Mary Hawkins and Fergus (both children!) in Dragonfly in Amber, Ian (another child!) being assaulted by Geillis in Voyager, Brianna and Stephen Bonnet1 in Drums in Autumn, and then Claire in A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I guess I should be surprised that she made it six books2 without experiencing such a brutal sexual assault. I was reading that scene on the bus and I almost quit reading right there because honestly, it’s just getting ridiculous at this point. Like, we know that the threat of rape was very real in those times, and that it still is to a large degree. You only have to read the Stanford survivor’s letter to understand that. But it is just psychically exhausting to read about this kind of violence in nearly every single book in the series. I just started An Echo in the Bone and I’m hoping this crap is coming to an end, because it really ruins the experience of reading about these characters that I love.

Anyway.

I have been trying to think about what the overarching plot of the last few books has been, and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been reading them too fast, but I find it difficult to pin down what the key events are. I think the major point of this one was that Jamie and Claire were basically waiting to die in a fire for 900 pages, and things happened in the meantime.3 This, I feel, is not the best way to structure a book. It’s kind of why I’m digging the Outlander TV series so much, because it distills these books into more easily digestible chunks. It’s not that I can’t understand nuance or follow multiple plotlines, but damn, sometimes I think there must be fewer narrative threads in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books! I think it’s been getting more difficult now that there are more POV characters, and these characters all interact with different non-POV characters. I think that’s why the first two books in the series are the strongest—Claire was the primary POV character, and she has the clearest voice in the series, probably because she’s the only first-person POV character. I really enjoy reading the other characters’ points of view, but to some degree I feel like you have to pick a storyline and stick with it, or have a third-person omniscient narrator. Having one first person and three to five third-person limited narratives feels really cluttered to me. It’s why I feel like this series was meant to be a TV show, because with TV you can go away from the main character for a bit to fill in some gaps and develop other characters, whereas in the book I always feel a bit thrown off when the narrative switches from Claire’s first-person to Brianna or Jamie or Roger, even though I find their inner monologues interesting. I don’t know. I have conflicting feelings and am having a hard time trying to articulate them.

At any rate, I’m still curious to see the new split plotline between the past and present in An Echo in the Bone, since I enjoyed that in Voyager and Drums in Autumn, and I’m even more jazzed that Lord John and William are going to be POV characters (even though that directly conflicts with what I said above about there being too many POV characters. I JUST REALLY, REALLY LOVE LORD JOHN, OKAY????).

  1. God damn it, Jamie, you should have killed him just like you should have killed Randall—in some ways these books are very formulaic; Bonnet is the Randall of the New World, although just more of a run-of-the-mill criminal rather than a sadist.
  2. Well, not quite, if we’re counting the transactional rape she experienced at the hands of Louis XV in Dragonfly in Amber in order to get Jamie freed from the Bastille after his duel with Randall. She references it in this book for the first time since it happened after she is raped by a gang (like, really?! REALLY??) of outlaws, trying to rationalize to herself how that wasn’t nearly as bad as the abuse she suffered at the hands of these brigands. UGH.
  3. Three kidnappings, one rape, some incest, two births, a handful of murders but a really bad one in particular, religious discord, political disagreements, a polygamist shotgun wedding… just to name a few.

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