Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diane GabaldonTitle: A Breath of Snow and Ashes
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Narrator: Davina Porter
Audiobook Length: 57 hours, 46 minutes
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Fantasy
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 29 April 2008
Bottom Line: Please end the pain!

“The year is 1772, and on the eve of the American Revolution, the long fuse of rebellion has already been lit. Men lie dead in the streets of Boston, and in the backwoods of North Carolina, isolated cabins burn in the forest.

With chaos brewing, the governor calls upon Jamie Fraser to unite the back-country and safeguard the colony for King and Crown. But from his wife Jamie knows that three years hence the shot heard round the world will be fired, and the result will be independence with those loyal to the King either dead or in exile. And there is also the matter of a tiny clipping from The Wilmington Gazette, dated 1776, which reports Jamie’s death, along with his kin. For once, he hopes, his time-traveling family may be wrong about the future.”

Thoughts: The first book had me completely absorbed in the little details and fascinating plot, the second book made me angry by the huge jump in time and then made me happy, while the third book continued to hold my interest. The fourth book was a little slow. The fifth book made me wish for all that time spent listening back again because really, however many pages an author should devote to homesteading, Ms. Gabaldon surpassed it at least ten-fold. The sixth book frustrated me with its plodding story, with its hyper-attention to detail, and with the continued and inexplicable use of multiple narrators. This does nothing but prolong the agony. If the last two books have been less-than-ideal and even somewhat of a waste of time, why did I continue the series and move on to A Breath of Snow and Ashes? I wish I knew.

The writing sucks. It is not a well-written series at all, repetitive and worthy of many an eye roll or snort of disbelief. Ms. Gabaldon uses the same phrases, descriptions, and dialogue all the time. While continuity is important, the repetition becomes old very quickly. This is on top of the fact that the entire series is just one big, very bad soap opera – the kind where the villain suffers forty different ways to die but always survives to torment his victims. Stephen Bonnet is the eighteenth-century Stefano. One can practically predict which major character is slated for his or her turn at mortal peril because it happens to them all with such frequency. Yet, I keep listening, yelling at the characters for their stupidity and getting anxious on their behalf even though I know they all survive for at least two more books. I was sucked into the Outlander world, and I can’t seem to get out.

In the beginning of the series, the sex scenes were so unusual in a romance novel because they were actually vital to the story. Through their most intimate moments, readers learned more about Clare and Jamie, their vulnerabilities and their sensitivities. It was never a sex scene purely for titillation but a method by which the characters developed and grew. The same can no longer be said about any of the sex scenes within these later novels. First of all, there is nothing more to learn about Jamie or Clare. Readers have been with them for years now, and their characters are fairly set in their development. Then, there is the ick factor. Both are approaching 60 years of age, and while I appreciate that their love life is healthy and frequent, it is not necessarily something about which I want to read. Jamie’s comments about Clare’s body have him turning into a lecherous old man, and that is just wrong. Then there is the physical descriptions themselves. While Jamie is clearly an ass man given his many lascivious (and slightly disturbing) comments about the state of Clare’s derrière, I’m beginning to think Ms. Gabaldon is a breast woman herself. There is way too much attention and description devoted to all females’ breasts. Dresses cling to them, sweat trickles between them, they are fondled, kissed, and cupped, they leak milk, and babies release them with audible noises. If there is a woman in any given scene, Ms. Gabaldon will inevitably mention something about that woman’s breasts. Frankly, it’s annoying and disappointing.

Then there is the issue with Jamie and Clare’s daughter and son-in-law. I hate Bree and Roger. There. I said it. Bree is one of the most spoiled, stupid girls in print. Roger was great, if a bit weak and unmanly in comparison to Jamie, until he married Bree. With that one act, he became thoroughly uninteresting and superlative. As for Bree, she is just now thinking of the dangers of going back in time 200 years to the Revolutionary War – after the war has started. For someone who is supposed to have such a brilliant mind, she completely lacks in common sense as well as empathy. The scenes told from either of their points of view are just agonizing, as Roger spends most of his time thinking about Bree and Bree spends most of her time worrying about how certain events are going to affect her. Their sex scenes are not in the least bit erotic or even very romantic. Very rarely do they contribute something to the overarching plot, and most of the time, their presence causes more complications than solutions. It goes without saying that their removal from the story would also eliminate a good number of pages in this very bloated series.

The problem is that at an average audiobook length of 50+ hours, I have spent way too much time devoted to Jamie and Clare to quit the series now. I may not be quite as vested in their survival as I once was, but I would like to solve the mystery of how they die. I would like closure. Ms. Gabaldon has not yet written her stories to provide closure, and so I am stuck in this world of time travelers. I will continue with the series onto book 7 and eventually book 8 when it is released next year. Perhaps by then, Ms. Gabaldon will have made it possible for me to say good-bye. Until then, there will be more yelling and eye-rolling and general frustration at the slow pacing, repetitive syntax, unnecessary narrative shifts, and completely unnecessary sex scenes. It is most definitely the book world’s version of a daytime soap opera.

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