Diana Gabaldon

A Breath of Snow and Ashes

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A Breath of Snow and Ashes Summary

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A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005) is the sixth novel in author Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The meticulously researched series is part mystery, part science fiction, and part historical romance. In this installment of the Outlander saga, time traveler and doctor from the twentieth century Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser and her husband, eighteenth-century Scottish Highlander Jamie MacKenzie Fraser have settled in the foothills of North Carolina in March of 1773 while the colonies are on the precipice of revolution. In this episode of their adventures, Claire, Jamie, and their family must once again rescue one another after a series of kidnappings, solve the mystery of a murdered pregnant woman, and decide whether or not to honor their pledge of loyalty to the British crown or join the rebels in their fight for independence.

The story takes place over the course of several years from 1773 to 1776. In March of 1773, at the beginning of the novel, Jamie and Claire, along with their daughter Brianna, her husband, Roger, and several of their men from Fraser’s Ridge examine the remains of a family that was killed. After the family’s death, its cabin was set on fire. When Jamie and Claire return home, they are met by cavalry officer Major MacDonald. Macdonald informs them that there have been several other murders similar to the one they just encountered. He suggests that Jamie become an Indian Agent to the British Crown, which he decides to do, beginning by parlaying with the People of the Snowbird. While Jamie is away, and throughout the entire novel, Claire uses her skills as a healer and her twentieth-century scientific knowledge to treat the settlers at Fraser’s Ridge.

As Jamie travels back and forth to meet with the Cherokee, they witness and hear tell of more arson and murder in the area. At home, Claire is attacked and kidnapped by a group of men, including Donner, who tells her he is from the year 1968 and questions her about her own experiences with time travel. The men brutalize and sexually assault Claire for three days before Jamie and a group of other men come to her rescue. They kill all of the kidnappers except Lionel Brown whom they keep alive for questioning. Brown is smothered to death following the interrogation. Marsali Fraser—Claire and Jamie’s stepdaughter—gives birth to a baby with dwarfism, named Henri-Christian. Her husband, Jamie’s adopted son Fergus, has concerns about his child’s future given that the villagers are suspicious that Henri might be the “devil’s spawn.”

In 1774, Claire witness settler Tom Christie beating his daughter Malva and asks Jamie to look into it in his capacity as the landowner. Jamie speaks with Malva in addition to dealing with a number of local disputes. Meanwhile, Roger attends the Presbyterian Academy in Charlotte and becomes a minister, returning afterward to Fraser’s Ridge. Jemmy, Brianna’s son, gets lice and so Jamie shaves the child’s head. This reveals a birthmark identical to Roger’s, which, according to Claire, confirms that Roger is Jem’s biological father.

In 1775, Malva Christie reveals that she has become pregnant; when the paternity of her baby is questioned, she names Jamie as the father, a rumor that takes hold amongst the room’s residents. Ultimately, Malva is found murdered, and Claire is unable to save the life of the unborn child. The local Safety Commission accuses Claire of the murder and Malva’s father volunteers to escort Jamie and Claire to the trial. Restraining Jamie in Brunswick, the commission takes Claire to New Bern where she is put in jail. Claire does not remain there long, as her skills as a midwife are needed to assist the governor’s heavily pregnant wife who has fallen ill. When the governor and his family disguise themselves to escape rising political tensions in New Bern, they take Claire with them as the governor’s secretary aboard a ship called the Cruzier, which is docked in Brunswick.

Before the ship departs, Claire encounter’s Major MacDonald and asks him to get word to Jamie about her location. Jamie fails to secure Claire’s release, but she is saved when Tom Christie comes aboard the ship and confesses to his daughter’s murder[TT1]. Claire is left waiting for Jamie to fetch her. Meanwhile, Brianna is kidnapped and taken aboard the Anemone by pirate Stephen Bonnet, whom she convinces not to rape her by revealing that she is pregnant. Bonnet takes Brianna to his hideout, intending to sell her into slavery, but she is rescued by Roger, Ian, and Jamie during her attempt to escape. L’Oignon-Intelligencer publishes a notice that Bonnet is sentenced to drowning; in actuality, Jamie allows Brianna to decide what should be done with the captured Bonnet.

In 1776, after the family returns to Fraser Ridge, Jamie summons his militia, announcing that he will join the American rebels in Wilmington, along with whoever amongst his men are willing to join him. At Wilmington, the rebels defeat the British army in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. Brianna gives birth to a daughter, Amanda Claire Hope MacKenzie, or Mandy for short. Claire diagnoses Mandy with a heart condition she is unable to fix with eighteenth-century technology. The family begins searching for sufficient gemstones to time travel through the stones so Mandy can get treatment.

Sometime during their search, Brianna shoots Stephen Bonnet. With the donation of a stone by Lord John, Brianna, Roger, and Mandy travel to the future. Jamie offers Claire a gemstone, which she rejects, insisting that she will never leave Jamie. Claire speaks with Allan Christie at Malva’s grave; he admits to raping Malva and then murdering her when she threatened to reveal that he was the father of her child. Jaime’s nephew Ian responds by killing Allan[TT2]. When Claire returns home, she finds Donner has ransacked her home looking for gemstones. In the course of this encounter, Arch Bug reveals that he was the masked man who received some of the French gold intended for Charles Stuart’s rebellion and stole from former Ridge resident, Jocasta. Sometime during the struggle with the looters, the house is set on fire. Jamie and Claire resolve to return to Scotland to get Jamie’ printing press.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes debuted at number one on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Best-Seller List. The novel also won the Quill Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror. Before becoming an author, Diana Gabaldon was a Research Professor of Ecology at Arizona State University.


 [TT1]I’m confused—see note below
 [TT2]I’m confused. It says above that he confessed to her on the ship