A Breath of Snow and Ashes Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 91-page guide for “A Breath of Snow and Ashes” by Diana Gabaldon includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 124 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Time and Memory and Human Rights in Colonial America.
Published in 2007 by Delacorte Press, A Breath of Snow and Ashes is the sixth book in Diana Gabaldon’s successful Outlander series. Its story encompasses elements of historical fiction, romance, adventure, science fiction, and fantasy. It debuted at #1 on The New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list of 2005 and won the Quill Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror.
The novel begins in March 1773 in North Carolina, on Fraser’s Ridge, the colony led by the Catholic Scottish Highlander, Jamie Fraser. Claire Fraser, or Sassenach, is a time-traveling English doctor from 1968 who has married Jamie and chosen to live in the past with him, their daughter Brianna, their son-in-law Roger, their grandson, Jem, and their nephew, Ian. All of these characters can travel through time using precious gemstones. A newspaper article from the future states that the Big House on Fraser’s Ridge, Jamie’s and Claire’s home, will burn down in January 1776, killing all who live there. Following a series of burnings and murders by marauders in the colonies, Jamie becomes an Indian agent assigned to communicate with the local Cherokee and other tribes. He is tasked with accumulating muskets to arm the native people. No one but his own time-traveling family knows he will eventually betray the Crown and fight for the American Revolution.
Claire is kidnapped and brutalized by the group of bandits that has been terrorizing the colonies. When Jamie and his crew find her, they slaughter the bandits. Both Claire and Jamie have flashbacks of their tormentors, including Jamie’s great nemesis, Jack Randall. Their visions reflect deep expressions of their past, as well as the traumatic effect that violence against them has had on their psyches. Roger seeks to become a Protestant minister but abandons his vocation at the last minute to save Brianna, who has been again captured by Stephen Bonnet, the pirate who raped her years ago (and who she fears sired her son until Claire finds evidence that Roger is Jem’s biological father). Roger, Jamie, Ian, and Claire rescue Brianna from Bonnet’s island hideaway along with Phaedre, who is a slave of Jocasta, Jamie’s aunt.
When Claire’s medical assistant, Malva, becomes pregnant, she claims that Jamie is the father. Claire later finds Malva with her throat slit in the garden; Claire tries to save the baby, but it dies. A mob comes to take Claire and Jamie on the charges of murder, and Claire ends up in a jail awaiting trial in New Bern until she is summoned to the governor’s palace to assist both the governor and his pregnant wife. Jamie escapes his captors and brings Tom Christie, Malva’s father, to the governor. Christie claims that he murdered Malva because he thought she was a witch. Malva is the daughter of Christie’s brother, and Christie’s son Allan has been raping Malva for years, which resulted in her pregnancy. Although Allan is Malva’s true murderer, Claire is released and Jamie is exonerated, thanks to Christie’s sacrifice.
All the while, tensions arise on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Jamie eventually openly supports the rebellion, leading many of his fellow Scots into battle and defeating the Loyalists easily. Brianna’s and Roger’s baby, Mandy, is born with a heart defect that Claire can’t fix, so Brianna and Roger obtain more gemstones and travel back to modern times with Jem. Jamie and Claire consider going with them but decide to stay at the last minute. When January 1776 arrives, a small phosphorus fire in the Big House kitchen seems to fulfill the prophecy of the newspaper article. In December, however, the house is burned in an accidental ether fire, which is started by a group of ruffians led by another time traveler desperate to return to his time. The newspaper got both the date and the death details wrong, and despite Big House’s complete destruction, no one but the bandits are harmed. Alone and without community support, Claire and Jamie return to Scotland for Jamie’s printing press. They then come back to America to keep fighting the good fight.