I sit down to read A Breath of Snow and Ashes over a year after finishing the last Outlander book, A Fiery Cross, which for the uninitiated is literally just a tolerance test for how long a reader can stand the unabridged minutiae of unremarkable 18th century backwoods living, plus a sprinkling of UTTERLY BONKERS NONSENSE to trick them into believing much more is happening than is actually happening. That last sentence should hopefully provide some understanding as to why it took me so long to pick up this one. So I finally do and I’m all like,
In short, I liked this one better than the last one by no small measure, but I still can’t reward it with a higher “score” in a practical sense because it still has all the same problems as its predecessor, but Gabaldon just happened upon more interesting (to me) tangents in this one. More specifically, this book actually inspired emotional responses from me (even when they were negative, like anger) and The Fiery Cross just bored me. The only reason I finished it was because I had to return it to the library, and this one I actually sped through fairly respectably and actually had spare time in my borrow period.
SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH
All that said, Diana. Ms. Gabaldon. Herself. Must every book contain rape and/or sexual assault? I know this complaint is a permanent resident in broken record territory. I know you don’t care. (I know this because you’d have ample time in between publishing these behemoths to consider criticism on this matter.) But you now have, in one immediate family unit, a daughter, her father, and now, her mother, all violently raped. Apologia can persist all it likes with the claim that these storylines are valid and accurate because sexual violence was so much more common back then, but to have it happen on that level to this many primary protagonists, all in the same family, is much less a reflection of historical accuracy than it is an author looking for something dramatic to happen to her characters. I’ve probably already said this myself the last time it came up, but it’s just fucking lazy. It’s offensively lazy, because in addition to being a storytelling cliche, it’s intentionally disturbing. Readers are resilient and can handle a lot of grotesque imagery, but I tire of reading scenes that are upsetting simply because it felt like a good time to throw in a gut punch of a moment, and not because it is going to meaningfully affect the story and that character’s ACTIVE role in it (this is important, because something like that CAN be used to advance the plot but that character can’t simply be collateral for another character’s arc; s/he needs to be a driver of what comes next.) Yes — the trauma of Claire’s rape is revisited later in acute PTSD episodes, and while these are sympathetic moments, they’re arguably unnecessary in the scope of both the story and as a part of Claire’s character, who (thanks to the length of this series and the books in it) is as well-defined and fleshed out of a character as one is likely to get, without tacking on “rape survivor” to her list of traits. But I’ve said all this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it all again.
Both Brianna and Rodger improved for me in this book; I was disinterested at best and actively annoyed at worst by their storylines previously. Brianna’s story had consisted mostly of dream journal nonsense and the kind of TMI descriptions of early parenting that causes me to block casual acquaintances on Facebook. Rodger had irritated me with, to my view, rather tiresome and regressive meditations on masculinity. There are moments of that here, with Bree cleverly initiating a lot of modern convenience projects (creating matches and a functioning water delivery system) and Rodger feeling adrift on how to provide for her when she seems so capable herself. But here he actually finds himself some direction, so there’s less whining and more taking charge of his own life. Shockingly, that’s much more attractive!
Claire and Jamie are, as always, #OTPgoals. There isn’t much more for me to say about them that I haven’t said in previous reviews. They work so well as a team and clearly are so in love with each other; it’s really quite a nice thing to read a romance that captures the enduring love of a happy marriage beyond the initial honeymoon phase. That is where these books remain so strong and compelling for me. All complaints aside, I love reading about these two tackling all that they do, and that’s why I keep coming back to the series.