It's been almost four years since the last volume of Diana Gabaldon's genre-bending Outlander saga was published. With the appearance of A Breath of Snow and Ashes, fans will slip back into the story with ease.
As we rejoin time-traveling surgeon Claire Fraser and her hunky red-haired husband Jamie, it is 1773 in remote western North Carolina. They are living on the edge of civilization, on the edge of war and on the edge of a political predicament. Claire, her daughter Brianna and son-in-law Roger MacKenzie are all time-travelers from the 20th century. They know how the American Revolution will turn out, but to declare themselves on the winning side too soon could provoke a brutal response. As if that weren't enough, the Frasers and MacKenzies must also cope with armed Cherokee Indians, renegade militias, the King's soldiers, suspicious Presbyterians, mysterious pregnancies, not-quite-trustworthy relations and a homicidal pig.
This installment in the series is not about witches, pirates, magic or deadly battles. Larger-than-life elements are all here, but these are homier tales, full of Gabaldon's distinctive humor, astounding historical detail, and of course just a little bit of deviant sexuality. The most fulfilling development may be the demise of the Wuthering Heights problem, where you never care quite as much about the second generation as you did about the first. Brianna and Roger's marriage, while never as breathtakingly passionate as Claire and Jamie's, achieves a solidity that will allow them to make several crucial decisions. No spoilers, but a new calling, a shocking turn during an execution and a terrible choice are all in store.
I, for one, will be holding my breath for the next book. I hope that Lord John and his mysteries can wait for the answer to the ultimate question: what about that ghost outside Claire and Frank's guest house in Inverness in 1945?
Mary Neal Meador is an editorial designer who lives in Chicago.
Interview with Gabaldon for An Echo in the Bone