The Blurb (from Goodreads):
Set again in the Alaskan landscape that she brought to stunningly vivid life in The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey’s second novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret.
Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska’s hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its huge reserves of gold to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.
For Forrester, the decision to accept this mission is even more difficult, as he is only recently married to Sophie, the wife he had perhaps never expected to find. Sophie is pregnant with their first child, and does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband embarks upon the journey of a lifetime. She has genuine cause to worry about her pregnancy, and it is with deep uncertainty about what their future holds that she and her husband part.
A story shot through with a darker but potent strand of the magic that illuminated The Snow Child, and with the sweep and insight that characterizes Rose Tremain’s The Colour, this novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Eowyn Ivey singles her out as a major literary talent.
I absolutely loved Eowyn Ivey’s first book The Snow Child and so I was very eager to see what she came up with next.
The Bright Edge of the World is set in Alaska, Eowyn Ivey’s homeland. It was inspired by the true story of Lieutenant Henry T. Allen who, in 1885, set out with a small group of fellow explorers to follow the Copper River deep into the Alaskan hinterland. Such expeditions had been tried before, but all had failed, thanks to the cold, the snow and ice, the wolves, and the hostile natives. Allen succeeded where everyone else had failed.
Eowyn Ivey takes this story of an intrepid explorer and spins out of it an enthralling tale of love, grief, adventure and magic. The story is told in letters and diary entries from multiple different points-of-view, a risky creative choice that she pulls off adroitly. The primary narrators are Colonel Allen Forrester, who accepts a commission to explore the Wolverine River into the Alaskan wilderness, and his pregnant wife, Sophie, who is reluctantly left behind. But other voices include a soldier broken by war, a modern-day descendant of the Forresters who has inherited the cache of letters, diaries, postcards and photographs, and a museum curator interested in putting on an exhibition. The voices of each of the many different characters each ring true, an astounding feat of ventriloquism.
The Alaska of this novel is a vast place of cold, implacable beauty, mystery and strangeness. Only ‘a thin line separates animal and man,’ and ghosts and shapeshifters move amongst humankind. There is an old crippled Indian man who may also be a raven, and a child that died only to be impossibly reborn elsewhere.
Once again, Eowyn Ivey’s language is just exquisite. I cannot wait to see what she writes next.
You might also like to read my review of Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge: