I adore Alaskan and Arctic settings for books, perhaps it's because its such a scary and alien environment for me, one I'd never really feel at home in - I'm a sun worshipper from the top of my sun scorched head to the tips of my sandal clad toes.
The late 19th century Alaska of Eowyn Ivey's new novel is mystical and haunting and set in an era when few white men has set food beyond the snow line.
Newly wed couple, army colonel Allen Forrester and his recent bride Sophie are just beginning to emerge from their loved up honeymoon stage when he receives an exciting commission he just can't refuse, to head an expedition along the remote and myterious Wolverine River in Alaska to explore and discover a route that can be used to gain access to this remote and hostile land where previous attempts to communicate with the natives have met with disaster.
Reluctant to be parted, the couple plan for Sophie to accompany her husband at least for part of the journey, this excites her and appeals to her sense of adventure which is unusual for a woman in this time and sets her apart from her peers, she is lucky that she's wedded a man, who despite being older than her has enough foresight to support her in her love of nature and wildlife and desire to go places and see things.
The sudden discovery which is to prevent Sophie embarking on the biggest adventure of her life is not without its compensations - she is pregnant and must wait patiently in their home in army barracks whiling away the days waiting for news of her beloved Allen whilst suffering the bewilderment of being swept up into a bitchy little clique of army wives she has little in common with and no desire to emulate.
The narrative alternates between Sophie's life of enforced waiting and the diaries of her husband. Years later in the present day an old man and a younger one correspond regularly their only common interest the artefacts of this expedition which are Allens diaries, photographs and press clippings which intersperse the pages of the book.
Allen and his companions, Pruitt, the photographer whose brief encounter with his leaders wife sparks in Sophie an interest in the new fangled photography, which is to become an interest she can cling to when life is at its most trying. The hot headed and hasty Sergeant Tillmann makes up the small group and soon they begin to encounter natives and superstition and as their journey progresses the line between pragmatism and myth blurs and the journey becomes fraught and dangerous as well as magical and awe inspiring.
Things happen which can't be explained by a rational mind, but are the men suffering deprivations causing hallucinations or witnessing something other wordly?
The book seems to be a little ponderous at first but I soon began to appreciate that this is part of its charm. It seems gentle and leisurely but there is actually a whole lot going on and diverse dual time storylines entwine.
I loved Sophie and felt huge empathy for her. When tragedy strikes which is to affect Allen and Sophie deeply my heart darned near snapped in two.
The location is larger than life, colder than ice cream and twice as delicious. I adored The Snow child by this author and am delighted to have enjoyed this one just as much, although it's very different the same magic runs between the pages and melted into my heart. Wonderful and captivating from start to finish although I admit to feeling a certain wistfulness at the end its wholly satisfying and I feel very nostalgic about leaving the settings already!.
This is such a deeply immersive novel the dual timelines provide almost a touch of light relief and the details about exploration, expeditions, photography and wildlife watching are never dull but engrossed me and the characters including some native characters completely bewitched me.
I received my copy through the publisher Little Brown and Company via Netgalley and here is the description from there:
From the bestselling author of The Snow Child, a thrilling tale of historical adventure set in the Alaskan wilderness.
In the winter of 1885, Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester sets out with his men on an expedition into the newly acquired territory of Alaska. Their objective: to travel up the ferocious Wolverine River, mapping the interior and gathering information on the region's potentially dangerous native tribes. With a young and newly pregnant wife at home, Forrester is anxious to complete the journey with all possible speed and return to her. But once the crew passes beyond the edge of the known world, there's no telling what awaits them.
With gorgeous descriptions of the Alaskan wilds and a vivid cast of characters -- including Forrester, his wife Sophie, a mysterious Eyak guide, and a Native American woman who joins the expedition - TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD is an epic tale of one of America's last frontiers, combining myth, history, romance, and adventure.