To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is a bleak tale of love and exploration in the Alaskan wilderness. This is Ivey’s second book, the first the highly acclaimed and deservedly so, The Snow Child. In To The Bright Edge of the World, Ivey returns to the familiar setting of Alaska, before civilization as we call it has the chance to spoil its natural beauty and its supernatural spirits.
“…But this is all just an illusion, a dream,’ he went on. ‘You have been spared truth. Your Colonel and I, we know. Once seen, it cannot be unseen…”
Young Colonel Allen Forrester is given the commission of his dreams. He is to map and navigate the Wolverine River in the depths of Alaska. A land and passage not explored before by white men. It is 1885 and the rumor of gold in the wilderness of Alaska along the Wolverine river has the US Army desperate to unlock its secrets. But the native tribes, recently abused and misused by the Russians who had claimed the land before the United States, are untrusting and dangerous. Tales of cannibalism and brutality shadow the culture of these tribes.
But the orders to leave are even more difficult for Colonel Forrester as he must leave behind his young bride Sophie, who he learns is expecting their first child. For Sophie, this is to be a long year without her husband as she must stay in the military barracks awaiting her first child and the safe return of her husband. Neither of which is guaranteed.
“…Tillman protested the plan. I pointed out that it will be cooler come evening, but with the clear skies, it will remain light enough to see. This artic sun skirts below the northern horizon for only a few hours each night, so a kind of twilight remains even after sunset.
Tillman was unconvinced.
Don’t you understand Colonel? Those wolverines, they live off the flesh of the dead. We’re getting close to that other world the Indians talk about. We shouldn’t be wandering up there at night. If there are ghosts nearby, they’ll be haunting the hills.
I have no use for the occult. I said as much. To which Tillman said that while I might not have much use for spirits, they might have some unpleasant use for me…”
Colonel Forrester embarks on a journey fraught with adventure and danger. At home Sophie faces her own demons. Some in her mind and some, a strange tie between the spirits that follow the Colonel and those that chase her. In the dark and cold Alaskan wilderness can either be sure what is real and what is imagined. But both, will pay a dear price in their desire to unlock the secrets at the bright end of the world.
Eowyn Ivey is a gifted writer. Her prose and her cadence will take what might have been a weekday history lesson into a riveting tale of love, of loss, of ghosts and darkness and the trembling dangers of the unknown. And of courage. The sometimes blind and dutiful courage that made our nation at one time. The kind of courage that is lacking today.
To The Bright Edge of the World is a terrific novel of love and sacrifice and of those things we cannot map. Those things we cannot categorize, those things that defy our labels. It is a novel about men and women who either step, or are taken out of their comfort zones and yet, persevere. Colonel Forrester, a man of not only duty but of long family history and obligation takes on a mission that is almost certain to end in his death. But he pushes on, a leader to his men and a protector to those who come under his charge. Sophie must deal with the uncertainty and the dangers of childbirth in the Alaskan wilderness in the late 1800s.
For those expecting another fable like the Snow Child they will be surprised. I will not say disappointed, because this tale and the writing is far too good to be considered disappointing by any standards. But is not the Snow Child. To The Bright End of the World is something far different. It is Jack London and The Call of the Wild and I say this knowing sadly that there are far too many of you who have no idea who I just brought into the conversation. This is London, this is Kipling…this is just a damn good book.
Don’t miss it!!