Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: miscarriages, starvation, violence, death.
Goodreads Rating: 3 Stars
This 400 page monster is an undertaking for the patient. Ivey’s historical fiction meets magical realism novel takes the reader on a journey with each of the character’s narrations.
At the tale end of the 19th century, the readers are introduced to Colonel Allen Forester and his new bride, Sophie. Despite their parents disapproval and their age difference, they are a well suited pair, each fiercely independent but admiring of each other’s passion for their studies. Allen is given the opportunity to explore the impossibly difficult Wolverine River in the hopes of unearthing routes to the bounty of Alaska. Sophie is eager to join her husband on the journey despite objections, until she finds out that she is pregnant. So, Allen and his small group of men and a few (mostly) willing native guides leave Sophie behind at the army barracks, but with the promise to send letters whenever possible.
Meanwhile, Sophie is going a tad stir-crazy trying to maintain her difficult pregnancy, and her passion for nature leads to bird watching and a new hobby- photography. When she notices a particular bird with odd, humanistic qualities, she wonders if her husband has seen such a thing on his own expeditions.
Woven in between the main story line, Ivey adds the subplots of two men corresponding about the accumulation of artifacts from Colonel Forester’s travels, as well as quotes from pamphlets, museum plaques, and additional correspondence letters. Personally, I could have done without these. Though the information added aided the backstory and imagery of Allen and Sophie’s time period, it was distracting from the main plot and slowed the already slow pace of the novel. And, as much as I enjoyed reading about Allen’s expedition, the natives he met, and the adventures they encountered, I found that much of Sophie’s narrative was painfully tedious as well, where it could have been more exciting given the time period and her rather progressive ways.
In the end, Ivey’s novel was atmospheric and well-crafted, but I was rather bored for about 60% of it. I’m a nature girl and I love a good historical adventure, but To The Bright Edge of the World left me wanting. If Ivey had kept more to Allen’s side of the novel, working in Sophie and the folklore but leaving out the rest, it would have streamlined everything and boosted my overall impression.
Additionally, I wanted to add that I looked up the history on this expedition, and learned that the Wolverine River and it’s expedition were fictional but based on the true exploration by Lieutenant Henry Allen of the Copper River in 1885. The artist’s map above represents the route taken in the novel, but upon looking at a current map of Alaska, you can see that it closely resembles the Copper River traveling to the Tanana River. If you want to know more about the artist’s inspiration, click here.
TL/DR: To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is a historical fiction novel told in mostly letter format from multiple points of view and time periods, centering around the exploration of the Alaskan wilderness.
Read it? If you’re are interested in historical voyages and exploration, then you’ll enjoy this one. If not, you’re going to find it long and uninteresting.
Recommend it? For those who would find the main story interesting, yes I would recommend. However, I don’t think this is a book for everyone.
Buy it? I found my copy at a library sale, and it seems there are many copies of this backlist available at affordable costs, so if it sounds interesting to you, then I would buy a copy so that you may take your time reading.
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