The best epic novels that capture Pacific Northwest history

Peggy Herring Author Of Anna, Like Thunder
By Peggy Herring

The Books I Picked & Why

To the Bright Edge of the World

By Eowyn Ivey

Book cover of To the Bright Edge of the World

Why this book?

I heard about this book while touring through Alaska to promote my own novel. Without fail, in every book store I visited, I was told I must read it. This novel deserves all the superlatives that have been heaped upon it. Set on the trail in Alaska and in the Vancouver barracks (in present-day Washington state), it’s an epic story of exploration, myth, and love that ties the present to a grueling 1885 expedition. A particular joy of this story is how it’s told through letters, journal entries, reports, maps, and peculiar drawings and photographs. I felt like the author was inviting me to share her research journey.


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Ravensong - A Novel

By Lee Maracle

Book cover of Ravensong - A Novel

Why this book?

Coupled with Celia’s Song which extends this family saga, this story painted a picture for me about Indigenous history and the interconnected issues on the coast such as the environment, colonization, justice, and transformation. Maracle’s prose reads like poetry, and yet what I found most remarkable was the storytelling. She effortlessly twines together past and present, human and non-human worlds, breaking many rules of Western narrative tradition. Rarely do you run across a book where equal attention is paid to both form and theme. This one does, and it encouraged me to reflect on literary conventions deeply embedded into my subconscious and then ask myself why and, most importantly, how we tell stories.


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Greenwood

By Michael Christie

Book cover of Greenwood

Why this book?

I saw an early review of this book praising it for being firmly rooted in the Pacific Northwest. Intrigued, I read it. I loved the prose—I could not put the book down—and the characters, especially Temple. But what really impressed me was how Christie built his story. Set between 1908 and into the future in 2038, the stories, which concern different aspects of trees and forestry, cleverly nest like the rings of a tree, working their way into the core and then back out again. Moreover, from a design perspective, it’s a gorgeous book that, with every turn of the page, made me think more deeply about trees and the ongoing devastation of forests all over the world.


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The Reckoning of Boston Jim

By Claire Mulligan

Book cover of The Reckoning of Boston Jim

Why this book?

Packed with detail about Victoria, Vancouver Island, and the Gold Rush days in British Columbia, I thought this book was engaging, epic, funny (wait until the camels appear—and the wake!), and a real page-turner. I swooned over the descriptions of the landscape and would go so far as to say the land and sea, so alive in this book, should be considered a character. I was so profoundly invested in the fates of Jim, Dora, and Eugene, that I almost missed how cunningly the novel took on gender, class, and race, illuminating so many of the contemporary issues dogging us here on the coast.  


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Kolea

By Russell Cahill

Book cover of Kolea

Why this book?

This novel is like a wild ride on the ocean. I loved how it took me into the Indigenous communities in the Hawai’ian Islands prior to contact with Europeans and revealed their longstanding links to the Pacific coast of North America. There’s an epic story, and it’s chock full of marvelous detail about culture, food, clothing, migration, and worldview, and even explores the nature of time. However, what most struck me was considering what it would be like to orient my thinking to the sea and its rhythms instead of the land. It shifted the way I see the place I live.   


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