The best epic novels that capture Pacific Northwest history

Peggy Herring Author Of Anna, Like Thunder
By Peggy Herring

Who am I?

As a transplant to the west coast of North America, I’m always on the lookout for books that capture aspects of the history of this region and help me understand my new home. For me, the books on this list have shed light on different communities, worldviews, and a complicated past. Besides, I am a pushover for epic stories that span generations and geographies and teach me new ways of thinking and looking at the world.


I wrote...

Anna, Like Thunder

By Peggy Herring,

Book cover of Anna, Like Thunder

What is my book about?

In 1808, the Russian ship St. Nikolai runs aground off Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. The crew, who’d been exploring and trading for sea otter pelts, are forced ashore into Indigenous territory, where they are captured, enslaved, and then traded among three Indigenous communities. Eighteen-year-old Anna Petrovna Bulygina is one of the crew. Terrified at first, she soon discovers that nothing—including slavery—is what she expected. She questions Russian imperialist aspirations, the crew’s conduct, and her own beliefs as she experiences a way of life she’d never imagined.

Based on historical accounts, this novel blends fact and fiction to explore the early days of contact between Indigenous people and Europeans off the west coast of North America and challenge the historical record.

The books I picked & why

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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.

To the Bright Edge of the World

By Eowyn Ivey,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked To the Bright Edge of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE EDWARD STANFORD TRAVEL WRITING AWARDS 2016.

Set in the Alaskan landscape that she brought to stunningly vivid life in THE SNOW CHILD (a Sunday Times bestseller, Richard and Judy pick and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), Eowyn Ivey's TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD is a breathtaking story of discovery set at the end of the nineteenth century, sure to appeal to fans of A PLACE CALLED WINTER.

'A clever, ambitious novel' The Sunday Times

'Persuasive and vivid... what could be a better beach read than an Arctic adventure?' Guardian


'Stunning and intriguing... the reader finishes…


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.

Ravensong - A Novel

By Lee Maracle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ravensong - A Novel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set along the Pacific Northwest Coast in the 1950s, Ravensong tells the story of an urban Native community devastated by an influenza epidemic. Stacey, a 17-year-old Native girl, struggles with the clash between white society's values and her family's traditional ways, knowing that her future lies somewhere in between. Celia, her sister, has visions from the past, while Raven warns of an impending catastrophe before there is any reconciliation between the two cultures. In this passionate story about a young woman's quest for answers, author Lee Maracle speaks unflinchingly of the gulf between two cultures: a gulf that Raven says…


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.

Greenwood

By Michael Christie,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Greenwood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The truth is that all family lines, from the highest to the lowest, originate somewhere, on some particular day. Even the grandest trees must've once been seeds spun helpless on the wind, and then just meek saplings nosing up from the soil.'

2038. On a remote island off the Pacific coast of British Columbia stands the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral, one of the world's last forests. Wealthy tourists flock from all corners of the dust-choked globe to see the spectacle and remember what once was. But even as they breathe in the fresh air and pose for photographs amidst the greenery,…


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.  

The Reckoning of Boston Jim

By Claire Mulligan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Reckoning of Boston Jim as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


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.   

Kolea

By Russell Cahill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kolea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To paradise they sailed—

There once was a world where hula dancers were experts at spear fighting, where a blind warrior taught his students healing arts...

where adventure ruled—

...as well as savage fighting. And where young people could build and sail a canoe on voyages to unknown lands.

where danger waited...

That world was Hawai’i.

The illegitimate child of Maui’s King, Kolea, is spirited away to Molokai and raised in seclusion by a mysterious Hula Dancer and a blind warrior. Trained as a warrior, he is pursued by his evil half-brother.

A daring escape in a voyaging canoe leads…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and Native Americans?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and Native Americans.

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