Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Raven's Gift - Don Rearden

John Morgan and his wife can barely contain their excitement upon arriving as the new teachers in a Yup'ik Eskimo village on the Alaskan tundra. Lured north in search of adventure, the couple hope to immerse themselves in the ancient Arctic culture. But their move proves disastrous when a deadly epidemic strikes and the isolated tundra community descends into total chaos. When outside help fails to arrive, John's only hope lies in escaping. His thousand-mile trek across the Alaskan wilderness grows more improbable when he encounters a blind Eskimo girl and an elderly woman. The two need his protection from those who would harm them, and he needs their knowledge of the terrain and their companionship to survive. The harsh journey and constant danger push him beyond his limits as he discovers a new sense of hope and the possibility of loving again. 

Title: The Raven's Gift
Author: Don Rearden
Genre: Adult Fiction, Thriller
Publisher: Penguin Canada
Publication Date: January 25, 2011
Format: Softcover
Source: Received from publicist. Many thanks goes to Bronwyn from Penguin Canada for sending me a copy of this book for review. I received this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review. 
Look for it: Penguin, Amazon.
My rating: 5/5

John and his wife, Anna, head north to the Alaskan tundra to teach and immerse themselves in the Yup'ik community and culture. They hope to find adventure along the way, but they could never have expected that they would encounter an epidemic that would decimate the Alaskan communities and ultimately prove fatal. With no help coming, the survivors must take things into their own hands if they have any chance of survival. An unlikely trio is formed when John meets up with a blind girl and an older woman, but the bonds they form are needed if they are to survive the perilous journey they must undertake. 
I'm still at a loss for words to even begin to describe what I think of The Raven's Gift. It is definitely one of those books that will stick with you long after it is read. I can safely say that this book surprised me with how genuine it is. I found it to be a haunting and compelling read, and it honestly had me hooked from the very beginning. I couldn't put it down, and found that I savoured every page. 
The Raven's Gift is told in three interwoven timelines, the first being when John and Anna apply to teach in the Yup'ik communities. The second and third are tied closely together as they both are written after the outbreak and they follow John on his journey with both the blind girl, Rayna, and the older woman, Maggie. A community that is already isolated as is, doesn't stand a chance when an epidemic of this stature is unleashed across it. With little to no medication, and no immediate connection to the outside world, it is easy to imagine the chaos that would run through the tundra and outer-lying communities. There is an undercurrent of danger as questions arise as to why no one has come to help, and how are those who have survived the epidemic going to fend for themselves against nature, man and beast? The trials that John is put through, and the decisions he has to make are very real. They show the conflicted state he is put in and yet, they also show his true character. The mystery surrounding the epidemic will also have the reader struggling to figure out just what is happening.
A masterful and compelling debut, Rearden is one to watch. His representation of Yup'ik culture and the sense of isolation throughout ring true as it is coming from one who knows and writes from an insiders point of view. The mystery throughout will keep the reader invested in the outcome, as will the premise of the book. This is an eye-opening, chilling, and haunting tale of love, loss, and discovery. Its impact will reverberate long after the the last page has been read. Honestly, if you are going to read only one book this year, make it The Raven's Gift

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