This is the story of the Canadian fur trade between the years 1822 and 1848. The Hudson Bay Company has merged with it's rival, The North West Company, and since the best fur trapping in eastern Canada has mostly tapped out, they are forced to look to the West, a largely unmapped region of Canada, mostly in present day Saskatchewan. The Company sends out contingents of fur traders to the indigenous tribes of the area. The story itself is told through the eyes of several people including John Rowand, a bitter Company man who was not chosen to lead an expedition, Ted Harriot, a clerk in the company, and Jimmy Jock Bird, who has made his life as a sort of middleman between the traders and the tribes. The characters, particularly Harriot, has to live through some severe hardships, some dealing with the nature of the Company business such as long treks through bitter snow and ice but also in his personal life.
But the real story here is about the evolutionary changes upon the land and among the various interacting societies. The book is told in just a few long chapters, each dealing with a different theme. For example, one chapter, called "The Missionary" deals with the issue of a Methodist missionary coming to teach the native population about his religion. He is successful to some extent but not in the way he hopes. I found the novel to be educational from many perspectives; afterall when I think fur trade and mountain men, I think western America. The writing was well done and very much in the "literary" mold. The characters were OK but to me they were a bit flat. I understand they are true historical characters so perhaps the author wasn't as free to manuever them the way he might have liked. The result, though, was a definite feeling of realness, and not some contrived plot built for pure entertainment.