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In the remote winter landscape a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of a young Iroquois girl violently re-ignites a deep rift between two tribes. The girl’s captor, Bird, is one of the Huron Nation’s great warriors and statesmen. Years have passed since the murder of his family, and yet they are never far from his mind. In the girl, Snow Falls, he recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter, but as he fights for her heart and allegiance, small battles erupt into bigger wars as both tribes face a new, more dangerous threat from afar.

Traveling with the Huron is Christophe, a charismatic missionary who has found his calling among the tribe and devotes himself to learning and understanding their customs and language. An emissary from distant lands, he brings much more than his faith to this new world, with its natural beauty and riches.

As these three souls dance with each other through intricately woven acts of duplicity, their social, political and spiritual worlds collide - and a new nation rises from a world in flux.

490 pages, Hardcover

First published September 10, 2013

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About the author

Joseph Boyden

22 books1,274 followers
Joseph Boyden is a Canadian novelist and short story writer.

He grew up in Willowdale, North York, Ontario and attended the Jesuit-run Brebeuf College School. Boyden's father Raymond Wilfrid Boyden was a medical officer renowned for his bravery, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and was the highest-decorated medical officer of World War II.

Boyden, of Irish, Scottish and Métis heritage, writes about First Nations heritage and culture. Three Day Road, a novel about two Cree soldiers serving in the Canadian military during World War I, is inspired by Ojibwa Francis Pegahmagabow, the legendary First World War sniper. Boyden's second novel, Through Black Spruce follows the story of Will, son of one of the characters in Three Day Road. He has indicated in interviews that the titles are part of a planned trilogy, the third of which is forthcoming.

He studied creative writing at York University and the University of New Orleans, and subsequently taught in the Aboriginal Student Program at Northern College. He divides his time between Louisiana, where he and his wife, Amanda Boyden, are writers in residence, and Northern Ontario.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,152 reviews
Profile Image for Doreen.
983 reviews38 followers
October 23, 2015
To say that The Orenda is a compelling read would be an understatement. Reading Boyden’s latest novel was for me an intense experience which I think will haunt me for a long while. It is not an easy, comfortable read; it is, in fact, provocative, demanding that we examine our history with an unflinching eye: “What’s happened in the past can’t stay in the past for the same reason the future is always just a breath away” (487).

This historical epic is set in the mid-1600s in Huronia at a time when the Hurons and the Iroquois are involved in skirmishes just as the Jesuits arrive and begin their conversion campaign. A member of each of these three groups serves as a narrator: Bird is the warrior leader of the Wendat (Huron) nation; Snow Falls is a young Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) girl whom Bird captures and adopts in retaliation for the Iroquois killing his wife and daughters; and Christophe is a priest, whom the Hurons call Crow, who has come to convert the “sauvages” to Catholicism.

One of the aspects of the novel that is impressive is the characterization. All of the main characters emerge as complex characters with both negative and positive traits. Bird is fierce and vengeful, but also capable of great love; Snow Falls is self-centred and vindictive but possesses an admirable feistiness. Christophe is narrow-minded, but his dedication is unquestionable. Furthermore, each character grows and develops. Bird acknowledges how his actions led to an escalation of violence: “I acted without thinking about what I was doing for the long term (111).” Snow Falls initially thwarts all attempts to integrate her into her adoptive family and accept Bird as a father, but she comes to realize that Bird and her father are similar: “My adopted father, Bird. Is he like you once were, my real one? I remember you were considered great by our people. I remember you were loved very much. You were like Bird, were you not” (198)? The priest feels racially superior, but comes to see the Hurons as “more generous and even gentle than any I’ve ever had the pleasure to know” (459). These three fully developed and dynamic characters demonstrate Boyden’s skill, but what is also exceptional is that even the minor characters (e.g. Fox, Gosling, Gabriel) are nuanced individuals.

What is also impressive is Boyden’s unwillingness to blame. Each of the three parts of the novel has a prologue spoken by a chorus of First Nations voices. The first begins with an admonition: “It’s tempting to place blame, though loss should never be weighed in this manner” (3). The role of the priests in the decimation of native culture is not diminished, but the second prologue cautions, “It’s unfair, though, to blame only the crows, yes? It’s our obligation to accept our responsibility in the whole affair” (153).

One cannot help but admire the writer’s balanced depiction. Christophe represents the ignorant Europeans who bring diseases that have a devastating impact on the aboriginal peoples, but he proves to be a man of compassion and courage. The Jesuits attack native beliefs, but are pawns as well; Christophe, for example, wrestles “with the grave worry that our work is being exploited by those who wish not for the souls of the sauvages but for the riches of the land, and that they are using us as the tip of the spear for their earthly gains” (141). The Iroquois are feared for their brutality, but after ritually torturing two Iroquois captives, Bird states, “’These two are the bravest men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting’” (276). The Iroquois torture captives mercilessly, but the Hurons are equally cruel in their “caressing.” And then their savagery is contrasted with their unstinting generosity; Bird describes a feast he hosts: “As is the custom, I refuse the food but instead make sure everyone has everything they desire” even though, by giving away all of his food, he knows, “Tomorrow, I will have nothing” (380 – 381).

It is obvious that Boyden did considerable research for the writing of this book. His depiction of daily life among the Hurons is detailed. The Feast of the Dead (79 – 84) and the significance of wampum belts (107 – 108) are meticulously described. The importance of community needs over those of the individual is emphasized (73, 291, 406). The native belief in the orenda is explained: “all have within us a life force . . . [called] the orenda. . . . not just humans have an orenda but also animals, trees, bodies of water, even rocks strewn on the ground” (31). Christianity’s belief that “’everything in the world was put here for man’s benefit . . . and that all the animals are born to serve him'” is contrasted with the native belief that “’humans are the only ones in this world that need everything within it. . . . But there is nothing in this world that needs us for its survival. We aren’t the masters of the earth. We’re the servants’” (163).

Despite the cultural differences shown to exist, the novel’s focus is on commonalities. Over and over again, characters emphasize similarities among people. Bird admits that his behaviour is no different than that of the Iroquois (105); Snow Falls admits that Bird and her father are so much alike (134); an Iroquois leader tells Bird, “’We’re not so different . . . And our nations aren’t so different’” (252); Christophe admits that the native torture rituals are not much different than the Spanish Inquisition, the church’s burning of witches, and the Crusades (256); and Bird tells a priest, “’Sometimes our differences aren’t so many’” (407). And is there much difference between a man singing a death chant as he prepares for death and another man singing a hymn as he does so?

The novel is a masterpiece. There are scenes of horrific torture that are difficult to read, but they are Boyden’s way of not ignoring any aspect of the past. He seems determined to want us to face the full truth of our complex history. No one emerges innocent, yet everyone is given dignity. This is a book that all Canadians should read.

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski).
Profile Image for Krista.
1,368 reviews544 followers
June 26, 2017
I took no pleasure yesterday in killing the last two women. They were already so wounded we knew they wouldn’t survive the trip home. Even though I asked Fox to do it, my asking is the same as if I myself had done it. Fox cut their throats with his knife so that they’d die quickly, ignoring the taunts of Sturgeon and Hawk and Deer to make it slow. When the three called Fox a woman for making the first leave so fast, he positioned the second woman, who was quite pretty, so the blood from her throat sprayed their faces. That shut them up, and despite feeling badly for these dead, I laughed. For all I knew, it was this group who was responsible for the slow and awful deaths of you, my wife, and you, my two daughters. There’s been no peace since. I no longer care for peace.

I don't know one Canadian who went through our public education system who left high school thinking, "Wow, isn't our history just fascinating and important?" Courriers de Bois and the Hudson's Bay Co made the fur trade possible so that British gentlemen could don beaver felt hats -- that's pretty much what we know. It probably has something to do with our TV networks not putting together animated jingles for us to sing along with as children: ABC's School House Rock's look and subject matter was way more appealing than our CBC Heritage Minutes; I think all of us who were children in the 70s got up and did the chicken dance as we sang along to "Elbow Room" (hey, the slaughter of the Natives who got in the way of Manifest Destiny was just a side effect of Americans needing that extra space around themselves -- "got ta got ta get me some elbow roo-oom"); and I think we all got up to change the channel when Cartier had the conversation with the Iroquois chief, and through a linguistic misunderstanding…yawn…named our country Kanata…zzz.

I also don't know any Canadians who look at the issues that the Natives face today (poverty on Reserves, child suicides, overrepresentation in prisons, etc.) and think that the status quo is fine -- but without an understanding of how we got to this point, it is mystifying to me to consider how to improve their lot. It's obvious that those of us of "from away" aren't going to "go back" to wherever it is our forbearers came from, and it's easy to slip into generalisations about who we think the Natives were (noble savages!) or what the British wanted (Empire!) or what the French did (send in the Church!) way back when -- to regard history with a lazy eye that assigns labels like "right" and "wrong"; creating "winners" and "losers".

In The Orenda, Joseph Boyden did the near impossible: He captured a time at the dawn of what we now know as Canada, and not only did he make it a thrilling and fascinating read, but he left the realm of lazy generalisations and created sympathetic individuals on all sides of the colliding cultures; taking care to neither aggrandise nor censure. This is where we came from, and although I think a Saturday morning animated pop song based on The Huron Feast of the Dead would be woefully inappropriate, this book should absolutely be mandatory reading for every Canadian student (because, really, everyone should at least read about The Huron Feast of the Dead).

The Orenda opens in the mid-1600s, within a couple hour's drive from where I now live, and in the aftermath of a bloody skirmish (excerpted above), Bird, the Wendat (Huron) war-bringer decides to spare both the life of Snow Falls, the young Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) maiden whom he has decided to adopt to replace his slaughtered family, and Christophe, the Jesuit sent into the wilderness by the settlement of Kebec (New France) to bring religion to the heathens. The book takes turns telling its tale from the first person, present tense perspective of each of these characters, making each part intimate and immediate, and as the years go by, we learn that each of them is a sympathetic and honourable person who, with the best of intentions, plays their part in destroying the pre-contact culture of the Natives. Even though I can look out my window and see roads and houses and lamp posts, even though I know how the story ultimately ends for the Native settlements that may have once stood where my home now stands, the inevitability of their downfall doesn't lessen the tension of reading about their struggles.

Life was always hard for the Huron and Iroquois -- my kids went on field trips to the reconstructed Iroquois village at Crawford Lake when they were younger to learn about life in the longhouses and "the three sisters" (corn, squash and beans) that the village planted. The picture they got was idealised, idyllic, minimising the razor's edge of survival that Boyden describes here: not only were the people dependent upon fish and animals returning every year and upon crops susceptible to drought and blight, but the Huron and Iroquois were in a generations-long, bloody war with each other. Although the two nations had a similar language and lifestyle, each would send war parties to attack the other side's women as they worked in the fields or the men as they hunted in the forest -- attacks that would see groups of war-bearers enthusiastically slaughter, kidnap and take prisoners for terrible torture ceremonies. (Although these raiding parties had taken place long before the Jesuits arrived, having one of these "crows" in Bird's village made his home a particular target in the book.) Boyden describes the "caressing" that each side gave to the other's captured prisoners, and these passages are hard to read, full of explicit descriptions of barbaric practises and the glee with which the entire community would participate. It was especially chilling to read that those tortured would have their wounds lovingly dressed, that they would be given water and food during respites, all to ensure that they didn't die too soon. But just in case these scenes might give the impression that these Native groups were mere savages, the Jesuits discuss that they're not that different from the torture techniques of the Spanish Inquisition or the witch hunts (but of course no one comes to the conclusion that these tortures are all wrong…)

And that's the most brilliant part of The Orenda: Boyden doesn't peg either group as right or wrong. Bird is a committed war-bearer, capable of participating in bloody and inhumane slaughter, but he's also a loving and sentimental family man. Cristophe is 100% committed to saving the souls of the heathens, and although another Jesuit suggests to him that they could perform simple magic tricks to demonstrate the power of God, Cristophe is too principled to resort to trickery. And this is no Dances With Wolves -- the Jesuits and the laymen who later join them can recognise the parts of the Huron society that are beautiful without wanting to become a part of it (and at no time do the Hurons think that Cristophe is offering a better way of life; it's really a wonder that the Catholics ended up imposing their beliefs, but that happened long after the time period in this book) . I liked that Cristophe could dismiss a Medicine Woman's beliefs as sorcery without seeing the irony of trying to convince the Natives of the existence of the invisible Great Voice in the sky, and I also appreciated that he didn't believe that it was he and his people who brought Small Pox and Influenza to the countryside -- he could remain blameless because he believed himself to be blameless.

The prose in The Orenda isn't flowery but it is beautiful -- in spare language Boyden brings to life the people and the landscape of a forgotten time. The final battle was one of the most tense and nerve-wracking scenes I've ever read and I can't stress enough how important this books feels. It is a great shame that it didn't take home any of the big literary prizes this year -- in particular, this would have been my choice for the Governor General’s Literary Award. This is the story of Canada and one that I wish everyone could learn. I'm going to end with the opening of the book, a passage that had me hooked from the very beginning:

We had magic before the crows came. Before the rise of the great villages they so roughly carved on the shores of our inland sea and named with words plucked from our tongues – Chicago, Toronto, Milwaukee, Ottawa – we had our own great villages on these same shores. And we understood our magic. We understood what the orenda implied.

But who is at fault when that recedes? It’s tempting to place blame, though loss should never be weighed in this manner. Who, then, to blame for what we now witness, our children cutting their bodies to pieces or strangling themselves in the dark recesses of their homes or gulping your stinking drink until their bodies fail? But we get ahead of ourselves. This, on the surface, is the story of our past.

Once those crows flew over the great water from their old world to perch tired and frightened in the branches of ours, they saw that we had the orenda. We believed. Oh, did we believe. This is why the crows, at first, thought of us as little more than animals. We lived in a physical world that frightened them and hunted beasts they’d only had nightmares of, and we consumed the mystery that the crows were bred to fear. We breathed what they feared. But they watched intently, as crows are prone to do.

And when they cawed that our magic was unclean, we laughed, took a little offence, even killed a few of them and pulled their feathers for our hair. We lived on. But that word, unclean, that word, somehow, like an illness, like its own magic, it began to grow. Very few of us saw that coming. So maybe this is the story of those few.

Profile Image for Paltia.
633 reviews87 followers
July 10, 2019
The Orenda is a 17th century adventure story. A radiantly imagined tale of conflicts and their resolutions. There are many interesting characters but at the core is Bird, the leader of his people, Gosling, the woman he loves and a seer, Snow Falls, a lone survivor of an attack between the Huron and the Iroquois, and Christophe, the Jesuit missionary renamed the Crow by the Huron. Gosling and Christophe Crow have their very own conflict. He accuses her of being of the devil and using trickery and sorcery to fool the people. Is his mass calling for rain any different? She chants and sings. He prays on beads with a shiny miniature man on the end. He calls her a wretched witch and charlatan. She calls him a mad man. Their conflict escalates as the people decide who to follow. It may not be wise for the Jesuit priest to forget whose country he is in. Perhaps the people you’ve come so far to save will either fear or scorn you. There is also endless internecine war between the Huron and the Iroquois. Both sides engage in atrocities that on the surface are a close match for the Jesuits’ inquisition. Then there is the conflict between Snow Falls, the girl with the power to become a seer and the older Gosling. Each conflict and character are brought richly to life in this intense story. At times the truth is what any character imagines it to be. Joseph Boyden has written a finely balanced story where all sides have strengths and weaknesses. There are horrific descriptions of torture, tender scenes of love, and the heartbreaking futility of war. There is a beauty to his words that made me lean in until the last pages.
Profile Image for Beata.
736 reviews1,112 followers
June 5, 2022
One of the most powerful novels on First Nations and white conquest I have ever read ...
Profile Image for Jesse.
452 reviews
April 6, 2019
[2019 EDIT: ZERO STARS. Learned very late the "history" in this book is based only on French propagandistic Jesuit accounts sent back to French and relies on no other histories, including Indigenous oral histories. Since I wrote this review obviously we learned Boyden was misrepresenting his identity and--even more problematically--was trading in stories told to him by Elders in communities like Moose Factory without their permission. Nothing about this book can be trusted.] I wanted to like this book so much more than I ultimately did. It was truly satisfying to see a book about Aboriginal issues—in which two Aboriginal Nations, their cultures, and their traditions, are central to the book itself, and in which European invaders are seen for what they are—win the Canada Reads contest this year. But I ended up having so many problems with the book that I wondered if maybe it wouldn’t be better to have another book instead (some Thomas King, maybe?).

It’s hard to talk about a 500-page book because you end up with a lot to say. There is a LOT in this book, and when it’s at its best, it’s giving detailed and fascinating descriptions of what life was like in a Wendat community 400 years ago. How did folks hunt, sleep, eat, chill out, and bury their dead? It’s all in here, and it’s always engaging.

However, in a book that takes three characters and follows them for years, it’s amazing how little an emotional attachment you develop to any of them, or how scantily you feel that they’re full people. In a sense, it seems as though Boyden wanted to use them simply to personalize history, rather than making three complete characters who happen to exist in history. The book’s protagonist is clearly Snow Falls—she’s the one who moves through a whole series of personal changes and developments in response to the events of the narrative—yet you don’t really ever get the sense that you KNOW her. She faces the major challenge of deciding whether or not to approach the society into which she’s been kidnapped with empathy or hostility, and that’s the most interesting conflict of the novel, as is her development into nascent womanhood with the help of Anishinaabe medicine-woman Gosling. There’s little in the way of humour in this book, which seems puzzling, given the centrality of humour as a cultural engine in so many Aboriginal Nations. So Snow Falls is a very serious, largely one-sided character whom you side with maybe out of a lack of other characters to attach yourself to.

Bird gets the last word in the book, but he hasn’t changed at all since the beginning: he’s the same war-bringer, the same stoic male figure who faces different situations very much the same way. As a character you never get much of a feeling for who he is, and the motivation of avenging his murdered family isn’t enough to flesh him out into humanity.

Likewise, Crow (whom Hayden King strangely identified as the main character?) does not develop one whit from the beginning of the book to the end���his torture-survivor compatriot Isaac, he of the developing empathy for the Wendat people and also of the poisoned host (ok, good image, I’ll admit), is much more interesting as a character, even if he’s going mad. On the other hand, you could put Crow from the beginning of the book through the torture he endures at the end and he wouldn’t respond to it any differently: he’s a zealot, a white-supremacist, and a colonizer, and despite occasionally being puzzled by Wendat culture, he never once calls into question the supremacy of his culture and his god. It’s to Boyden’s credit that he’s able to make you empathize with the person, who is obviously a deeply troubled person… but he still never seems human. It's also irritating, for both those reasons: zealotry tends to strip one of their human warmth, so an under-written character who's also a zealot is a chore to read through. Every time a chapter would open with Crow's voice I'd sigh to myself: "More of this fuckin' guy."

I’m not sure what to make of the fact that two of the book’s female characters (Gosling and Snow Falls) are portrayed as semi-magical. I’ve seen that criticism several places from Aboriginal critics and I understand that it runs deep. I also know women from Aboriginal communities who delight in upholding that stereotype. Fundamentally, it’s not really my decision to make—I’ll listen to both sides and try to be respectful of the opinions folks express, while remaining neutral myself unless it seems as though one is far more prominent than the other.

In the absence of character, the book is ultimately about war, and as a result, it’s ugly. I found it hard to read in many sections, particularly the drawn out and semi-pornographic descriptions of torture. I don’t agree with blogger RedIndianGirl that these place the Haudenosaunee in the position of savages: like any war narrative, it places both sides in the worst possible light (look at the stories of the Allies raping their way across Germany while fighting Hitler). War brings out the absolute worst in people, and I don’t think the Wendat come out of it looking any more moral. The Wendat’s torture isn’t anything nicer than the Haudenosaunee’s, and their behaviour in war isn’t any more gracious. Both sides are awful, because war is about being awful.

Where Boyden really falters, though, is in not driving home his point about the barbarism of the Catholic church more thoroughly. At one point, Crow reflects that the tortures inflicted by the Wendat aren’t especially different than those the Inquisition and Crusades mete out at home, but it’s a passing thought to which he never returns, and as one of the most interesting points in the book, it’s just left to drop. That’s too bad. As Hayden King has pointed out, this book’s incredibly vivid detailing of war and torture runs the risk of painting pre-contact Aboriginal Nations as nothing more than savages, without the contextualization of the fact that the SAME THINGS were happening at European hands at the time in the Catholic church, and in the “society” that Columbus fostered following his invasion of the Americas. It’s a huge missed opportunity, particularly given he goes into such salacious detail about the cruelty of both Wendat and Haudenosaunee peoples. You don’t have to dig deeply to refute the idea that white Europeans often hold dear that their people and culture were so much more civilized than folks living here. Boyden’s on his way to doing that with his reference to the inquisition, but he lets it drop, as he lets drop the issue of child-rape by Bird's people, which rises and almost instantly disappears—meanwhile, the rape of Snow Falls by a Wendat convert to Catholicism is made a central plot point. The disparity is puzzling.

Without a more searching and critical response to Catholicism, I think RedIndianGirl is right to call this essentially a Boys’ Adventure Novel. It revels in its violence instead of its characters and the society in which they live. Even as it does a great job of rendering vivid a piece of important history, it spends too much time staring at the most salacious details, in the pursuit of a more riveting (and gory, and less interesting) story than if it had been about the characters involved.

In the end, the characters almost fall away to nothing. Snow Falls’ death is pretty close to an afterthought, coming out of nowhere and receiving far less comment than she deserves as the book’s central and most interesting character. And Boyden once more indulges in his truly irritating habit of writing historical fiction in which famous things and people MUST occur (as they did in Three Day Road: the two characters can’t just go to war, they HAVE TO go to all the famous sites of World War I). In this case, a baby can’t JUST be born, but she HAS TO be Kateri Tekakwitha. Would this story have mattered less had she not been? If no famous people had involved, wouldn’t this story of war and contact still have been worth reading (albeit written in a slightly different way)?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,769 followers
May 28, 2014
Brother Gabriel decries the ritualistic persecution the New World "sauvages" exact upon their enemies, declaring it evidence that the Indians these Jesuits have come to convert are little more than wild animals. His fellow missionary, Brother Christophe, pointedly reminds him of the Inquisition, that black period of the late Middle Ages, when the Catholic church subjected so many to exquisitely designed and amorally rendered torture. Author Joseph Boyden doesn't seek to justify any nation's brutality against its own or others in The Orenda. He offers us instead a rich and devastating portrait of the birth of one nation and the destruction of another.

The Orenda is set in the mid 17th century, in the heart of the Huron Confederacy, what we now call Ontario. The narrative shifts between three characters: Snows Falls, a young Haudenosaunee girl whose family is slaughtered by the Wendat, a Huron tribe; Bird, a Wendat warrior who adopts Snow Falls after his wife and daughters were killed by Haudenosaunee; and Christophe Crowe, a Jesuit missionary. If there is a villain to be found, it is the shadowy Haudenosaunee, of the Iroquois. The story revolves around the constant threat of attack from the Haudenosaunee on the Wendat, retribution for Snow Falls' family. As the years go on, it seems that attack and counter-attack are simply ways of life for Canada's indigenous people.

In fact, the author has taken some heat from scholars for his portrayal of Native Americans. The criticisms focus on the depiction of the Hurons as confounded naïfs when shown some unfamiliar European device, such as a clock, or muskets; or on Indians as bloodthirsty savages. The torture scenes in this book are relentless and unflinching, the violence depicted as source of entertainment, heritage, and pride. It would seem to reinforce stereotypes of the wild Indian in need of civilizing (N.B. Boyden's roots are Ojibwe, Scottish and English).

But this reader didn't sense such a heavy hand. And it isn't because the colonizing forces, the Catholic Church, received equal time in the hot seat. The missionaries are portrayed as stumbling over their well-meaning goals, oblivious to the diseases they carried that decimated the very populations they were trying to "save." No, I felt there was balance and honesty in Boyden's story. He left the moralizing and theorizing to the critics and sought to do what he does so beautifully, awesomely, jaw-droppingly well: take the reader into an unknown world and surround us with epic story.

The three principal characters and the many secondary, including Fox, Gosling, Issac, Sleeps Long, Carries an Ax, are complete in their flaws and their strengths. They weave into the reader's heart and brain as they define the nature of family and community, history and future, tradition and philosophy.

There are moments that yanked me out of the lyrical prose--conversations within the Wendat community as Boyden takes us into the every day lives of the tribe. The casual back and forth between Bird and Fox and between the young Wendat men, felt incongruous to the narrative style. And I questioned the very black portrayal of the Haudenosaunee.

Joseph Boyden writes some of the best historical fiction I have read. For there is always so much more than the action and adventure--there is moral ambiguity, there is art, there is powerful imagery that makes this book nearly impossible to set aside.
Profile Image for Cher.
801 reviews275 followers
March 26, 2016
5 stars - Utterly amazing.

For my friends that know me well, the star rating on this book should speak for itself. The addition of it to my "favorites" shelf essentially makes the need for a review pointless, but allow me to gush.

This unforgettable story unfolds through the eyes of three narrators, a tricky novel setup, but one that works very well here. Contrary to what I normally experience with similar books, there was no favorite narrator and each point of view was captivating and engaging. The story is centered around different Native Americans tribes at war with one another, in part over conflicts of opinion in how to deal with the influx of Europeans to North America. One point of view is from a Jesuit, and the author did a superb job of demonstrating how Catholics may have tried to explain their faith to Native Americans in relatable terms.

Too many speak too much without ever really saying anything. This is a quote of one of my favorite characters in the book, Gosling. While I agree whole-heartedly with this statement, particularly in regards to much of pop culture, the words cannot be applied at all to the words of this book.

I loved every minute of this read, which shocks me given its violent nature at times (something I normally shy away from). The Native American mysticism was enthralling, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I cannot wait to read more of Joseph Boyden's works.
Favorite Quote: We all fight our own wars, wars for which we’ll be judged. Some of them we fight in the forests close to home, others in distant jungles or faraway burning deserts. We all fight our own wars, so maybe it’s best not to judge, considering it’s rare we even know why we fight so savagely.

First Sentence: We had magic before the crows came.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,169 reviews1,645 followers
March 27, 2015
"Success is measured in different ways. The success of the harvest. For some, the success of harvesting souls."

This sweepingly ambitious novel by Joseph Boyden – a 500 page epic – focuses strongly on all these successes as well as failures in the early beginnings of Canada, when the Huron, the Iroquois as the Jesuit missionaries clashed together. It’s narrated by three characters: the well-respected Huron warrior Bird, the Iroquois girl Snow Falls, whom he claims as his daughter after slaying her true family, and Christophe, a French Jesuit missionary whose faith defines his very existence.

It is evident that Joseph Boyden did exhaustive work to unearth this story of 17th century Canada. It rings of authenticity, from the description of the missionaries (called “crows” because of the way they are perceived to hop around and peck at the dead or dying… the oki, or soul, that resides within each human, animal and thing…the rules of battle between the Huron and the Iroquois…the meticulous creation of the wampum belt…and so much more.

The cultural barriers between the Huron and Iroquois and the Christians are both dark and brutal and enlightening. Torture, to the Christians, was a barbarian act used to punish and demean. The Huron and the Iroquois used another word for torture: they called it “caressing”, and its purpose was to honor their captured and to celebrate a strong spirit that a courageous enemy might possess. Mr. Boyden goes into great detail about the torturing rituals and while the scenes are definitely cringe-worthy, they heightened my understanding enormously.

But let’s get back to the start of this review: the measurement of success. That measurement left me conflicted for many days now, contemplating how to measure a book such as the one Joseph Boyden wrote.

From a literary standpoint? There are many passages that are six-star brilliant. The opening, in which he twins his characters with animals (I wasn’t quite sure if I were reading about a human or an animal) was beautifully crafted. Descriptions of the inadvertent harm caused by the Jesuits – upsetting a balance generations in the making, and shifting from a more mystical view of the world to one in which humans crave more and more control are stunningly portrayed.

Yet there are also times when the prose falls down, or doesn’t strive nearly hard enough. As the story becomes more of an adventurous telling, I missed finding out more about the interior lives of the characters. Yes, Christophe is faith-filled and resilient, but what in his past made him so? Is he ever troubled by the beginnings of doubt? And yes, Snow Falls is a wonderfully rebellious character, but how is it possible for her to balance her growing daughterly love with the knowledge of her family’s massacre? Some of the prose appears out of place, as when Bird turns to his sidekick Fox and explodes, “Tell me again why I thought bringing them among us was a good idea?”

So over and over I asked myself: what determines a 5-star book? Is it a book that educates us or morally enlightens us? Is it a book that grabs us by the collar and won’t let go until we breathlessly turn the last page? Is it a book that changes our way of thinking and remains in our minds, long after it’s been read? Or is it a book that is defined by consistently sterling prose and authentic characters?

The best answer is “all of the above.” Those are the books that end up as classics and I don’t think Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda is quite there. But days later, I can’t get the book and its contents out of my mind. It may be flawed for this reader, but I’m giving it 5 stars. There’s too much that is good about it to give anything less.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,642 followers
October 31, 2015
4.5/5 stars.
This book is special because it gives you a very unique insight into Canada and its history. The beginning is very in medias res, and it throws you into a world that you're not familiar with and that makes you ask a lot of questions, but once you get more into it, you realize that this is a story told from three persons' perspectives: The perspective of a clan leader, the perspective of a very young girl whose family was just killed by the clan leader, and the perspective of a French missionary who's come to the wilderness of Canada to spread the word of God.
The reason why I think this book is unique is because it takes you back to the 1600s and forces you to think about the world differently. These people had different ways of seeing the world. Blood revenge controlled their lives, and your everyday life was about surviving another day. You didn't want to end in the enemy's hand because that's sheer brutality, so if you're not prone to brutal and violent scenes you should maybe skip this book. That would be a shame, though, because as I said, I haven't read a book like this before that teaches me so much about a culture in a world before ours.
My only regret and complain is that I didn't take notes on the multiple names and characters presented to us. Each characters comes with up to 2-3 names, and I'm one of those readers who's very easily confused when it comes to name changing. Just be aware of that if you pick up this book, which I really hope you do!
Profile Image for Barbara.
273 reviews213 followers
July 11, 2019
The Europeans brought disease and guns devastating the natives. They tried to introduce a religion and a way of life the Native
Americans never wanted. The Orenda is a riveting and brutal telling of the Huron culture as it clashed with western civilization. They were called savages, a term that allowed them to be treated in a less than humane way. At best, they needed to become "civilized".

Boyden portrays the Hurons with all the emotions we now know are shared by humanity. Love, friendship, courage, fear, hatred, revenge, loyalty, and grief are displayed by the main characters, Snow Falls, Fox, Bird, and Gosling. Those same emotions are displayed by Christophe, also known as Crow, the Jesuit priest sent to convert these people in need of salvation. Each character reveals much about the Huron way of life, the rituals, beliefs, celebrations, joys, and hardships. The respect for nature and the spiritual energy, the Orenda, is fascinating and paramount in this story.

Although I do not condone the inculcation of Christianity on those who do not seek it, Christophe was a brave and courageous man. He helped and was helped by, the native community. At the beginning of the story, he describes the natives as "lower than Europe's lowest caste". By the end he has some appreciation for their connections to and respect for nature, as well as their strength and determination. He reminds Gabriel that the horrific torture, hard to even read, was also used in the Inquisitions. ( I will never think of caress in the same way.) Certainly, torture and brutality have continued beyond the seventeenth century.

Beginning this book I was reminded of my reading of When Breath Becomes Air and The Last Lecture. I knew my heart would break and I knew the ending couldn't change no matter how much I wished it could. The story of the Hurons is tragic and I was deeply moved. It is a history that needs to be told and Boyden has done it so well.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,960 reviews485 followers
August 16, 2018
My first Joseph Boyden read turned out to be an a vividly written tale of 17th century New France and the destruction of Huronia. As I studied Canadian history in school and it's my first university degree, the content of this historical fiction wasn't brand new to me, but Boyden creates such vivid descriptions full of great characters and a complete story that I fell almost completely into the narrative. The one thing holding me back was that all three characters talk in first person and for whatever reason, it took awhile for me to capture the flow of the narrative.

The three characters are Bird, a warrior of the Huron nation, Father Christophe, a Jesuit missionary from France, and Snow Falls, an Iroquois captive. Snow Falls was probably my favorite of the three and in my opinion the best written. Bird and Christophe did tend to be a bit difficult for me at first as both had such strong opinions that did appear overwhelming to me as a reader. However, there's plenty of historical narrative that illustrates how deep a conviction was held by the Jesuits who were committed to collecting more souls for Christ.

Pair this with a viewing of Black Robe and the impact is quite profound. A Canadian read must!
Profile Image for Kurt.
159 reviews5 followers
April 26, 2017
Maybe it's unfair to rate The Orenda as I'm not sure I'm going to finish it. A little less than a hundred pages to go. But what a tough slog. Too much unnecessary historical detail and too little story, literary or otherwise. Plus, none of the characters are all that original (Read: Interesting). Not enough "human stain" about them. They leave me feeling nothing but apathy. But what is worse, Boyden's first 2 novels, The Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, were so great -- 4 stars each!
One character had some promise, the Huron, quasi-sorceress, Gosling, but she's rarely in the text. Maybe she shows up more in those less than a hundred pages that I may or may not finish -- but I've lost momentum with the novel and no longer care to find out. The kidnapped Iroquois girl, Snow Falls, showed a lot of spunk, but there was something cliche about her, like you'd seen her in a thousand B movies, read her in a thousand Zane Greys. And the torture scenes? Well, let's just say, that one over-documented chapter of skewered flesh and gore, has a Tarantino soon-to-be-adapted screenplay written all over it.
To be fair though, I've never been a fan of historical fiction. For the simple reason that most authors spend too much time detailing how the smoke was smoky and the fish were fishy 400 or 1500 years ago, and not enough time reimagining those common archetypes that make us human. That evoke the narrative of this all too fallible creature who is man, past and yet always present, who squirms with quirky, uncontrollable passions, smaller, more intimate stories filled with yearning, calamity and sorrow -- that have timeless relevance. Sure, Boyden attempted to develop the novel along these lines by devoting the first person narrative of each chapter to a single voice of one of his recurring characters, but overall, he bogged their personality down with too much historical (Read: Unnecessary) detail.
Sorry, Joe, I still believe you're the best Canadian author we've seen in years, and I know I leave The Orenda unfinished, but 2 stars is all I can squeak out for this one.
Profile Image for Bill.
308 reviews312 followers
May 3, 2014
fabulous book...I read the whole thing, all 490 pages of it, in one sitting. it's now 2am, so am going to bed.
Profile Image for Lorina Stephens.
Author 17 books62 followers
October 19, 2013
Simply put, Joseph Boyden's The Orenda is a timeless and imperative read for every Canadian. Even if you're not Canadian, you should read this novel. It will edify, illuminate, shatter, and complete your understanding of society during 17th century First Nations and European first contact. That The Orenda did not make the short list for either the Giller or the GG is quite incomprehensible. If ever there were a novel, and an author, worthy of our attention, our praise, and our accolades, it is The Orenda and Joseph Boyden.

Quite beyond The Orenda's importance in the canon of Canadian literature, it is a compelling read. (And for me one near and dear to my heart, given my own short story, And the Angels Sang, which formed the keystone story for my collection by the same name.)

Boyden tells the story of the Iroquoian pogrom against the Wyandot (Huron) peoples, which culminated in the destruction of the Jesuit mission at Ste. Marie among the Hurons in present day Midland, and the legendary torture and execution of St. Jean de Brebeuf.

While Boyden chooses fictional names for the people involved in this historic occurrence, the historical integrity and framework remains.

The story itself is told in first person, present-tense narratives through three voices, that of Snow Falls, an Iroquoian girl orphaned and captured by a Huron warrior; that of Bird, the warrior responsible for Snow Falls' plight and who subsequently adopts her; and Father Christophe, the Jesuit, or Crow, who comes among the Huron to bring his version of redemption and salvation to the sauvages.

Boyden sculpts these characters with a deft hand, so they are fully realized, living entities with voices so strong they haunt your thoughts. There is no confusion when progressing chapter to chapter who speaks, a feat not easily accomplished unless at the hand of a confident writer.

The pacing is brisk, tense, never flagging, and even if a reader weren't aware of the history about which Boyden writes, there would be a sense of drums thundering beneath the text, of doom echoing through the forests.

All of these components are fused together with Boyden's trademark style, employing spare language, each word chosen for precise impact. This is a lean story which is, in contrast, defiantly rich and satiating.

Whether you choose to immerse yourself in The Orenda by way of eBook or print, I assure you these hours you spend reading will be profound and memorable.

Bravo, Joseph. Miigwech.
Profile Image for Josh.
299 reviews154 followers
May 4, 2016
(4.5)"We hurt one another because we've been hurt," she whispers. "We kill one another because we have been killed. We will continue to eat one another until one of us is completely consumed."

War. History has shown that war has been in play moreso than not; people have always conquered one another by force, assimilation, disease or a combination of all three. Frankly, we as humans, get along just as well as two betta fish in the same tank.

Brutality and Torture. Are these concepts relative to where we grow up? To the era we live in? Where we grow up and what era we live in? I believe so and this book opens my eyes to a history that I had only skimmed the surface of in my studies as a child.

A story of revenge turns into one of strength of a people, disregarding the fragility of life and living as one. It's about conversion of faith from the Old World and the anger it causes amongst the Haudenosaunee, condemning said people to an eternal darkness for which they cannot fathom, yet accept because they are the Huron, the Wyondot, the Wendat people.


Edit 05/04/2016: When you look at the cover of a book and are reminded of how strong a book was to you when you first read it and also made you interested in learning more about the history that was involved in the writing of it is quite the special thing.
Profile Image for Petra.
1,123 reviews12 followers
November 24, 2019
The Orenda - the life force or life spirit - of a culture and/or community; perhaps a person, although this story gives the Orenda a bigger purpose than the individual, in my opinion.
This book captures the life force of a tribe, a community, it's people, their culture & country. It also captures the life force of the Jesuits, their purpose, their souls.
Told through the perspectives of 3 people, a Huron warrior/leader, an Iroquois girl raised by the Huron and a Jesuit priest, this story tells the coming together and change of cultural, spiritual and individual futures. It also tells the shared past and present as the characters move towards their futures.
There's a shadow of knowledge that hangs over this story as well. We know how this story stands today and the future of these cultures, if not the characters. When the first gun is handed over, I felt sad. When the Natives were introduced to alcohol, I felt sad.
Through all the hardships in this story, the one clear message is that the Orenda lives on. It still lives and as long as it does, there's a chance that we can right the wrongs. The Orenda is strong.
Profile Image for KamRun .
376 reviews1,418 followers
October 27, 2017
سومین جلد از سه‌گانه‌ی سرخپوستی "پرنده". هرچند از نظر سیر نگارش، این کتاب بعد از دو جلد دیگر ( جاده‌ی سه‌روزه و از میان صنوبرهای سیاه ) قرار می‌گیرد، اما وقایع داستانی کتاب به دو قرن پیش از این بازمی‌گردد، زمانی که استعمارگران اروپایی به خاک آمریکای شمالی قدم گذاشتند و تعادل میان قبایل سرخپوستی را بهم زدند. داستان کتاب به درگیری‌های میان قبایل سرخپوستان و نقش کشیش‌های یسوعی در این میان می‌پردازد. رهبر یکی از این قبایل (برد) پرنده نام دارد، جد زاویر برد و ویل برد، کاراکترهای اصلی کتاب‌های بعدی. داستان تنها از جهت ارتباطی (هرچند ضعیف) با کتاب‌های دیگر این مجموعه و همچنین تکنیک چندروایی که بویدن در تمام آثارش از آن استفاده می‌کند جالب توجه است، وگرنه تنها با یک داستان صرفا حادثه‌محور و سرشار از خشونت روبرو هستیم
Profile Image for Karen.
116 reviews2 followers
October 8, 2013
I had such a hard time picking a rating for this book. On the one hand, there are passages of prose that are mind-blowingly beautiful and heartbreaking. And the world Boyden has recreated in his pages is so real you can almost touch it. And I am in awe of his ability to tell such a complicated history without the obvious assigning of blame. That is, indeed, one of his themes.

However. In cleaving so closely to history, he has forsaken story. In telling us that history through the eyes of 3 characters, he has left all 3 insufficiently developed. I felt simultaneously overloaded ... and wanting more.

Still, it's a book worth reading, and it tells a chapter of our history that every Canadian should know. I am by no means striking Boyden off my list of favourite authors. But this is not his best work, and I was more than a little disappointed.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,865 reviews370 followers
July 21, 2015
It’s hard to even begin writing about The Orenda, which is a powerful history of the Canadian nation. We Caucasian Canadians often forget that our history didn’t begin with the fur traders, the explorers, and the missionaries, that there were long established civilizations in the New World which had their own languages, values, and inter-group relations. Joseph Boyden reminds us of our Eurocentric bias and he is very much the man for the job. He is of Scots, Irish, and Anishinaabe (which you may know as Ojibwa or Algonquin) heritage, educated in a Jesuit school, spending plenty of his childhood in the Georgian Bay area, and still spending time hunting, trapping, and practicing many of the skills which he describes in The Orenda.

Boyden does a masterful job of sharing the praise and the blame equally among the three groups represented in The Orenda, the Jesuits, the Wendat (Huron) and the Haudenosaune (Iroquois). Even Jesuit Père Christophe eventually realizes that the “sauvages” have real, vibrant civilizations, plus great kindness, and he recognizes their basic humanity (which, remember, the Spanish conquistadores did not in South America—they treated the native populations as sub-human). And in the end, Bird, the Wendat leader, recognizes the strength and bravery of the Jesuit priest (who grows into it, to be sure). Boyden can accomplish this because he has a foot in both camps, ancestors on both sides of the divide.

I know that many people have difficulty with the torture depicted in the novel. I look at it as a historical fact—all three of these groups were practicing it, the Wendat and Haudenosaune against each other and the Catholic Church via the Inquisition. And there is still plenty of inhumanity in the world, whether is it through war, annexation of territory, the “rendering” of political prisoners, or beheading videos on the internet.

It would be too easy to set up the Jesuits as the bad guys in a novel like this—and Boyden gives us a much more nuanced view of the situation. The priests do have what they consider to be a higher calling (to convert Indians to Christianity), but they also become aware that they are being used by France to gain territory and hold influence over native populations. None of this would have been possible if the native populations hadn’t wanted the trade goods that were being offered—if they had refused to trade and had only provided resistance, the history of North America could be significantly different. But like all humans, they wanted the new, shiny objects and never imagined that acquiring would involve losing their souls, much like the Third World today is wanting First World technology without realizing that with it comes First World culture. I saw this so clearly when in Bhutan in 2010—the young people were so excited to get connected to the internet, to welcome visitors, to join technological society, but we as outsiders could see that much of what makes their country unique and valuable was very much endangered by exactly those things. And yet, who could deny them their chance to join the 21st century?

I wonder if Boyden will ever re-visit some of the surviving characters in a future novel? I would be very interested in hearing their further adventures if he ever does so. In the meantime, I will certainly be willing to check out his other writing.
Profile Image for Erwin.
89 reviews71 followers
December 28, 2015
A powerful and poignant story in which the old world meets the new world. The three narrators are wonderful but flawed characters in a harsh world. It was a fascinating and original novel. I intend to find out more this period in history but also about the author, Joseph Boyden, who wrote this great epic.
Profile Image for Laura Frey (Reading in Bed).
309 reviews115 followers
February 3, 2014
So I guess I'll call in sick tomorrow because this book just knocked me on my ass. Also need to recover from retro active Giller outrage.
Profile Image for Carolyn Walsh .
1,478 reviews605 followers
July 5, 2015
What to say about this book? Wow! An epic Canadian masterpiece portraying the 17th century Huron / Iroquois wars and the Jesuit priests who journeyed from France to spread Christianity and to persuade the natives to give up their own spirit (orenda) worship. A book filled with beauty, compelling characters, but with some of the most gruesome scenes imaginable.It is a book of love of family and friends,beauty of the land, righteousness,brutality, acts of kindness and sacrifice, and vivid descriptions of torture and death.
The book is narrated by three people:
Bird a man of the Huron tribe, a brave warrior and statesman who lost his wife and children in a past battle with the Iroquois.
Snow Falls, a young Iroquois girl who is taken by the Huron and becomes Bird's adopted daughter.
Pere Christophe, a Jesuit missionary, steadfast in his faith and firmly believing that the only way to save the native's souls is through conversion to his form of Christianity.
I found it difficult to rate this book as I had a great deal of admiration for the story, the superb writing and the character development, but there were so many passages that were ghastly and nightmare inducing. But that is part of our bloody history.
Profile Image for Marieke.
333 reviews189 followers
May 31, 2014
I really took my time with this once I realized I could neglect it and pick it up again without losing the thread and atmosphere. I think I was somewhat afraid to get to the end because I knew it would be hard to read. I was right about that, but every event that unfolded in the last 75 pages or so was a surprise. Boyden did not protect his readers, so do be prepared for some painful moments, but some breathtakingly beautiful ones too.

Sometimes when you spend so much time with a book the conclusion becomes predictable. That didn't happen here. And if it doesn't become predictable, it feels contrived. That didn't happen here, either. Somehow Boyden maintained everything from start to finish, which is a rare-ish feat. Endings are hard, and I sometimes remove a star for an otherwise five star book, but in this case, I want to add stars.

This is a powerful and important book about a shared history, a shared present, and a shared future, that I wish all Americans and Canadians could or would read. I'm so glad the book has been released in the US now; Americans go get a copy or tell you libraries to add it to their collections without delay!
Profile Image for Valerie.
164 reviews4 followers
August 23, 2013
I loved this book. Powerful, evocative, and a real education. I'd like to say all Canadians know the stories of the Huron, Jesuits, the Iroquois/Wendat (Huron) Indian wars, Martyr Shrine, Jean de Brebeuf - but it may be too much of an Ontario history; but I'm sure there are tales like this wherever there were missionaries, native peoples and the clash of tribes or cultures.

Set in the majestic Georgian Bay area, Pere Christophe is a Jesuit missonairy who has come into Wendat territory to convert the sauvages to Christ and away from their heathen beleifs. It is a book of love, family, relationships, territory, religion and it centres on Orenda - the soul that resides in all living things.

I was so moved by this book, and highly recommend it to everyone to experience life in 17th century Wendat territory. Joseph Boyden made me very proud to be Canadian with his very profound new book - I wept at the end of it - not because it was so sad, but rather that the power of the story was so strong and it was over. I will never forget Snows Falls, Bird, Fox, Pere Christophe or any of the Wendat.
Profile Image for Daniel Kukwa.
4,006 reviews89 followers
September 16, 2013
This is, quite simply, an extraordinary achievement. I'm not sure whether to classify this story as a triumphant tragedy or a tragic triumph...but it certainly stands as a work of historical/anthropological genius. The ultimate clash of cultures, searing emotions, and beautifully drawn characters -- it is a book you will be unable to put down. Exhilarating, terrifying, and touching, it is the summation of all that is civilized & barbaric in mankind, from three points of view. It is a story as relevant to the 17th century as it is to the present day. The best Canadian novel in years...and considering the competition, that's quite an achievement.
Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,482 reviews291 followers
August 27, 2018
lots of thoughts & feelings on this one because colonialism. was it inevitable? the writing is beautiful & the research behind this novel must have been epic. i was frustrated by the lack of a woman's voice early on (though) that changed the further i got into the story. the torture scenes & pretty much all the depictions of violence are heinous; but since this is a book about colonization i knew what i was in for. this book is many things & as i sit with it more i might revisit this review & add more to it. the idea that one culture is destroyed so that another can be born is obviously hugely & morally complex; Joseph Boyden did a great job with detail & voice. this is a great piece of historical fiction.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
868 reviews1,097 followers
December 18, 2015
3.5 stars.

The Orenda is a book that I didn't enjoy as much as I thought I would, but that I'm glad I stuck with. Around 20% of the way through I was tempted to DNF this, but I stuck with it and actually found myself becoming more in tune with the characters - if you find it a little slow at first, keep going because the action definitely heats up!

The novel is told from three perspectives: Bird, a Huron warrior; Snow Falls, a young Iroquois girl who Bird takes as a daughter to replace his murdered family; and Cristophe, a French Jesuit missionary who has been taken prisoner by Bird and is intent on finding converts.

It took me a while to get used to the three voices, as I wasn't aware of the three characters going into the novel. If you have this knowledge already, I can't imagine you'll have any trouble differentiating between the two, but it knocked me for six a little at the start. Once I got used to the characters though, I found myself in the thick of it when it came to the lifestyle of the First Nations. I wouldn't say each character has a particularly distinctive voice, but they are all interesting and entertaining in their own ways.

Just a heads up - if you aren't a fan of violence in literature, you might want to skip this read as there are numerous torture scenes in this book that were quite difficult, even painful to read. It's not often that a book turns my stomach, but Boyden's stark descriptions of the 'caressing' of prisoners took me by surprise. There is also reference to sexual violence, so again be aware of this before deciding to read the book if this is something that bothers you.

I found that the story was quite slow for the most part, but when the action and different turning points came about I found myself hooked and kept wanting to read more and more. The third and final part of the book was by far the best, if the most painful to read, and I liked that the novel didn't end how I expected it to. It was gritty and all the more entertaining and rewarding for it as I felt it to be (what I imagined it to be anyway) a much truer reflection of how events would have turned out in the time period it was set in.

If you are interested at all in Can Lit or the history of the First Nations, I'd highly recommend picking this up as it was rather eye-opening. Just don't expect a plot-heavy, fast-paced novel as this one is a slow-burner.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,137 reviews8,151 followers
February 17, 2015
4.5/5 stars

The whole time I was reading this book, and as I talked to people about my experience while reading it, I tried to figure out why I liked this book so much. Plot-wise the story is quite slow, and while the writing is nice, it's nothing extremely special. But the characters, I think, are what really make this story stand out.

The Orenda follows three narrators: Bird, a Huron tribesman; his captive daughter, Snow Falls; and a French missionary, Christophe. We get alternating chapters from these three perspectives, all written in the first person voice (which actually is quite effective and never confusing). The story unfolds as Bird takes Snow Falls from the Haudenosaunee people (also known as the Iroquois) as his daughter, and we follow his interaction with the Jesuit missionaries trying to 'civilize' the natives.

I think besides the interesting perspective of the characters, I enjoyed this book so much because it was about a subject I know very little about. I was intrigued by the indigenous peoples' ritual practices and traditions as well as the Jesuit's missions. I never got bored reading this, even though it seems like very little happens within the story.

Alongside all that there is an interesting magical realism interwoven into the story, with certain Huron characters who perform magic that the Jesuit's perceive as Satanic witchcraft. All of these dynamics really made for an engrossing, original story.

While I can't recommend this book to everyone, I think if the subject matter interests you, and you are okay with slow moving stories that deal more with relationships, then definitely give this one a try.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,764 reviews1,219 followers
July 21, 2015
For me, this went from a possible 4 star book to a 3 and finally to a 2, and if it hadn’t had so much that was good, it could have ended with only 1 star.

I have to say as the account went on, I got very weary of humans, not for the first time.

I do love the 3 narrative voices. For the most part I could tell who was narrating by what they said, but they didn’t have voices significantly distinctive from each other. That was okay though.

I was shocked but satisfied with the violence/talk of the violence. Even though this is a novel I didn’t doubt the veracity of the type and level of violence among these people during this time. I do love that neither the whites nor Natives are idolized or vilified, at least not outright by the author.

When I was about 12 I was given a book as a gift, A Woman of the People by Benjamin Capps, and it was billed as not showing the Native Americans as either too good or too bad, and it did a fabulous job, especially for the 1960s. Here I wish everyone had been shown just a bit better than they were.

I love the idea of the Orenda, even though I don’t subscribe to any group’s spiritual beliefs. I love the one with nature idea though. But while it was mentioned early on, I was expecting to hear more of it, hoping it would be better used to tie in everything together.

I did like the chapter titles but would have appreciated chapter numbers as well, even though most of the chapters were very short.

I came to think of this as basically a war story, heavy on the actual violence, and that’s not typically my kind of book, even though I have liked many.

Everything was very brutal. For quite a while, at the beginning, I enjoyed how that was broken up by lots of humor Particularly amusing were the misunderstandings among the Natives and especially between Natives and Europeans, but for me it stopped being funny and became simply tragic.

I didn’t end up surprised by anything that happened, not really, and that was okay.

From start to finish, I was inspired to research these tribes and how they lived, including seeing pictures of what their homes objects, clothing and decorations looked like. I do find the subject fascinating.

The story ended up dragging for me, badly dragging though, and between that and the violence described in such intimate detail, I ended up not really enjoying my reading experience.

I’ve read that this author’s first two books are significantly better than this one, and the writing here is excellent, so I’m not giving up on this author.

I don’t feel like spending any more time with this book, including thinking about it, so I’m not spending a lot of time writing this review.

ETA: Reputable publisher and already published author, and my library copy had its pages upside down from the way they should have been placed into the cover. Very weird!
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985 reviews656 followers
October 22, 2014
I have complicated feelings about this book. There are so many things it does well. The research is excellent. The complexity is top notch. The writing is good. On the other hand, the characters are weak. The story is often predictable. And there are issues with what happens to the female character.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
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