Boyden’s Latest Creation is a Canadian Epic – The Orenda will captivate you.


The Orenda

by Joseph Boyden

Published in Canada by Penguin Canada 2013

Orenda:  invisible magic power believed by the Iroquois to pervade all natural objects as a spiritual energy.

Fox calls the new ones charcoal. “They are as heavy and as dumb,” he says as we watch two of them ahead of us in their hosts’ canoe lamely attempt to paddle. With their fresh robes, so black they absorb the late summer sunshine. I think Fox’s name for them is very good. But I will still call them all crows for the way they hop around and peck at the dead or dying things. 

Ok, so I’m going to change up my format here and just talk free form about this book. I picked this one up in my favorite Chapter’s at MicMac Mall after seeing it on the longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. The subject matter caught my eye because I know little about early First Nations people, and I was curious if a story about Huron’s and Iroquois would hold my interest for 500 pages. I have to add here I did not recognize the authors name at this point.

The Orenda, is a story of an Iroquois girl named Snow Falls, who is captured by the Huron war bearer named Bird, after he slaughtered her family in what can be best described as a blood bath by Bird and his men during a winter expedition. Bird also has in tow a man who is first described as “the crow” and it is decided that he will take the two back to his village to live. Snow Falls, is carried by “the crow” to the village and they nearly don’t survive the journey. Once back home, Bird decides to adopt Snow Falls, and it is here we learn that the “the crow”, is a Jesuit Priest, who’s come to the new world to minister to the sauvages and convert them to Christianity.

This beginning paints a beautiful backdrop to an epic story that spans the years, as Snow Falls adjusts to being the daughter of a man she despises for killing her real family. A hatred that drives her to cut off her adopted father’s finger and her own in the attempt as he sleeps. It’s also the backdrop for the story of Pere Christophe “the crow” and his time in the new world living among sauvages that he does not understand. And lastly, this story is also about Bird, a warrior, who has lost his own family at the hands of the Iroquois and has now taken his revenge by capturing Snow Falls.

To say the least there is a lot in this novel. The highlights for me are that it tells the story of the Wendat (Huron) people in a way that no history book in highschool ever has. The story this novel tells, draws the reader into the lives of these people, and for me allowed me to develop a deep admiration for their way of life, and left me with a sadness, knowing that the arrival of the Europeans on this soil forever changed this culture. To go even deeper, it asks of the reader, have we lost something that should not have been lost? The book only offers the following answer and leaves the reader to decide that question for oneself

Now what is most important, Aataentsic says, Orenda can’t be lost, just misplaced. The past and the future are present.

Snow Falls is the perfect heroine of this novel. She’s independent, strong, courageous, and fearless, and yet at the heart of it all, she is still a frightened girl who’s seen things no child should have seen. Her relationship with Bird is magic to watch, as she goes from terror, to hatred to revenge, and finally to love and respect. The moment in the novel when their fingers are simultaneously severed by her hand, binds the two together. By the end of the novel, their bond is strong, and some of the pages are hard to read as this piece draws to a close.

If I were to rate this book, it is an absolute five out of five. That rating surprises me, I have to add, and here’s why…when I got the novel home, excited to start…it was then that I discovered that Joseph Boyden had also written “Through Black Spruce” which I had not enjoyed at all when I read it two years ago. So to all of you, who say…I’m never reading him/her again…please remember this…always give an author a second chance…they may surprise or even stun you with their next piece.

I often feel I should offer a criticism when doing these reviews, but for this one, I cannot find anything negative. One bit of advice I can offer if The Orenda turns out to be your first Boyden novel…He unfolds the story in first person through first person account, rotating between two to three characters, at first this can be annoying, but once you get a feel for the characters, their voices become distinct and a pleasure to read.

Love it. There is little else I can say. I wish it had won the Giller Prize, it truly deserved the acknowledgement and its place on the best-seller list speaks for itself. Congratulations Joseph on a magnificent piece.

In closing I will add, for all readers in Canada…this is one to definitely add to your collection. It will forever change how you think about early Canadian history and the part the Huron and Iroquois played as well as the early church influence with these people.


The Author

Joseph Boyden, Born 1966, North York Ontario Canada, is a novelist and short story writer. His books have won several prizes and his work Through Black Spruce, won the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Joseph’s background in a Jesuit run College school and his Anishnaabe heritage lend themselves well to his novels about First Nations heritage and culture.

His other works include Three Day Road, and Born with a Tooth.

To learn more

Joseph Boyden