This novel was a surprise, what I expected in a well-plotted mystery enhanced by the basic themes of human and nature, betrayal, tragedy, redemption and the unpredictability of a forest fire on the rampage, a small flame simmering over a landscape, eventually dancing from tree to tree in a remote area of Yukon wilderness. Caught in the fire, the inhabitants of Ross River will face the fury of an out-of-control burn, their intimate personal struggles laid bare in a stunning denouement. From the first, from the eager, hungry tongues of flame that nibble on the dry branches, subdued by nighttime damp, to the electric atmosphere of the local bar, where a group of outcasts establish an uneasy peace, this story is fueled on raw energy, jealousy and rage, the tensions building as surely as the teasing blaze that twirls along the edges of its intent.
Lead firefighter Miles McEwan has finally retreated to the furthest corner of the world where he can exist on a minimum of commitment, his body half-clear, half-scarred by a fire that almost took his life along with his future. Marriage plans with Alex abruptly shattered by a psyche damaged as deeply inside as outside, Miles chose to run from a situation that overwhelmed him. Now, five years later, the smoky gloom of the bar is severed by a slice of sunlight and the entrance of a woman and a little girl, hand in hand. After five summers of searching, Alex has found Miles, come for her day of reckoning, their daughter's hand held in her fierce grip. Miles realizes the time has come to face the consequences of what he thought was pride, but is really cowardice, at least in Alex's eyes.
In this place, at this time, everything comes together, a long-time feud between a local guide, Wade, and Miles. Wade and Miles are eerily similar, except one has crossed the boundaries of a Faustian bargain, the other not yet committed to a soulless existence. As Alex bravely confronts Miles, purified by her anger, Rachel, her daughter, touches Miles' scarred face lovingly; elsewhere, a grizzly sow and her pups are trapped by Wade and his partner's wealthy hunter, setting yet another critical element of the drama in motion. Miles searches desperately for redemption, for one more chance as the ferocity of nature threatens, the world made small in a battle to survive the flames one more time. In wonderful, insightful prose, Pyper delivers on every count, man against nature and a formidable enemy to find his finer self. Luan Gaines/2008.