Within the confines of the Yukon wilderness, Pyper fashions a novel that is both broad in scope and intimate - the life and death of a forest fire on the move and the humans caught in a painful drama of reawakening, self-revelation and the scorching despair of a lost soul.
After an intense relationship with soulmate Alex, Miles McEwan sees his dreams annihilated by a forest fire he barely escapes with his life, which leaves more damage than the physical scars that cover half his body. Running from a future he cannot fathom, Miles leaves Alex, spending the next five years moving from small town to small town, each more remote and isolated from the social amenities of civilization.
An outcast among outcasts, Miles finds employment as a firefighter with an association of like-minded souls in Ross River, the locals gathering nightly in a smoke-stained tavern: ďItís not like thereís nothing to do but drink. Itís that thereís nothing better to do than drink.Ē The days pass as the crew awaits the next fire that requires their attention, most living off the occasional overtime from putting down a blaze.
Miles has settled for this half-life, engaged in a psychic battle with the surly guide, Wade Fuerst, who harbors a good deal of vitriol for Miles, both real and imagined. Then everything changes as the barís door opens, a shaft of blinding sunlight revealing a woman and a child.
In that instant, Milesí life shifts from vaguely bearable to an unavoidable confrontation with his past. Alex and her daughter, Rachel, intrude, Alex on a righteous mission after five years of searching. A reckoning ensues at the end of the world, where Milesí existence has shrunk to accommodate few needs, his withered soul exposed to the impact of Alexís scorn and to Rachelís capacity for unconditional love.
The earth smoldering with the untapped energy of an incipient blaze that will devour all in its path, Miles and Alex enact their painful roles, each searching for relief in the face of a lost future. Wade watches the family drama, planning revenge but distracted by a hunting party that adds yet another layer to this nerve-wracking tale.
Skillfully, Pyper enacts a grand denouement: Wade, a tortured soul whoís lost everything a man could value; a grizzly sow, caught in a forest fire and the consequences of a hunterís rifle, the scent of her cubs still fresh in her consciousness; a man and his friend and his family, given a last chance after throwing away too many; and a voracious fire that dances and swirls, devouring all in its path and hungry for more, as unpredictable as Milesí long-dormant appetite for life.
In prose that is as haunting as it is fierce, man, nature and truth struggle against a daunting enemy, both physical and psychological. There is redemption here, and hope, but only after love is purified by sacrifice and compassion. Disappointment and despair lie buried in the ashes, the forest renewing itself and those who cling to its bounty.