The Orenda

The Orenda

by Joseph Boyden

From the Scotiabank Giller Prize-Winning author of Through Black Spruce comes a literary masterpiece steeped in the natural beauty and blood-soaked brutality of our country’s formative years

A visceral portrait of life at a crossroads, The Orenda opens with a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of the young Iroquois Snow Falls, a spirited girl with a special gift. Her captor, Bird, is an elder and one of the Huron Nation’s great warriors and statesmen. It has been years since the murder of his family and yet they are never far from his mind. In Snow Falls, Bird recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter and sees the girl possesses powerful magic that will be useful to him on the troubled road ahead. Bird’s people have battled the Iroquois for as long as he can remember, but both tribes now face a new, more dangerous threat from afar.

Christophe, a charismatic Jesuit missionary, has found his calling amongst the Huron and devotes himself to learning and understanding their customs and language in order to lead them to Christ. An emissary from distant lands, he brings much more than his faith to the new world.

As these three souls dance each other through intricately woven acts of duplicity, small battles erupt into bigger wars and a nation emerges from worlds in flux.


The Orenda illuminates the shadowy moment of our inception as a country. It forces us to bravely consider who we are. The Orenda is much more than a timely novel. It is a timeless one; born a classic.”
National Post

“An epic worthy of Herodotus or Sima Qian, and by its ardour and high seriousness The Orenda declares it an equal to any ancient Greek or Chinese account of empires rising and falling.”
Globe and Mail

“Boyden’s bloody and brick-thick new novel, The Orenda, is a historical epic about an idealistic missionary caught between warring tribes, hundreds of years before confederation. . . Full of head-bludgeoning and throat-cutting scenes set in the wilds of what is now Ontario, the novel feels like a hybrid of Pierre Berton and Cormac McCarthy: perfect for readers who like a little arterial spray with their history.”
Toronto Life

“A beautifully written Canadian epic.”
—Adrienne Clarkson

“Canada is so young. You can see it. We don’t tend toward honest self-reflection. We don’t listen. We feel we have only things to teach, nothing to learn. Our identity is elusive, we don’t know who we are. Lately we’ve tried to trump up a nationalist rhetoric, a warrior history that isn’t. Because it’s more convenient, less hard, we’ve looked in the wrong places for the wrong things. To be truly ‘Canada’ we have to go further back, to look at the totality of all our actions, we have to go to the unsettling, uncomfortable parts, we have be truly self-reflexive. We can’t get away from it: ours is a history of deceit, plunder, genocide. The Orenda by Joseph Boyden is a new story. It helps us to unbelieve the old story, the one that has started to sound false, hollow, the one that has stopped us, distorted us. That is why it is important. Because Canada is so old.”
—Gord Downie

“One of the most powerful works of fiction about Canada’s history to come along in years.”
—Peter Mansbridge

“Joseph Boyden has taken our memory of the past – myth and fact – ripped it inside out with elegance, violence, emotion and understanding until before us stands a new myth, a new memory, of how we became who we are.”
—John Ralston Saul

“The Orenda is a powerful story from history, folklore and the imagination, based on the universality of human cruelty, superstition and perseverance. Wonderful writing.”
— Linden MacIntyre, Giller Prize-winning author of The Bishop's Man

“An important and engrossing novel. Boyden invites the reader to re-imagine a Canadian story you thought you knew.”
—Jim Balsillie, Co-Founder Blackberry

“I have spent almost forty years of my life studying both the archaeology of the Huron-Wendat and the annual accounts of the Crows and only now, having read Joseph Boyden's brilliant novel, do I feel the majesty and the horrors of the lives of these people.  His work should be required reading for every Canadian”
—Dr. Ronald F. Williamson, co-author of The Mantle Site: An Archaeological History of an Ancestral Wendat Community and Managing Partner of Archaeological Services Inc.

“Every so often, a book can bring the past back to life so vividly that it ceases to be history and becomes a part of the living world. Joseph Boyden has done this with haunting beauty and visceral strength, repopulating a destroyed world with characters so real and striking it is hard to think of them as fictional. The Orenda is not only Boyden’s finest work, it is one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read.”
—Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo





Joseph Boyden discusses The Orenda and the growing popularity of Indigenous art and literature in Canada (TVO, The Agenda)

Revision Quest: Joseph Boyden set out to explore his First Nations roots. What he discovered has changed the national conversation (The Walrus)

Joseph Boyden on his literary influences (Globe and Mail)

Wab Kinew, Joseph Boyden celebrate Canada Reads victory on Q

The Orenda wins Canada Reads 2014 (CBC)

Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda wins Canada Reads (National Post)

Trapping to Save a Culture (National Post)

Joseph Boyden’s Canada Reads playlist (CBC Shift)