This novel is a follow-up to Three-Day Road. The two narrators are related to Xavier Bird, one of the two Cree snipers whose stories are told in Boyden’s first novel. Will is Xavier’s son and Annie is his granddaughter.
Will Bird, a legendary bush pilot, lies in a coma. While in his deep sleep, Will's mind is in a state of active dreaming, looking back on his life. A sense of urgency compels him to share his life's story, a tale of survival, with his niece. And Annie, Will’s niece, tells her story to Will after some reluctance to talk to a comatose. She describes to her uncle the events of the last months that took her to Toronto, Montreal and New York City and, eventually, brought her back to Moosonee.
Will’s story is much stronger, the locale being portrayed much more realistically. The New York scenes do not seem real, although the glittering artificiality may have been intentional.
One of the themes is the death of traditional ways of life. Drugs are one of the contributing factors but there is also passing reference to residential schools.
The novel is also a study of the formation of identity. Annie finds herself shedding her tomboy past and slipping into the role of Indian Princess in New York. What she eventually discovers, as does Will, is the inescapable ties of family. Both characters are lost or stuck, peering through black spruce, but eventually escape the shadows.
One weakness is the ending. It is much too melodramatic so the tone of the novel is lost. It is a disappointing finale that does little justice to the rest of the novel.