Father Christophe, one of the first French priests to evangelize the Indians of Canada west of Kebec, finds himself at the beginning of the novel captive to a group of Huron warriors. The group is returning from a trading expedition, but they recently attacked a family of Ojibway, their enemies. Bird, the leader of the party, is seeking revenge for the killing of his wife and daughters by the same group. He keeps one young girl, Snow Falls, to be his daughter but kills the rest of the family.
The novel is narrated in turn by Bird, Father Christophe, and Snow Falls. Father Christophe, whom the Hurons call the Crow, finds life in the village brutal and the customs of the people barbaric, but he is determined to learn the people’s language and convert them.
Bird continues to grieve for his wife and addresses his sections of the book to her. He is concerned about the problems of the village and his people, and not least with his difficult new daughter.
Snow Falls is determined to escape and to at all times demonstrate her defiance.
The novel covers about ten years, during which things go well and then badly for this group of Huron people. A combination of disease from contact with the French and the hostilities between the Hurons and their enemies eventually have results that presage what will happen on a larger scale throughout North America.
The novel paints a fascinating picture of the daily life among the Huron and of the misconceptions and misunderstandings between the native people and the Europeans. It is a wonderfully involving book.