Author– Cherie Dimaline
Title– Empire of Wild
Publisher– W and N
Publication Date- April 1st 2021
Notes– I was given a free copy from The Orion publishing group and the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and will be passed down through the generations as a warning to all.
Buy Link– Amazon (unaffililated)
Broken-hearted Joan has been searching for her husband, Victor, for almost a year – ever since he went missing on the night they had their first serious argument. One hung-over morning in a Walmart parking lot in a little town near Georgian Bay, she is drawn to a revival tent where the local Métis have been flocking to hear a charismatic preacher. By the time she staggers into the tent the service is over, but as she is about to leave, she hears an unmistakable voice.
She turns, and there is Victor. Only he insists he is not Victor, but the Reverend Eugene Wolff, on a mission to bring his people to Jesus.
With only two allies – her Johnny-Cash-loving, 12-year-old nephew Zeus, and Ajean, a foul-mouthed euchre shark with deep knowledge of the old Métis ways – Joan sets out to remind the Reverend Wolff of who he really is. If he really is Victor, his life and the life of everyone she loves, depends upon her success.
Inspired by traditional Métis legends, Cherie Dimaline has created a propulsive, stunning and sensuous novel.
One of the things I love so much about being a book blogger is being exposed to books that I never would have picked up on my own.
I have to admit that I was originally drawn to the cover and the idea that it was a werewolf tale set in the modern day. Sadly, I know little about First Nations’ culture but ever since I was young I have loved myths and legends and am fascinated by the stories built up and passed down from one generation to the next.
I was a fanatical X-files fan and have remained passionate about the folklore of beasts and monsters.
The Werewolf, Loup-Garou, Lycanthrope, Neuri, Luison, Vukodlak or even Viking Berserkers have been around for almost as long as Vampires and inspire similar fear. The Métis version (Rogarou) isn’t one that I had heard of so it was interesting to read a version of the werewolf legend that was new to me.
In Empire of Wild, the Rogarou was the boogieman type of creature. He came for you if you were disobedient to your parents, or cheated on your wife or hurt women. The Rogarou could hunt you, possess you, and destroy you.
The fear of this beast and what he had, potentially, done to or with Victor was the major allure of this book to me. Therefore, I was slightly disappointed to find that this wasn’t centre stage. Rather the story focussed on Joan and her desperation to get her husband back. Empire of Wild was literary fiction and not fantasy or science fiction so I found I had trouble finishing it. As much as I do adore character-driven stories, I discovered that I didn’t like Joan or her choices.
That isn’t to say that I don’t understand the appeal because I honestly think that this will become a best-seller. I know several of my library patrons who I will be suggesting it to.
This felt like I was reading a book club choice and I could immediately see how this sort of literary fiction could inspire conversation and controversy. From discussions about race and faith to the differences in generational culture, Empire of Wild is a treasure trove of discourse and contemplation.
The first chapter about the displacement of the Métis people and the encroachment of the rich white man was heart-breaking in both its simplicity and the poetic inevitability of the language used to describe it. The characters of Zeus and Ajean, who filled rich roles in the story, helped to build up a community in your mind of individuals not just a collective and that made it feel more real.
Also, as I later discovered, the travelling Church scene trying to ‘poach’ First Nations and turn them from their culture to Christianity (via somewhat underhanded means) is quite a real problem in southern America.
Overall while the book wasn’t for me If you like literary fiction written in beautiful language you should definitely check out Empire of Wild.