Empire of Wild by Cheri Dimaline
Publication Date: July 28th, 2020
Hardcover. 320 pages
About Empire of Wild:
"Joan has been searching for her missing husband, Victor, for nearly a year—ever since that terrible night they’d had their first serious argument hours before he mysteriously vanished. Her Métis family has lived in their tightly knit rural community for generations, but no one keeps the old ways . . . until they have to. That moment has arrived for Joan.
One morning, grieving and severely hungover, Joan hears a shocking sound coming from inside a revival tent in a gritty Walmart parking lot. It is the unmistakable voice of Victor. Drawn inside, she sees him. He has the same face, the same eyes, the same hands, though his hair is much shorter and he's wearing a suit. But he doesn't seem to recognize Joan at all. He insists his name is Eugene Wolff, and that he is a reverend whose mission is to spread the word of Jesus and grow His flock. Yet Joan suspects there is something dark and terrifying within this charismatic preacher who professes to be a man of God . . . something old and very dangerous.
Joan turns to Ajean, an elderly foul-mouthed card shark who is one of the few among her community steeped in the traditions of her people and knowledgeable about their ancient enemies. With the help of the old Métis and her peculiar Johnny-Cash-loving, twelve-year-old nephew Zeus, Joan must find a way to uncover the truth and remind Reverend Wolff who he really is . . . if he really is. Her life, and those of everyone she loves, depends upon it."
To those who have read and loved The Only Good Indians, I have your next read right here! Empire of Wild is a haunting tale from an indigenous voice that packs a punch and will leave you in awe of both the story and the message that comes with it.
Empire of Wild centers around Joan, a Canadian Métis woman who has been desperately searching for husband since he went missing almost a year ago. Things really start to get weird and take off when an on-the-road Christian church revival tent shows up in a parking lot one day and Joan is convinced her husband himself is the Reverend--though this, of course, is vehemently rejected. This story also focuses largely on the legend of Rogarou from Métis legend, which may play a role somewhere in this twisted and unpredictable book.
Joan is one of those characters that didn't necessarily hook me right off the bat, but grew on me over the course of the novel in such a way that I felt wholly connected to her by the midpoint of the novel and really couldn't get enough of her complexity and steadfastness in the face of all the hell she was and is put through. Dimaline shines when crafting her characters and conveying their thoughts and emotions, as I really found myself starting to experience struggles that Joan was experiencing and I could feel the urgency behind her actions.
There are many well-crafted additional characters as well, but the only other one I'll really speak on in this review is Zeus, Joan's nephew. Zeus is one of those characters that I immediately connected with and felt a sort of empathy towards, and I really appreciate how well Dimaline was able to convey his own story and struggles in such a minimalist yet prominent manner that doesn't let you ignore it.
In addition to her characters, Dimaline also handles a lot of really intense topics in a really careful yet blunt and unapologetic manner, which I think is part of what made this story stand out so much to me. Themes such as stereotypes and racism towards indigenous peoples, colonialism, religion and its effects on societies, tradition, culture, even some leanings toward effects on the environment from things such as colonialism and related ideas are prominent in this book, but are conveyed in such a way that made it feel extremely raw and real to the reader.
The ending of Empire of Wild is intense, a bit gut-wrenching, and left me dying to read more from Dimaline. She clearly isn't afraid to take big risks and stay true to the rawness that is present throughout the book, and I love that she ended this book in the way that she did (no spoilers!), even though it's not necessarily what people might want or expect. I love that it made me feel such strong emotions.
Overall, it's an easy five stars from me for Empire of Wild! I didn't know exactly what to expect going into this one, but I am more than satisfied with what I got from it. Dimaline excelled at writing a sharp and cutting book that not only tells a compelling, but rather an important one that we could all benefit from reading. I can't recommend Empire of Wild enough, especially if you also loved The Only Good Indians!