Today, I’m thrilled to kick off the blog tour for Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline, out today from Weidenfeld & Nicholson. While this has been out in Canada for a bit, today is its UK release. This is based on traditional Métis legends, something that I have no prior knowledge about but that made this extremely appealing to me. I have read far too few books by indigenous writers, and this is an excellent one to start with if you feel similarly.
Many thanks to Will O’Mullane and W&N for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 01/04/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: 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. (from W&N)
OPINIONS: This is equal parts a mystery, psychological thriller to an extent as a speculative fiction novel. I loved Jean’s character, a smart, take-no-bullshit lady in her thirties, trying to figure out what happened to her husband, who disappeared almost a year ago. Through glimpses into the past, we see how she evolved from a directionless young woman into one who is sure of herself and what she believes in. And, oh, how satisfying it was to read a book that was so explicitly rooted in Métis culture. It is something I knew very very little about aside from stereotypes, and I learned so much (yes, I am the nerd who learns about the world from novels). It’s not a book that deals with identity in the traditional sense, but one that is steeped in its culture.
I think it is very fitting for our times that one of the antagonists of the story is one of the few explicitly white-coded people. A business man, using Christianity for his personal aims. Feel like you’ve seen that before? Welcome to the history of the world. But Cherie Dimaline manages to implement it in a manner that’s not preachy (pun intended), but rather challenges the reader to explore their notions about the world.
This is not a perfect book, and there are things I wish had been done differently – for example, I wasn’t that happy about the ending, but it is a very good book, and an important one, packaging contemporary issues in a personal story.