Title: Empire of Wild
Author: Cherie Dimaline
Genre: Horror, Supernatural, Indigenous stories
TW: Violence, brainwashing
Purchase: Indigo (Affiliate link)
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 terrible, hungover 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 named Eugene Wolff. 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 Victor is. The same face, the same eyes, the same hands. But his hair is short and he’s wearing a suit and he doesn’t recognize her at all. No, he insists, she’s the one suffering a delusion: he’s the Reverend Wolff and his only mission is to bring his people to Jesus. Except that, as Joan soon discovers, that’s not all the enigmatic Wolff is doing.
With only the help of Ajean, a foul-mouthed euchre shark with a knowledge of the old ways, and her odd, Johnny-Cash-loving, 12-year-old nephew Zeus, Joan has to find a way to remind the Reverend Wolff of who he really is. If he really is Victor. Her life, and the life of everyone she loves, depends upon it.
The plot of his book is one of complete visceral loss, and sometimes visceral scenery while we’re at it. It is hard to lose someone, it is harder to lose someone while they might still be there, and every moment of the plot uncovers this. It is a haunting book, and it was really great to learn more about the legend of the Rougaroo, aside from stories some friends shared with me as a child. The ending was powerful.
Joan is a really tenacious character, which I can appreciate. It did amuse me though that the summary referred to Ajean as the foul-mouthed one when really everyone in this book had a bit of a mouth to them. And I thought I swore like a sailor (I do, it’s a problem, my mother abhors it). My second favourite character was Zeus, who deserved better than he got.
This novel was super compelling, and I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it or not. It definitely sticks with you. I also loved the setting of this novel, as it took place in areas of my province where I’ve never been to. The tock about race relations within Canada was super important too, as it is definitely something to be improved upon.