Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline
Horror | Thriller
Published by William Morrow
Released (in the US) 28 July 2020
Goodreads | Amazon
I’m usually wary of contemporary horror. I’m sure there are some amazing examples of the genre out there, but thus far I haven’t been a particularly huge fan of what I’ve read. Cherie Dimaline’s Empire of Wild changed that track record for me. It’s an enticing monster story full of culture and personality.
Set in rural Canada among an indigenous family, our main character, Joan, searches for her missing husband. Everyone else has told her to give up as it’s been a year, but she’s not ready to let go. One night, she gets a shock when she sees her husband in a religious revival tent. Despite this man insisting that he is not Victor, her husband, Joan is determined to prove to herself and this man that he is in fact her husband.
Woven throughout the story is the folklore of the rogarou – a werewolf-like creature that takes people when they’re not expecting it. I know very little about indigenous Canadian folklore and legend, but this novel drew me in from the very first page. The ominous monster hides in the backdrop of the whole story, but at the same time, I found myself questioning Joan’s sanity and wondering if this monster was real or not.
Joan is a very relentless character who is repeatedly told that she’s wrong, but refuses to give up. To her, this is her last chance to get her husband back, and she’ll do anything to wake him up from the new life he’s living.
The novel is fast-paced, and I flew through it in a couple of days. I love novels where the protagonist has to question their sanity, and this was a great example of that sort of book. The characters are well-rounded and work well together, although I would have loved more of Ajean, the oldest (and wisest) person in Joan’s village.
Cherie Dimaline’s writing was beautiful and she deftly wove realism and horror together. It’s a wonderful addition to the speculative fiction genre.
The ending was wonderful, and I would love for there to be a sequel. I would read it the very second I got my hands on it. It’s not an ending that is wrapped up neatly, however, so if you’re the type of reader who needs a solid, wrapped-up ending, you may find yourself disappointed.