Empire of Wild

Empire of Wild – Cherie Dimaline

Victor has disappeared.

Joan has been searching for her missing husband for months.  Consumed by guilt, Joan’s life is in shambles.  Following a night of heavy drinking, Joan makes her way to the local big box store for some much needed hangover supplies when she spots a tent in the parking lot.  Curiosity gets the better of her as she wanders over to check out what is happening inside.  Her heart stops when she spots her husband leading the service.  Only.. it isn’t her husband.  This man goes by the name of Reverend Wolff and seemingly has no idea who Joan is.  However, Joan is certain this man is her Victor.  Can Joan uncover the reason behind her husband’s sudden memory loss and bring him home?  Or worse yet.. has Joan herself lost touch with reality?

On the heels of her critically-acclaimed, best-selling YA novel, The Marrow Thieves, Cherie returns with a new novel that blurs the lines between belief and reality.  Empire of Wild follows Joan – a woman who wears her grief like an open wound; all raw and exposed.  Dimaline writes her with such uncanny emotion that you truly feel the struggle and desperation on the page as Joan seeks reconciliation with the love of her life.

The supporting cast helps to flesh out Joan’s world by establishing her deep connection with her family.  Although, outside of her nephew Zeus (who has his own tragic story), the rest seem to exist just for exposition – which isn’t exactly a bad thing, to be honest.  Joan’s adversaries in the novel, a traveling Christian church revival headed by the loathsome Thomas Heiser, do their job in giving Joan a worthy obstacle separating her from Victor..  Dimaline takes time to explore what makes Joan’s newfound enemies tick thus making them despicable baddies.  Heiser’s lackeys, Cecile and Ivy, find themselves often at one another’s throats, but aren’t made to seem inept.  Cecile in particular drives a lot of the action in this one, especially near the end.

The novel’s conclusion is particularly heart-wrenching, but I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to spoil anything.  It was nice to read a hyped novel where the author was unafraid to go to a place that could polarize an audience.  Maybe I’m in the wrong and everyone will enjoy it as much as me.

I’m not sure Dimaline eclipsed The Marrow Thieves with this one, but it’s a good read in its own right.  Empire of Wild has already topped Indigo’s list of Best Books of 2019, so I expect more continued success for Dimaline.  I can’t wait to read what she comes out with next.

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