There’s a shadow over Cherie Dimaline’s latest novel, Empire of Wild (2019).
Part of it could appear in a history text: “In the church and at his Catholic day school, the priests called seven the age of reason. Moshom called it the age of learning how the hell to survive. Same thing, really.”
Part of it is more poetic: “The moon was a perfect hole in the sky, bleeding the edges of the night to silver.”
Some of it is more supernatural than natural: “No matter which community claimed them, rogarous were known for some specific things. They smelled odd, like wet fur and human sweat. They were men turned into beasts for any number of reasons – each one unique to the storyteller.”
Readers of Dimaline’s earlier works, like her stories in A Gentle Habit (2015), will expect attention to detail, ordinary observations that often reveal small truths about characters. Characters who multitask because they are constantly active and alert, who attend to the weather before dressing to leave the house.
“Ajean pulled a long skirt over her jogging pants and talked while she laced up her moccasins. ‘I don’t know much about that magic from over there.’ She pointed with her lips randomly to the east, which Joan took to mean Europe. ‘But I don’t trust it. I believe it, but I don’t trust it.’ The old woman was bundled against the chill with a peculiar layering of sweaters.”
Readers of the popular and acclaimed YA novel, The Marrow Thieves (2017), will expect suspense and solid pacing. In this instance, the cast of characters is smaller, the action more focussed. “Up ahead, the smudge…lowered itself gracefully somewhere behind the trees. He chased it, pushing low branches out of his path with blood-strained hands as they caught at his jacket and his braid.”
And readers of both works will warm to the familiar occasional wry note of humour, even when (especially when) confronting fearful situations and creatures: “They were as notoriously bad at math as they were obsessive. A rogarou, try as he might, could only count to twelve. Put thirteen things by your door and he would be inclined to stop and count them. But since he could only get to twelve, he could never count the entire pile, so he was doomed to start again and again, stopping at twelve and returning to one. Eventually, he’d give up and go away, forgetting he’d ever intended to enter. At least that was the theory.”
In short, if you’ve read and enjoyed Cherie Dimaline before, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. And, if you’ve not, but you’re anxious for the final volume in Eden Robinson’s Trickster Trilogy, disappointed that Drew Hayden Taylor hasn’t continued the story of The Night Wanderer, or itching for longer horror stories like Richard van Camp’s “On the Wings of This Prayer” (the opening story in Godless but Loyal to Heaven): crawl into this dark place while you wait.