54 pages 1 hour read

Cherie Dimaline

Empire of Wild

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


Empire of Wild is a novel by the Métis novelist Cherie Dimaline, and it was published in 2019. The novel follows a Métis woman as she embarks on a quest to find her missing husband and incorporates elements of horror and magical realism. The novel draws on Indigenous mythology—particularly the legend of the rogarou—and explores the impact of Christianity, government exploitation, and colonialism on Indigenous people in Canada.

This guide uses the 2019 Random House edition.

Content Warning: The novel contains references to sexual assault, violence against women, and the abuse of children and animals.

Plot Summary

Joan Beausoleil is a woman in her late thirties who lives in the small community of Arcand, Ontario. Joan is a Métis woman, an Indigenous group who traces their ancestry back to relationships between early European settlers and First Nations individuals. She is part of a close-knit extended family, including her mother, two brothers, her grandmother, and her young cousin, Zeus. At the start of the plot, Joan’s husband, Victor, has been missing for nearly a year, and she is desperately trying to understand where he could have gone.

By chance, Joan happens upon a traveling Christian ministry and is shocked to see Victor there. However, Victor has no recollection of Joan and goes by the name the Reverend Eugene Wolff. A sinister man named Thomas Heiser, who is the leader of the ministry, tells Joan to accept that her husband is dead. Joan is deeply confused, and many people tell her that she must simply be mistaking another man for Victor. However, after her grandmother is killed in an attack by a wolf or large dog, Joan consults an elderly woman named Ajean and begins to reflect more on the mythology of the rogarou, a wolf-like monster said to roam the forests at night. Joan begins to wonder if Heiser could be a rogarou or some sort of similar monster who is holding Victor captive and leaving him unable to recognize her. Joan is convinced that she can evoke Victor’s memories and true identity. Zeus often helps her on her various trips and activities as she tries to track down Victor and understand how to help him.

While Joan embarks on this project, an alternating narrative unfolds describing Victor’s experiences. He is trapped in a large enclosure somewhere, with a sinister presence lurking outside of it. He can sense that Joan is trying to find him, but he is unable to communicate directly with her. Victor has been possessed by a rogarou, and his true self is now trapped in a liminal, magical space. Since Heiser is a Wolfsegner (a man endowed with a magical ability to charm and entrance wolves), he is controlling both Victor and another rogarou-possessed man named Robe. Heiser has a lucrative business brokering industrial development contracts with Indigenous communities and uses the traveling ministry as a means to do so: Victor’s charismatic preaching leads Indigenous people to convert to evangelical Christianity, and then they become much more amenable to signing away their rights and lands. Heiser is determined to keep Victor under his sway.

Cecile, a woman who also works as part of the ministry, is attracted to Victor and feels hurt when he rejects her advances. She decides to bring about his downfall instead and shares the location of the ministry with Joan. Once Joan has arrived at the location where the members of the ministry are staying, Cecile starts a large fire, which she plans to blame on Joan. Cecile ends up dying in the fire; amidst the chaos, Joan is able to lure Victor away and begin to bring him back to his true identity. She is horrified to learn that Victor was the one who killed her grandmother, but she still wants to save him.

Heiser and Robe attack Victor and Joan. They plan to kill Joan so that Victor will securely remain a rogarou forever. Before they can do so, Victor is able to break free of the rogarou that has been possessing him. He attacks Heiser and causes a car crash. After the crash, Victor and Joan are free to escape. They offer to help Robe, but he is now pure rogarou, and the human man whose body he once possessed is completely gone. Robe runs into the woods, and Victor and Joan hurry away, leaving Heiser with severe injuries from the crash. When they get back to where Joan left Zeus, the young boy has disappeared. Zeus has become a rogarou, and Joan is determined to find and save him like she saved Victor.

Joan calls to tell Ajean what has happened to Zeus and that she is making her way back home. Later that night, Ajean is woken up by sinister noises outside, and knows that Zeus, in his new rogarou form, is making his way back toward her and that she is in danger. Ajean thinks about the gruesome way in which Victor killed Joan’s grandmother and hopes that Joan will get back quickly. The novel ends ambiguously and forebodingly, with the threat of a confrontation between Joan and Zeus in his new rogarou form.