The Next Chapter

Daniel Heath Justice recommends 3 great Canadian fantasy reads

The B.C. writer talks about Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline, Witchmark by C.L. Polk and Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
Daniel Heath Justice, a scholar of Indigenous literatures and cultures, is pictured here with Shelagh Rogers. (Charlie Cheffins/CBC)

Daniel Heath Justice is a Cherokee novelist and professor who's had a love of fantasy fiction for as long as he can remember. He believes that "speculative fiction reminds society there are other ways of being in the world."

The Next Chapter columnist and author of the Thorn and Thunder novelsBadger and Why Indigenous Literatures Matters spoke with Shelagh Rogers about three recent Canadian fantasy novels he loved.

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

Cherie Dimaline is the author of Empire of Wild. (CBC, Random House Canada)

"Cherie Dimaline is a Métis author and editor whose award-winning fiction has been published and anthologized internationally. It's a brilliant follow up to her YA novel The Marrow Thieves. It's not a continuation of that book. This one isn't for kids. This one is for a more adult audience. It's a Métis story about the rougarou, roughly similar to a werewolf, although it has its own very specific histories.

It's a wonderful and incredibly terrifying story about love and loss and redemption.

"It's a wonderful and incredibly terrifying story about love and loss and redemption. She takes up the history of missionization among Indigenous peoples, powerful and thoughtfully.

"She looks at the ways in which we talk about werewolves and the rougarou as shape shifters, but also looking at the ways in which missionary activities have worked to deform a lot of people — and how shame and and fear have contributed to that —  and how that all feeds into the rougarou's hunger.

"It's also a hilarious read, and incredibly sexy."

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow. (Del Rey, Martin Dee)

"Silvia Moreno-Garcia describes herself as Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Gods of Jade and Shadow is a splendid novel.

"It's set in Jazz Age Mexico. It's the story of Casiopea, who is chafing quite a bit at the many cruelties of her life. She's pretty much just a servant in her wealthy grandfather's home. She sets free an imprisoned death god and the rest of the story takes place from there where she kind of follows him as he tries to reclaim and put back together his dismembered power after he was overthrown by his much crueler and much more venomous twin brother.

Gods of Jade and Shadow is a splendid novel.

"So often when we talk the Jazz Age, we're talking about America. But the Jazz Age in Mexico was an astonishing place, politically and culturally. It's a time of real social transformation that is realized through a very different cultural context and very different political context.

"Moreno-Garcia really does a beautiful job of taking us through a wide array of Mexican locations and blending the epic histories with a society that is shifting and changing and going through a lot of transformations of its own."

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Witchmark is a fantasy novel by C.L. Polk. (Tor.com, @clpolk/Twitter)

"Witchmark by C.L. Polk is an interesting companion to Gods of Jade and Shadow because it's set in an alternative Edwardian time. In this world, there are witches and there are mages. It's a very hierarchical world. It's set in another world, but it feels very much like London just after the First World War, in the shadow of the carnage of that period. 

"It starts with what so many veterans from the First World War experienced coming back home and the ravages of PTSD that weren't understood and weren't recognized.

It's set in another world, but it feels very much like London just after the First World War, in the shadow of the carnage of that period. ​​​​​​

"We're here in this alternative world where the protagonist, Miles Singer, is a doctor trying to figure out how to help these men. He's coming up short because he doesn't understand the nature of their malady. He doesn't understand why so many of them are so broken.

"He's dealing with his own traumas from the past. And then, when one particular patient dies in his arms — and it's clearly not from natural means — he's thrust into an adventure but also a murder mystery."

Daniel Heath Justice's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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