Cherie Dimaline in her author’s note says she didn’t anticipate writing a sequel to The Marrow Thieves, and I understand why. French’s story of finding a new family in a post-apocalyptic world where Indigenous people’s bone marrow is being harvested to give non-Indigenous people back their dreams is quite a powerful tale on its own. There isn’t a need for a sequel … or at least, there wasn’t. Now that Dimaline has given us one, I have to say, I’m very impressed.
Spoilers ahead for The Marrow Thieves but not for this book.
Hunting by Stars picks up where The Marrow Thieves leaves off. Minerva, the Elder of French’s newfound family, has been killed in an attack by Recruiters. Nevertheless, Miigwans was reunited with his partner Isaac, and the family had found a larger group to join up with—a group that includes French’s long-lost father, Jean. But as the book opens, French himself has just been taken by Recruiters. At the institution where he is held, he discovers something more terrifying than having his marrow sucked dry: his brother, Mitch, who sacrificed himself to save French when French was ten years old, is now working for the institution. And he expects French to start working for them too.
Dimaline branches out her storytelling in this book. French remains a first-person narrator, but chapters follow Rose and a few other characters in limited third person as well. Rose leaves the group to pursue and try to rescue French. Meanwhile, the rest of the family reluctantly decides it must leave south, for the States, to protect Wab’s unborn child.
This is a story of broken reunions and betrayal. It’s also about hope. Consider how Rose tries to get the two-spirit Nam to help her escape from Nam’s uncle’s incredibly creepy sex cult (did not expect that whole subplot, but in retrospect, this is a post-apocalyptic world, so I probably should have). Rose’s entire attempt to sway Nam to her side involves appealing to their hope for the possibility of a better future than the one they currently eke out—a future with a family that actually cares for them.
Chosen family and relationships thus form the backbone of Hunting by Stars even more so, I think, than they did the first book. French’s reunion with Mitch is bittersweet precisely because they are blood relations, brothers, yet Mitch is doing his best to convince French to join the dark side. In contrast, Miig, Isaac, Tree, Zheewon, etc.—that family, French and Rose’s found family, are loyal and true. I know that concepts of relation among Indigenous peoples are complex and fraught with colonial trauma (not just residential schools, but the Sixties Scoop alienated a lot of people from their nations and communities), so there is likely a lot that I, as a settler, am missing to these dynamics. Nevertheless, I certainly understand the appeal of finding people who will always be in your corner.
French’s agony over how he might pretend to go dark side is also a palpable and powerful aspect of this book. The way he gradually collects the notes from his fellow inmates, and how he reluctantly participates in a kidnapping operation, all comes together to touch on a larger issue of collaboration. We see this in the minor characters of the nurses who help Indigenous people escape and Father Carole, the “man on the inside.” To what extent does one collaborate with a harmful system in order to feed information to the outside or participate in even broader resistance from within? At what point does the sham of collaboration become indistinguishable from actual collaboration and thus indefensible? French’s primary worry, when he has a chance to return to his family, is that they will perceive him as a traitor when they discover the truth of what he has done. It’s a sensible fear.
I think some readers of these books will balk at the dystopian world portrayed here. The American women who function as vigilantes feel extremely over-the-top at first. But I think that is a fundamental underestimation of the lengths to which both the state and individuals would go to oppress a marginalized group (such as Indigenous people) when there are benefits to it. We are not far removed from residential schools, from high Arctic relocations, from the Trail of Tears. Systemic discrimination against Indigenous people in the justice system, the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the discrimination against Indigenous people in our health care systems are all ongoing issues. What Dimaline does in Hunting by Stars is simply extrapolate how this oppression might manifest in a society stricken by a plague so devastating it breaks down a lot of our existing supremacist systems. But to see it as unrealistic is to ignore the fabric of our modern day society on which this story is firmly constructed.
Hunting by Stars proved to be an engrossing read, one that captivated me even more than The Marrow Thieves did. I also think it stands on its own as well, so if for some reason you don’t want to read the first book, you can pick this one up and still follow along. This is the second post-apocalyptic novel I have read this year already—I don’t know what’s going on! But as with Parable of the Sower, I have no regrets.