Book Review: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

“I learned there were times when I was expected to be a Fontaine and other times when it was safe to be a Firekeeper.”

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This book. I hardly know where to start of what to say that isn’t just “this book is phenomenal, please read it”, so excuse me in advance if this turns out to be just me fangirling a lot.

Daunis Fontaine is really going through it at the start of this book. Her beloved GrandMary is in a care centre following a stroke, her mother is struggling, Daunis has changed her plans to leave and study so she can be there to support her, and then she witnesses a horrifying murder and finds herself being pulled into an investigation as an undercover informer.

She returns to the moment of the murder playing it over and over in her mind, trying to remember everything and piece it together into something that makes sense to her, and in the context of the wider investigation. It is not easy to read, but we get to see how Daunis gradually remembers more details from that night and the impact that this has for her. A big part of this novel is the investigation into her community, but it is so much more than that.

Daunis is struggling with her identity and finding her place in the world. She is biracial; the daughter of a wealthy white mother, and a Native American father, who feels like she doesn’t belong either as a Fontaine or a Firekeeper. She is acutely conscious that in different situations it is not always safe or desirable to be herself and open about her parentage. She is often subjected to racism because her skin is not considered the right colour for either part of her life, and we see the deep impact that this has on her.

The Ojibwe tribe is a huge part of Daunis’s life and identity. She is a descendent, but because of her parentage (and her father not being named on her birth certificate), she is not an enrolled member, so some of their practices are closed to her. This is a big thing to Daunis, and one of the main reasons she feels like she does not fully belong there. We are immersed in Ojibwe culture throughout the book, and I loved this. The ceremonies, symbolism and the way the Ojibwe acknowledge death particularly fascinated me.

I loved the relationships Daunis has with those around her. She has a brilliant relationship with her Auntie, who helps her to navigate just about every part of her life, and fights for her to be accepted. She has a complicated relationship with her brother, which is strained at various points in this novel. Jamie is also a huge part of her life; he is one of the investigators, posing as a member of the school hockey team and acting as Daunis’s boyfriend. Balancing their working relationship with their personal issues and feelings is a big part of the story, and one that really intrigued me. I enjoyed never being quite sure who could be trusted; there are some real betrayals and some genuine gasp-out-loud moments.

Being undercover makes things difficult for her, she is having to hide parts of her life from the people she most cares about. She hates lying to them. As things progress, she learns things about her friends, her family, and her tribe that she never knew. There is an ongoing internal battle between her need for justice, and her loyalty to her family and her tribe, and it was interesting seeing how Daunis navigated this and the choices that she makes as she learns things about

Firekeeper’s Daughter is a phenomenal debut, and a definite favourite. Angeline Boulley will be one to watch, and I will definitely be reading anything and everything she writes in future.

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