Review of Return of the Trickster by Eden Robinson
Return of the Trickster
by Eden Robinson
It’s always satisfying when a trilogy comes to a full-stop close, loose ends wrapped up and most questions answered. In Son of a Trickster, Eden Robinson introduced us to Jared Martin, a Haisla/Heiltsuk boy on the cusp of manhood and also learning about his magical heritage. Robinson could have stopped there—nearly did, by her account, not being much of a series writer—yet she didn’t. Trickster Drift followed Jared’s move to Vancouver, his attempts to stay sober, and his encounters with more threats both magical and mundane. This book had a more open ending, so I was very excited when I learned Return of the Trickster had come out. Robinson delivers the closure we want and need—but of course, it doesn’t come easily.
Trigger warnings in this book for alcoholism, blood, body horror, torture, death, murder, violence, sexual assault … a lot of stuff. This is a heavy book, seriously.
Spoilers for the first two books but not for this one.
Jared wakes up in a hospital in Kitimat, where he used to live with his mom, Maggie. His dad Philip takes care of him. Jared now knows that Philip isn’t his biological father—that honour belongs to Wee’git, a Trickster, currently deceased but still all-too-capable of causing mischief and annoying the living, Jared included. Jared’s misadventures in Trickster Drift have burnt out his power temporarily. On the bright side, his Aunt Georgina is stranded in an inhospitable universe. On the less bright side, Jared still has many enemies gunning for him, including Georgina’s minions, the coy wolves. He returns to Vancouver and his aunt Mave’s place, but it’s not safe for him or any of his loved ones. And so Jared must navigate increasingly violent threats with the assistance of all sorts of magical players, from his own mother to Chuck (a Wild Man of the Woods) and Neeka (an otter woman in human form).
While I wouldn’t say Return of the Trickster moves at a breakneck pace, it definitely builds towards the climax with an inexorable confidence. Notably different in this book, in contrast to the others, is the use of interstitial chapters told from the second-person perspective of other characters (Jared’s chapters are third person limited), including Maggie, Wee’git, and Anita. These chapters provide information that Jared would never have access to, allowing for a deeper mythos than the first two books could have (I particularly liked Anita’s brusque and honest chapter). Meanwhile, Jared’s chapters never stand still: new developments constantly throw a wrench into existing plans, so Jared and his allies must regroup.
It doesn’t help that these allegiances aren’t always built on solid trust (I’m thinking here of the uneasy relationship between Jared and Neeka). Jared has inherited the reputation of his father, who was … well, he was a Trickster. Something that Jared insists upon, but others have a hard time believing at first, is that he isn’t Wee’git—not literally, and certainly not figuratively. In some ways, as many characters point out, this makes him a bad Trickster. He is too earnest, too straightforward to truly inhabit the Trickster mantle the way someone like Wee’git could. At the same time, this proves Jared’s greatest strength: everyone is expecting him to zag when, nope, he really is going to zig and do what he told you he would do.
As I mentioned earlier in the trigger warnings, there is a metric shit tonne of violence in this book. This is not a departure from the previous books, which after all included Maggie stapling David’s feet to the floor with a nail gun. Nevertheless, if you are upset by on-page violence, this is going to mess with you. The death toll is high, the casualty count even higher, and Robinson doesn’t sugarcoat it. I admire this decision even if it’s not exactly my cup of tea. The brutality feels quite natural within this world that Robinson has created. I hesitate to call it “necessary” because I don’t believe grimdark is necessary for telling an authentic, real story—Game of Thrones is a wonderful example of something that seems to delight in gratuitous violence. Rather, what Robinson has constructed here is a universe (or multiverse, I suppose) that is full. It has its grim, dark moments of violence and fear. It has its hilarious moments, like chicken Georgina and Bob the tentacle monster. This ability to balance her darkness with a staunch kind of humour is one of Robinson’s best qualities as a writer, in my opinion.
You’re going to see a lot of people who praise these stories as a great example of Indigenous literature and put Robinson on a lot of lists featuring Indigenous authors. Cool—she definitely deserves the recognition! However, I want to stress that Robinson is a great writer full stop. Her stories should be taught in courses not just because they are Indigenous literature but because they are damn fine storytelling. The fact that Robinson has chosen to share from elements of her culture is a gift to us, and it is our duty not to colonize that gift by siloing it away under the flattening label “Indigenous.” This is a story of a Haisla/Heiltsuk man/Trickster who nevertheless is undergoing very recognizable struggles with mortal problems like alcoholism, family issues, and finding his purpose.
I loved the ending. I loved the epilogue. I’m not sure I loved this book as much as the first two, hence why I’m not giving it 5 stars right away (maybe, if I revisit the first two and then this one, I will change my mind one day). Regardless, if you have read the first two books of this trilogy, Return of the Trickster will not let you down. If you haven’t … well, get on it.
And I will forever be mad at Michelle Latimer for allowing her ego to result in the cancellation of Trickster, the CBC series, before it could translate this incredible story to screen.