Spiritual beings, extraordinary powers, and jokes about Frozen are unleashed with abandon in the third and final instalment of Eden Robinson’s groundbreaking Trickster saga. After the first books dawdled through the set-up, this book gleefully revs into supernatural and psychedelic action and keeps up that pace through to its giddy final battle.
As is helpfully recapped in the novel’s opening chapters, teen protagonist Jared has become fully aware of his abilities, helped (or not) by the looming presence of his father Wee’jit, a 500-something-year-old Trickster of Indigenous legend. As he seeks to understand his growing powers, Jared becomes a magnet for an ever-expanding crew of mystical entities including, but not limited to, ancient otter people, a ghostly octopus, and a sasquatch disguised as a human with the temperament of Willie Nelson (“for a supernatural being, he was wearing a lot of earthy coloured M.E.C. fleece”).
Yet this fantastical world continues to be curiously confined to the backseat as Jared juggles with more pressing concerns: staying sober, housed, employed, and under the radar of his enemies, magical and otherwise. Even charming his on-off love interest, Sarah, is an afterthought.
As Robinson rounds the final bend of her supernatural fantasy, it feels at times like she (in cahoots with her publisher’s marketing department) has pulled off a bait and switch: what was billed as a superhero-esque coming-of-age adventure steeped in traditional Indigenous stories takes such care in observing Jared’s precarious relationship with sobriety that it’s tempting to see addiction as the true villain, and not the ancient ogress inhabiting the skin of his aunt Georgina.
Robinson’s originality is both the joy and pain of reading the Trickster series. Robinson’s voice is like no other (when Jared’s grandmother, coaching him in his abilities, asks, “Can you hear the sky?” he responds, “Is that a thing?”). But often the author’s dry humour and penchant for delivering an outrageous detail as a comic aside overshadow her key plot points and world-building. By not flagging the importance of some of these more fantastical elements, they can fall flat, which makes reading this novel, and the series as a whole, confusing.
The occasionally opaque storytelling is made all the more disappointing because of the series’ massive platform: one can imagine infrequent readers being introduced to the Trickster saga through the hype of the CBC series, only to put it down in frustration. (Robinson committed in December to donating her future author royalties from the series to the Haisla Language Authority after series director Michelle Latimer failed to adequately explain her Indigenous ancestry. The series was cancelled by CBC with Robinson’s blessing.)
The ingredients Robinson has assembled – Indigenous stories, addiction and recovery, the power of the West Coast’s natural world, supernatural couch potatoes – while strong on their own, aren’t always as effective once blended together. While this series may have come to a close, its best quality – Robinson’s unmistakable style – is not going anywhere.
Update, March 2: This story has been updated from the version which ran in the March print issue to reflect that the Trickster TV series has been cancelled.