2021’s Return of The Trickster is the third and final volume in Eden Robinson’s Trickster trilogy.
Jared Martin aspires to an unremarkable but useful life as a medical technician. Fate (in the form of difficult relatives) propels Jared towards something more dramatic. Jared’s biological father is Wee’git the Trickster, which means Jared is a potential Trickster as well. This means Jared has an enormous metaphoric target on his forehead. Any number of powerful entities would like to prey on a naïve, untrained Trickster.
Powerful entities such as Jared’s biological aunt Georgina, known centuries ago as Jwasins and now best labelled “the ogress.”
Jwasins’ path to the dark side began with vanity. She was extraordinarily attractive; she resorted to increasingly exploitive magical methods to preserve her beauty. When this became impossible, she refocused on unnaturally extending her long life. Immortality on the installment plan comes at a steep price, which Jwasins paid by becoming an apex predator.
Jwasins is adept at exploiting people; Jared for his part is astonishingly gullible. Jwasins plotted to use Jared to escape our doomed world to new frontiers. This plot should have worked … but instead Jared outwitted Jwasins and led her into a trap. Jwasins was luckier than her immediate family (who all died); she survived, but she is trapped in a desolate world. Needless to say, the ogress is not happy.
A much-depleted Jared has made it back to our world, where his friends and family assumed with good reason that his deplorable physical condition was proof that young Jared had fallen off the wagon … again. Mundane medicine can alleviate some of Jared’s symptoms, but it cannot address their root cause, because mundane doctors know nothing of the unseen world.
Wee’git isn’t the only magical adept in the family. In fact, many of Jared’s kinfolk are witches and the like. All of them are more experienced, more prudent, and in many cases more powerful than Jared. They are perfectly capable of providing him with the training he needs to survive. The question is whether Jared will be able to learn enough to deal with Jwasins.
She may be trapped but she can still communicate with Jared and her nihilistic minions in our world. If Jared will not bend to her threats and free her, she will start killing his friends and family.
People who dislike violent death and brutal dismemberment will not enjoy this book.
This is an SF-adjacent modern fantasy: the supporting cast includes extradimensional fireflies and the term “Anthropocene” appears frequently, generally in the context of explaining why so many powerful beings desperately want to escape our world before humans’ End Permian II makes life on Earth unendurable. I am very curious what an overtly SFnal series from Eden Robinson would look like.
Magic involves both inherent ability and learned skills; the second can compensate for the lack of the first. One might wonder, therefore, why everyone doesn’t learn magic. It’s not only that adepts are careful about who they teach (although they’re training Jared, who cannot be described as a bright guy). It’s also that dabbling in magic is dangerous. Take an interest in the magical world and the magical world will take an interest in you, quite possibly as food.
Readers may be tired of fantasies in which the lead is superior in all ways to the little people on whom the protagonist bestows their heroic largesse. Those readers will enjoy reading about humble Jared, whose life is a series avoidable catastrophes and whose heroism is often misplaced (giving a small girl the magical protection that he desperately needs himself).
While I didn’t find this book quite as enthralling as the first novel in the series — after a while one begins to wonder if Jared will ever learn from experience — but it certainly kept my attention. I regard the trilogy as whole successful, which guarantees that I will be keeping an eye out for future Robinson works.