2018’s Trickster Drift is the second volume in Eden Robinson’s Trickster trilogy.
Seventeen-year-old Jared Martin has been sober for the last year; he’s ready for college. He leaves Kitimat for Vancouver, intending to study at the British Columbia School of Technology.
Necessary backstory: Jared’s mother is a witch, while Jared himself is the son of Wee’git the Trickster. In modern day Canada, however, neither inborn supernatural talents nor learned magical skills are much help in finding a place to stay in Vancouver.
Jared has a plan. It’s a bad plan — stay with his sketchy friend Death Threat — but it is a plan. His mother disapproves of Death Threat and is worried enough that she does what she had sworn to never do again: contact her sister Mave. The two sisters have not spoken since Mave tried to legally adopt Jared, claiming that Jared’s mom was an unsuitable mother. That his mother would break her resolution and contact Mave shows how much she dislikes Death Threat.
Jared is reluctant to contact his aunt, for reasons ranging from “misguided teen independence” to “previous contact with estranged relatives like his biological father have gone poorly.” But it does not take Jared long to discover that staying with an aunt he has never met is better than his other options.
Mave for her part is delighted to offer her nephew a place. Blind to magic, she has no idea about his magical heritage. In fact, she wouldn’t believe Jared if he were to tell her about it. She’s quite happy to turn her back on the whole subject of magic. Thus she has no idea that her home is haunted, nor that there’s a low-grade hellmouth less than a hundred miles away.
Jared, however, is going to have to deal with the ghost and the hellmouth.
He also has to deal with his ex (whose drug habit threatens his tenuous sobriety), government bureaucracy (he needs a student grant), and his mother’s creepy ex-boyfriend David. David is stalking Jared with intent to terrorize, then kill.
The sudden intrusion into his life of malevolent quasi-immortal predators intent on exploiting the interdimensional doorway in Jared’s bedroom almost comes as a relief….
Various immortal entities are quite frank about the fact humans are going to destroy the Earth in short order. This is why the portal is of such interest, because it offers a way out of a doomed world. “We’re all going to die” is a detail you might think would occupy Jared’s thoughts. It does not. I suspect there are two reasons for this: first, it’s not like he can do anything about it, so why obsess? Second, “soon” to an immortal could be quite a long time for a human.
The entire business with the portal is part of the book’s theme that the occult is all around us but it’s not necessarily relevant to most people. Nor is it necessarily beneficial when it is relevant. Being able to perceive the supernatural appears to come with a catch: the gift renders one visible to supernatural entities, most of whom regard humans as inconveniences to be squashed if necessary. The gift isn’t of much help in dealing with mundane problems (like bureaucrats). If one does want to apply it to other ends, magical study is enhanced by drugs (that’s why Jared’s ex is doing drugs; she wants to be a magic user). Jared doesn’t want to go there again.
This bit of worldbuilding explains why, if magic exists in what is otherwise our familiar modern world, it does not play any obvious role in daily life1.
Robinson’s novel is a competent coming-of-age story that is complicated by occult elements. The novel is not dependent on the occult elements. It would still be a good coming-of-age story were there no magic in the book at all. If Wee’git and the other supernatural beings didn’t exist, Jared would still have to deal with his addicted ex and his mom’s homicidal ex-boyfriend, the characters would still entice readers into following them, and the author’s prose will still be effective.
1: There are a great many fantasies that look just like the modern world despite the existence of magic (ongoing and in some cases of ancient lineage). Authors usually don’t bother to explain how it is that magic can exist but not have world-altering effects. That drives me up the wall (as dedicated readers of my reviews can attest). It’s nice to read a book that provides a plausible explanation.