Books·How I Wrote It

The end of David A. Robertson's Reckoner trilogy is really the introduction of a new Indigenous superhero

The Winnipeg Cree writer discusses writing Ghosts, the finale of his Reckoner series, and breaking down harmful tropes of Indigenous characters in his writing.
David A. Robertson is the author of the YA novel Ghosts. (HighWater Press)

When David A. Robertson introduced the character Cole Harper in Strangers, he was an anxious teenager returning to a community that blamed him for a crime he didn't commit. He's come a long way since, doing everything in his power — to the point of losing his life — to protect Wounded Sky First Nation with the help of his friends, a rather boisterous coyote spirit and a half-burning ghost.

Ghoststhe finale of The Reckoner trilogy, opens as Cole's friends mourn his death and the community is in the grips of a mysterious, shadowy organization. 

Though this marks the end of the trilogy, Robertson says this is just the beginning for these characters. He talked to CBC Books about why.

An end and a beginning

"I wanted to do a lot with this book that was in opposition to what you might expect in a finale. But I also wanted to be mindful of what the readers would want from the finale. One of the most difficult things for me was to think about everything that had happened leading up to the third book. I had to consider what was important to tie up, in terms of the mysteries that I had created in the series. But I also had to think about what the series was really about. It became less about tying all the loose ends up and more about finding resolutions for the character relationships and for Cole's relationship with himself.

"A lot of this book is a person-versus-person conflict. Cole deals with a lot of mental health issues and the acceptance of them, in a way that he could live his life productively and become a superhero."

A new, super chapter

"What surprised me more than anything was how much I missed them when I was finished. One of the reasons I'm going to continue their story is because I fell in love with the characters. I didn't want this finale to be the end of the story. 

Representation can be very powerful because it shapes the way we see each other and the way we see ourselves.- David A. Robertson

"In the end, this trilogy is an origin story. We're continuing the story as a comic book series and that's exciting. It's a very unique take on the superhero genre. I'm tackling representation issues that have always existed in comics for Indigenous people. What we're doing is representing a true Indigenous superhero, who is not beholden to any of the common stereotypes associated with being Indigenous."

Representation matters

"As a kid, I was negatively impacted by the characters I was reading and the stories that I bought at Styx Comics with my brother. We were reading these comics and seeing ourselves reflected in these characters. It was a negative experience for us. What we saw reflected was a savage Indian or a noble savage or a dead Indian —  all of these very common tropes found in the comic book genre.

I do think that books have an important role in reconciliation.- David A. Robertson

"As I've started to write professionally, a lot of my work has been representations of truth in one way or another. Representation can be very powerful because it shapes the way we see each other and the way we see ourselves. I've seen it with the Reckoner characters Cole, Brady and Eva — to see these kids so well-drawn out with these well-developed backgrounds and with agency over their lives is quite powerful. I hope that it helps to shift some of the ways that we view each other and ourselves. I do think that books have an important role in reconciliation."

Writing the Trickster

"I hang around my characters. Choch, he's always there. I hate when people read over my shoulder as I'm writing, but he's always doing that. The interesting thing about Choch is that I've talked to a couple of other Indigenous writers who have written the coyote character and they have had similar experiences. There's something about writing the Trickster character, where they seem to take over stories. It was neat to see that.

"I think there's something kind of otherworldly going on. There has to be."

David A. Robertson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.