The rich and privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways–farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother.
She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends.
Title: Brown Girl in the Ring | Author: Nalo Hopkinson | Publisher: Grand Central Publishing | Pub. Date: 1July 1998 | Pages: 250 | ISBN: 9780446674331 | Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Self purchased
Brown Girl in the Ring Review
Nalo Hopkinson is an author I only heard of very recently. Having now read one of her books I’m kind of appalled that is the case. ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ is her debut novel, first published back in 1998, and it’s so good that I wish I’d been reading her books for years. It’s a brilliantly entertaining mix of dystopian near future science fiction and Caribbean folklore, told with skill, humour and humanity.
The book is set in a grim, desolate Toronto that has been abandoned by business and the government and is now populated by an impoverished underclass struggling to survive daily life. Against this backdrop, Nalo Hopkinson spins an intriguing tale that involves a small time criminal who is hired to procure a human heart to be used in a transplant operation needed by the Canadian prime minister. The story focuses on the impact of this on a group of characters in Toronto, particularly the one-time girlfriend of the criminal, a young woman called Ti-Jeanne who is the book’s protagonist.
Of course, books about near future dystopias and the desperate characters that inhabit them are nothing new, and at times ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ is a little reminiscent of other things (particularly the work of fellow Canadian William Gibson). Fortunately, there are numerous things that set it apart from the crowd. Most notably, Jamaican-born Hopkinson explores Caribbean folklore extensively. The book is full of magic, both benign and malicious. This develops as the story progresses from small hints to something that transforms the novel into something richer and more wonderful than the first few chapters suggest.
Throughout the pacing is excellent, with a gradual ramp up of incident until the gripping climax. The characters are generally great too, the bad guys can be a little cliched, but Ti-Jeanne and her family are a delight. They’re engaging, believable and likeable, and speak dialogue that flows off the page with a lovely rhythm. All this combines into a read that’s compelling, moving and memorable. If you fancy something a little different from the normal whitewash of western sci fi it’s well worth a look.
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This is one I def need to read too.
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