Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson – A Review

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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.

     


I’m hoping that Frankenstein is going to be the worst in the pile of books I’ve challenged myself to read this year. It’s been so much fun to discover new-to-me authors like N.K. Jemisin and Hiromi Goto and rediscover someone like Ursula K. Le Guin. I want the fun to keep on coming.

Today I get to talk about another new-to-me discovery: Nalo Hopkinson‘s Brown Girl in the Ring. This book is Hopkinson’s first, published in 1998. Hopkinson won the Locus Award for Best New Novel, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as well as the Warner Aspect first novel competition for her work. Plus the book has a blurb on the front cover from none other than Octavia Butler.

So, it wasn’t like I was going in with any expectations or anything.

Brown Girl in the Ring takes place in a future Toronto, a city that’s been turned into a “donut hole”–anyone who could escaped from the decaying city to the suburbs, leaving the town and the people behind to rot. One of these people is Ti-Jeanne, a young Caribbean Canadian who survives with her infant son and her grandmother, Gros-Jeanne, a healer and seer. Ti-Jeanne has started seeing visions herself–demons and skeletons in top hats, among other things. While she’s trying to deal with this, her ex- (her son’s father) comes to her looking for help. He has gotten messed up with a necromancer of sorts who wants Tony to harvest a human heart from the premier of Ontario. Mayhem ensues.

I really enjoyed this book. Hopkinson has done a fine job building this dystopian world; it’s one I would love to learn more about. She’s created the remains of an inner city that are wholly believable, rich, and three-dimensional. I’m also thankful for the chance to learn about a culture I admit I know little about.

The same richness can be found in Hopkinson’s characters. They’re all fairly well developed, enough so, anyway, to contribute something to the tale. Rudy may be a bit over the top, but he’s a fun guy to hate, and he gave me the shivers.

Hopkinson’s prose is sturdy. While it isn’t magic on the level of Le Guin, it gets the job done and contains some awesome metaphors such as a character shaking someone’s hand as if he were “palping rotten carrion” and comparing the smell of night air to “biting into an apple.” All in all an excellent read. 4.75/5

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4 thoughts on “Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson – A Review

  1. This looks really good! Thanks for the review, it’s going to go on the to read pile.

  2. paperkingdoms

    This has been on my to read list for a while now. :^)

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