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Brown Girl In The Ring (1998)

by Nalo Hopkinson

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1,0474416,507 (3.7)76
A fantasy novel of urban decay whose heroine turns to Afro-Caribbean magic to help a boyfriend escape gangs. The gangs are enforcing a contract to produce a human heart for transplant, even if the boyfriend has to kill for it. The setting is a futuristic Toronto.
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» See also 76 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
This review first appeared on Sci Fi and Scary

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. ( )
  whatmeworry | Apr 9, 2022 |
Sometimes I'm in this weird mood when I watch people recommend books I would've love to read as a teenager.

It sometimes feels liked I missed out because I do think I needed those kind of books then. Maybe it would've broadened my mind so much earlier and my puberty wouldn't feel as lonely. To not only read about (lightskinned) men be the heroes. To not read about (lightskinned) women who could fight but still had a male as their companions. They never had adventures alone. To know that people with a skin like mine or darker could actually write stories in the genre I liked instead of only writing stories with a slave-narrative.

Then again, puberty sucks for (almost) everybody so who knows how I would've turned out.
  Jonesy_now | Sep 24, 2021 |
Yay! So happy to have *finally* read my first Nalo Hopkinson, and I can't wait to read more. This did have its clunky parts (lots of adverbs, yo), and it took a little bit to get going, but by about a quarter of the way in, I was hooked. I loved the Creole...it was a bit of a learning curve for me as I'm not very familiar with Caribbean Creole, but by the end my brain started narrating my everyday chores in it. And oh! The magic! The gods, the rituals! And I loved the complicated characters. Yes, can't wait for another.

Read Harder: POC goes on a spiritual journey ( )
  LibroLindsay | Jun 18, 2021 |
I read this book back when I was in school (many years ago it seems), back then it left an impression on my 17 year old self. It was a book I actually enjoyed getting as homework.

I decided to revisit it, and I'm glad I did, a lot of the characters and storyline were muddled up in time, and I feel that I got a fresh read out of this book again.

Having grown up in some of the areas that are in this book (and more importantly around the time this book was published) , it definitely brings me a bit closer to the story. ( )
  ohmg | Dec 14, 2020 |
This is a book that Goodreads has been nagging me to read for aaaaages, but sadly it didn't really work for me. The setting felt too far-fetched – maybe it would've made sense amidst the white flight and urban decay of 1970s North America (even though the book was actually published in 1998), but with 2020 vision it's pretty hard to imagine the Canadian/Ontarian governments just abandoning downtown Toronto. None of the main characters are particularly sympathetic; Ti-Jeanne spends most of the book being a fawning idiot over her deadbeat ex Tony, Tony makes terrible decisions at pretty much every turn, and the grandmother, Gros-Jeanne, is a grouchy hardass. Nearly all the dialogue is written in an Afro-Caribbean dialect, which wouldn't be a problem if the book was otherwise engaging but I didn't find it so. And the ending is basically just a deus ex machina (Ti-Jeanne summons the spirits and they fix everything).

Even though I didn't like it, I don't think this is the kind of objectively bad novel that nearly everyone would hate. Horror fans might appreciate it more than me, because (despite Goodreads classifying it as fantasy) it's basically a horror novel in a dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting (with lots of explicit gore). Some people might feel that the richly detailed incorporation of Caribbean culture and legends outweighs the book's flaws. So if you really want to read it, don't let this review stop you… but be warned that characterisation and setting are not really its strong suits. ( )
  Jayeless | Jun 29, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
The plot took on an intensity that literally propelled me through the pages. I struggled over the first fifty or so, but read the next two hundred in one sitting. When I closed the book, the patois of its voices went on speaking in my head for days...I can only add my own voice to the chorus already proclaiming it to be one of the best debut novels to appear in years.

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hopkinson, Naloprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Messier, LindaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Puckey, DonCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedicated to my father, Slade Hopkinson. Daddy, thanks for passing on the tools of the trade to me.
First words
As soon as he entered the room, Baines blurted out, "We want you to find us a viable human heart, fast."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A fantasy novel of urban decay whose heroine turns to Afro-Caribbean magic to help a boyfriend escape gangs. The gangs are enforcing a contract to produce a human heart for transplant, even if the boyfriend has to kill for it. The setting is a futuristic Toronto.

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Average: (3.7)
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