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Brown Girl in the Ring
Nalo Hopkinson
Warner Aspect Books, 256 pages

Brown Girl in the Ring
Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson has recently published a collection of short stories, Skin Folk, in addition to her first two novels, Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber. She has lived in Toronto, Ontario, since 1977 after spending most of her first 16 years in the Caribbean, where she was born.

Nalo Hopkinson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review:Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction
SF Site Review: Midnight Robber
SF Site Review: Brown Girl in the Ring
Interview: Nalo Hopkinson
Excerpt: Midnight Robber
Interview: Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson Short Story

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

Brown Girl in the Ring by Toronto writer Nalo Hopkinson won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest. Although this book has flaws, it is very strongly written and displays great energy and originality. What it is NOT, despite its near-future setting, is science fiction. This is a fantasy novel with a few unconvincing SF elements pasted onto it.

When Ti-Jeanne got pregnant, she walked out on her charming, buff-addicted boyfriend Tony, and went back to live with her grandmother. Mami Gros-Jeanne is the local expert in herbs, healing and magic -- old lore from Jamaica that Ti-Jeanne has never wanted anything to do with. But soon she has no choice. Powerful visions are invading her mind, and then she is drawn into helping Tony escape the local druglord. To survive, Ti-Jeanne must learn to use the powers of obeah, even though she is terrified of going insane like her mother before her.

Brown Girl in the Ring is set in near future Toronto after government and business (following an improbable series of events) abandon the inner city to poverty and crime. This setting, and an over-the-top plot thread about killing poor people to harvest organs for the rich, are some of the weakest elements of the novel -- clichéd and largely irrelevant to Ti-Jeanne's story. (In the very silliest bit, we discover that the villain lives at the top of the CN Tower.)

However, these weaknesses are more than overshadowed by Hopkinson's rich portrayal of the Jamaican-Canadian community, her terrific characterization (even of Ti-Jeanne's baby), and the tension-building plot. I particularly admired her skillful handling of dialect -- accurate enough to give her characters authentic flavour, but written so carefully that readers don't bog down. In this excerpt, for example, the villain tells his story:

"From I born, people been taking advantage. Poor all me born days. Come up to Canada, no work. Me wife and all kick me out of me own house. Blasted cow. If it wasn't for me, she woulda still be cleaning rich people toilets back home, and is so she treat me. Just because me give she little slap two-three time when she make she mouth run away 'pon me."
This is a book well worth reading, and Nalo Hopkinson is a writer we'll be hearing a lot more of.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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