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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 a few published short stories in addition to her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring. 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
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A review by Neil Walsh

Last year, Warner Aspect sponsored a worldwide competition to find new authors and exciting new works. From the close to 1,000 entries they received, Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring was the one chosen as the winner.

This novel is a supernatural horror in a near-future urban setting. The core of Toronto has been abandoned by the wealthier citizens who fled to the 'burbs after severe rioting. The city centre is inhabited only by the formerly homeless and poor, now squatters, and is ruled by a gang known as "the posse." Rudy, the leader of the posse and a powerful obeah sorcerer, reigns from his office atop the CN Tower.

The heroine of the story is a young mother named Ti-Jeanne. She's been having some horrific visions lately, but she wants nothing to do with them. She doesn't believe in the power of her grandmother's old herbal remedies and the Voodoo ceremonies; Ti-Jeanne believes in the power of science. She only wants her visions to stop. Ti-Jeanne's main concern is for her infant son, and the child's father who has been doing some work for the posse recently, selling drugs on the street and now far worse...

Although this is a good first novel, it is nevertheless a first novel, and as such it reads a little rough in spots. The pacing is rather slow for the most part, but when it picks up, you'd better be prepared to run to keep up. Most of the dialogue is written in Caribbean English dialect and may look odd on the page at first, particularly if you're not used to it or if you're unfamiliar with the dialect. There is a rich layer of traditional Caribbean religion, magic and mysticism interwoven throughout this story, and at the centre is a character struggling to come to terms with her heritage.

What Hopkinson has done with this future Toronto is not so inconceivable. In fact, I found it to be disturbingly reminiscent of what Johannesburg was like when I visited there several years ago, before the end of apartheid (taken to extremes, of course). Much as I would hate to see Ontario's capital so degraded, I have to say that the way the CN Tower is worked into the climax of the novel is close to brilliance. I couldn't imagine this structure being put to better use! (No, it doesn't get blown up. You'll just have to read and see for yourself.)

All in all, this is a first novel which, despite its sometimes shaky legs, does manage to stand. Nalo Hopkinson may be a name to watch in the future. I'm already looking forward to her next book.

Copyright © 1998 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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