Brown Girl in the Ring- Nalo Hopkinson

The African powers, child. The spirits. The loas. The orishas. The oldest ancestors. You will hear people from Haiti and Cuba and Brazil and so call them different names. You will even hear some names I ain’t tell you, but we all mean the same thing. Them is the ones who does carry we prayers to God Father, for he too busy to listen to every single one of we on earth talking at he all the time. ‘

Welcome to my first review on the blog! I find it extremely satisfying to review a book by an author on my radar for so long and to read a book that appeals to me so much as a reader and that really captures my tastes in genre.

‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ is set in a dystopic Toronto where the city is now ruled by violence and murder. Those of money and privilege have long fled, those left behind having to navigate a ruined world . At the heart of it stands Ti-Jeanne, a new mother finding with her own place in society and her struggle to accept the ways of her own people. When Ti-Jeanne finds herself at the heart of a wicked scheme she must learn to accept not only her own power but that sometimes the old ways are the most reliable.

First off to talk about the world, I found it very easy to picture the slums of Toronto despite never being there. There wasn’t much world building needed because it is a real city. I think was a good move since the book spent more time as a result establishing the culture and the characters which the novel really depended on.

On that note, the book draws heavily from Afro/Caribbean culture. Hopkinson herself is Jamaican born Canadian and spends a lot of the book describing figures from Caribbean folklore. Some of my favourite parts of the book are the descriptions of the various deities and creatures that Ti-Jeanne encounters. The story doesn’t shy away from graphic violence or gore either, so if you are anyway upset by blood magics or gory rituals this may not be for you. I particularly loved the Duppy spirits and the depiction of some of the Gods such as Legbara and Eshu. One of the stumbling blocks I had in the reading was the language used by Ti-Jeanne and the others in her community, mostly because I am obviously not from the relevant background. However I did like one moment when Ti-Jeanne’s grandmother, Gros-Jeanne , switched to a more standard English when talking to some quote ‘non-Caribbean people’. I like the fact it is acknowledged that when the characters are at home that they have their own language that is specifically for them and their own community.

Finally, I want to talk about the characters. Ti-Jeanne is the hero of the novel but we do meet other characters in her life including her grandmother Gros-Jeanne, Tony her ex lover and the novels main antagonist Rudy Sheldon. We meet Ti-Jeannes baby son also but since he is unnamed for the whole novel we just meet him as ‘Baby’. I liked the characters most of all, Ti-Jeanne and Gros Jeanne being my favourites. Ti-Jeanne goes through a lot of growth in the book and her grandmother functions as her main mother figure as well as the voice that educates us on her culture and her ways.

Ti-Jeanne as a character is not only very believable but also very easy to empathise with. I really enjoyed the brutal honesty of how she is struggling with motherhood. It also presents a very real scenario of how Ti-Jeanne finds it hard not to blame her son for her loss of freedom or resent him for needing all her attention. I think also by the end of the story we finally see Ti-Jeanne accept her own life for what it is. She also manages to discover her own voice over the course of the book and take back what was robbed from her.

There is a strong theme of feminism in this novel, obviously focusing on women of colour and the power they can have within this world so it will come as no surprise that Rudy is presented as the main antagonist of the plot, aside from Toronto itself. Rudy is a vengeful, bitter control freak who uses abuse and violence to maintain his hold on people. As the plot reveals more about him we come to understand how awful he truly is and how he really maintains his power. The eventual crossing of paths that brings Ti-Jeanne to Rudy’s attention is what ultimately leads to her own self discovery and how she needs to motivate herself to defeat Rudy. It’s this confrontation with control that I think really displays how easy power can be taken away from those who bully others to keep it and how much those who are at the bottom of society really have when they take their power back.

Overall I absolutely loved this book, it was so easy to read and once I got used to the language I flew through it. It helps I also like more complex protagonists like Ti-Jeanne. This is a must read for fans of Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okorafor and I can’t wait to read more of Hopkinson’s work.

★ ★ ★ ★ /5

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