Monday, July 4, 2011

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Winner of the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest, her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, is still my favorite, and a fun example of fantasy fusion.  Set in near future Toronto, after a series of riots Canada enclosed the city and left it to rot.  No one goes out, and few go in--mainly doctors.  However, though pig parts now can be used human organ transplant, the Premier demands a human heart.  What better place to find one than in a human in Toronto?

So far we're all science fiction, right?  It's all, Escape from New York sounding, right?

But we have yet to enter Toronto.  There the people have returned to herbalism, farming, and bartering.  Plus, for Ti -Jeanne, she must deal with her own son, the mystery of her disappeared mother, who had gone insane, and her grandmother's touches for her to learn the family tradition:  not just medicine, but Yoruba tradition.  Her visions of Gods frighten her--that she will go mad as her mother did, despite her grandmother's insistence that not learning from her visions is what will drive her away.

Whoops.  Gods and magic.  Now we enter the realm of fantasy.

Which means we are now in the realm of fusion fantasy.  Hopkinson has bred together a fairly standard science fiction concept in a fresh new way with a culture we rarely see in fantasy--that of Haiti mixed with Canadian.  Hell, she's put Black people as main characters in fusion fantasy, and how often do we see that in any kind of fantasy?  The traditions and Gods that she uses are treated with a touching respect even when they have turned to use something horrible.

Which, as long as I'm talk about it, we could add horror to her mix with ghosts of slit throated children.

Rudy, the man who controls Toronto through fear and addicting people to Buff--a drug made from toads--also controls a duppie, and his own version of perverted magic.  He definitely falls into the realm of horror, but I won't give you too many hints about his activities.

Hopkinson creates the best kind of fusion:  The natural kind.  I never once feel as if she mashed together these elements in an attempt to create something original.  Rather, from her heart, she wrote a book with the elements that burned in her blood to talk about--as if the whole world set itself down before her at once (thought I doubt it did).  She is all original--from her characters to her world to her style.  Her following books follow the same eccentric, compelling creation, but to me this book has the most soul.

Look her up--we could all learn from her.

Ti-Jeanne must navigate her history and her future and learn her own power.

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