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Brown Girl in the Ring Paperback – July 1, 1998

4.4 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This is Nalo Hopkinson's debut novel, which came to attention when it won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest. It tells the story of Ti-Jeanne, a young woman in a near-future Toronto that's been all but abandoned by the Canadian government. Anyone who can has retreated from the chaos of the city to the relative safety of the suburbs, and those left in "the burn" must fend for themselves. Ti-Jeanne is a new mother who's trying to come to grips with her as- yet-unnamed baby and also trying to end her relationship with her drug-addict boyfriend Tony. But a passion still burns between the young lovers, and when Tony runs afoul of Rudy, the local ganglord, Ti-Jeanne convinces her grandmother Gros-Jeanne to help out. Gros-Jeanne is a Voudoun priestess, and it's clear that Ti-Jeanne has inherited some of her gifts. Although Ti-Jeanne wants nothing to do with the spirit world, she soon finds herself caught up in a battle to the death with Rudy and the mother she thought she lost long ago. --Craig E. Engler

From Publishers Weekly

The musical rhythms of Caribbean voices and the earthy spirit-magic of obeah knit together this unusual fantasy, the first winner of Warner Aspect's First Novel Contest. Toronto in the next century is a "doughnut hole city," its core collapsed into ruinous slums after much of the population left to escape rising urban crime and violence. Those who remain in the Burn are survivors like Ti-Jeanne and her grandmother Mami, who trade herbal cures and spells for necessities, or predators like drug-lord Rudy and the "posse" of men, including Ti-Jeanne's ex-lover Tony, who sell "buff" for him. Outside the Burn, Catherine Uttley, the premier of Ontario, needs a heart transplant and a boost in her approval ratings. To accomplish both, she announces support for a return to voluntary human organ donation, allegedly to prevent the spread of Virus Epsilon, sometimes found in the porcine organs grown for transplant. The heart she needs will have to come from someone in the Burn, and Rudy saddles Tony with the job of finding a donor. Tony has no stomach for the job, however, and goes to Ti-Jeanne and Mami for help, bringing the unpredictable and powerful spirits of Caribbean obeah into play. Though the story sometimes turns too easily on coincidence, Hopkinson's writing is smooth and assured, and her characters lively and believable. She has created a vivid world of urban decay and startling, dangerous magic, where the human heart is both a physical and metaphorical key.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Warner Books; First Edition edition (July 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446674338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446674331
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In Charles Saunders' essay titled "Why Blacks Should Read (And Write) Science Fiction," Nalo Hopkinson was pointed out by Saunders as being "Octavia Butler's true literary child." While Hopkinson "doesn't imitate Butler," he reminded us, she did "imitate the older writer's strenghts in plotting and characterization (Dark Matter, ed. by Sheree R. Thomas, 2000)." Saunders was right. What a debut. This first novel was enthralling. It was so good that up-and-coming fantasy novelist Nalo Hopkinson had managed to win both heady praise from Butler herself and a Warner Aspect First Novel Award.
Brown Girl in the Ring had everything. Smooth, yet urgent prose. Heart-stopping action. A thriving Caribbean-Vodoun culture in Canada. Soul-deadening urban decay. Vibrant Caribbean speech. Evil that makes your skin crawl. Using the power of the old ways of her ancestors, hero Ti-Jeanne must come of age in near-future Toronto by confronting the forces that threaten to overcome her neighborhood, her family, and her life. Even though I had read this book nearly 4 years ago, it is still in my head. It was and still is that good.
More that 3 decades ago, Octavia E. Butler revolutionized the heart of science-fantasy writing, setting tough new standards of excellence. With Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson has met that challenge admirably. I know Butler must be proud.
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Format: Paperback
I have no idea why the publishers are calling this science fiction. It's really more of a horror/fantasy blend; the only sci-fi element I can think of is the near-future setting. Which suits me just fine. ;)
The world of _Brown Girl_ is frighteningly plausible--it is the logical conclusion of our current suburban sprawl and consequent urban decay. Here, even the city government has fled to the suburbs, and no one is left in the inner city but the poor. There is no electricity, no sewer system. You can't get into the hospital unless you are wealthy. And Rudy, the diabolical crime boss of Toronto, is selling organs to these hospitals--and let's just say the donors are less than willing.
And in this city lives Ti-Jeanne (Little Jeanne), a new mother, staying with her wise grandmother, Gros-Jeanne (Big Jeanne). Gros-Jeanne wants to pass on her knowledge to Ti-Jeanne, but Ti-Jeanne only grudgingly learns herbal skills, and wants nothing to do with Gros-Jeanne's other talent--the practice of Afro-Caribbean magic. Then one night they hold a ritual to help Ti-Jeanne's deadbeat ex-boyfriend, and the spirits tell Ti-Jeanne that it is her destiny to stop Rudy's evil.
We are sucked in, as Ti-Jeanne's course becomes more irrevocable, as she comes to accept the orishas, and as her ex-boyfriend's fear and drug addiction drive him into worse and worse trouble. Ti-Jeanne's only hope lies in her wits and in half-remembered bits of magical lore. An engrossing read; however, don't buy this if you object to violence. There is a good bit of that.
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By A Customer on August 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
Perhaps the best aspect of this book, for me at least, was that Hopkinson integrates the loa into her book without making them seem hokey. In other urban fantasy books I have read, it sometimes seems as if the author almost puts the notice "OK, I'm putting in the magic now." before any supernatural elements enter. Hopkinson, on the other hand, describes the supernatural, the spirits that Ti-Jeanne sees and interacts with, as an insider, as if they were as accepted a fact to the readers as microwave ovens or computers. It was very refreshing to see voudoun presented in this light. I'd highly recommend this book to any who are interested in Afro-Carribean culture and mythology. Even if you're not, I'd try to persuade you to read it, it's a bit rough at times, but overall excellent for a first novel.
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By em on February 6, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hopkinson is amazing. Her stories of strong, black women who ultimately are the sheroes of her stories are a rare find in YA sci fi and fantasy. Add the fact that her books depict Caribbean traditions and consider her stories a rare and valuable addition to your library. I originally read The Night Robber after a recommendation from a friend. I liked that book a bit more than this one, but both stand up. If you are not used to reading in French Patois, give yourself 100 pages to get used to the rhythm and language of her books (you will get there). As for her stories being read by young adults-- I leave this for you to judge. At 36, I find some of the themes graphically moving (and both sexual and violent) but this is the world we live in. For younger kids with an advanced reading level, I would read and make the determination that feels right for your family.
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By A Customer on November 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
This novel was truly refreshing. It is not everyday that you get to read a Sci-Fi book with a Caribbean flair. I loved it! The story line was no where near predictable or boring. I found myself unable to put the book down. You did a nice job Ms. Hopkinson, it good fi true!
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Format: Paperback
A thoroughly enjoyable tale, Nalo Hopkinson has crafted this novel with care and not a little spirituality. Although it might be easy to simply write this story off as "just another urban fantasy", you must differientiate it for several reasons: 1.) The boring post-apocalyptic movie set in many science fiction stories has been more reasonably (and realistically) transformed to an inner-city urban collapse, with believable sociological ramifications and a believable timeline. 2.) All of the characters (even the antagonist) are interesting, understandable and believable. 3.) The subject matter handles an afro-diasporic magical tradition with respect, care, and authenticity rather than some cobbled-together melange of myth and pop culture. Ms. Hopkinson surprises and delights in this tale of generations, of debts owed and paid, and of redemption. I anxiously await her subsequent publications.
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