Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson. ★★★
Brown Girl in the Ring takes place in a future where the inner part of Toronto has been abandoned. The wealthy have fled to the suburbs, putting up roadblocks behind them. Yet people still survive in the inner most city by farming, hunting, or trading. One of these remaining people is Ti-Jeanne, who experiences strange visions. Brown Girl in the Ring combines a science fiction setting with Caribbean magic to create something very different from the norm in speculative fiction.
One of the best ways I can think of to describe Brown Girl in the Ring is that it’s a book with a science fiction setting and an urban fantasy story. In this way, it reminded me a lot of Emma Bull’s Bone Dance. While Brown Girl in the Ring had a lot of interesting ideas, it fell flat for me.
I think part of my problem is that Ti-Jeanne didn’t actually do a whole lot. She felt very passive. Most of her involvement in the plot comes from her being possessed by spirits, not her consciously doing something. I did find it interesting that she was a mother, since I can probably count on one had how many “mothers as protagonists” I’ve seen in science fiction and fantasy.
I found the ending anti-climatic, largely for the issues described above. Brown Girl in the Ring is a book I found “all right” overall. It wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t horrible either. It’s solid, it’s just lacking in some way.
Part of me wonders if my dissatisfaction has anything to do with Brown Girl in the Ring being a debut novel. Debut novels can sometimes be rough, and I really liked some of Hopkinson’s short stories, so I will definitely try another book by her.
If you have a particular interest in seeing the use of Caribbean magic in SFF, then you’d probably like Brown Girl in the Ring. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it.