When Aarti came up with idea of A More Diverse Universe, I liked the idea but thought I’d never be able to contribute. I’m not a big fantasy fiction reader and had no idea where I would start. I had forgotten that I had Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson on my shelf. I’ve wanted to read it for awhile and even had it on my lists for other reading challenges. For whatever reason, I didn’t put the blog tour together with this book. Then, like a flash, I remembered and signed up for the tour right away. Finally, I would read it!
Ti-Jeanne lives in the abandoned city of Toronto. After a financial collapse, the inhabitants rioted. Everyone who could, left; the province cut off the city, and abandoned anyone left behind. With no one to police the remaining residents, the city divided into two camps: the thugs and everyone who feared them.
Ti-Jeanne’s grandmother, Gros-Jeanne, has special skills as a healer. Whenever someone is sick or injured, with no hospital, they turn to her. Ti-Jeanne’s mother disappeared during the riots, so she raised Ti-Jeanne herself. Later, Ti-Jeanne ran off to live with her boyfriend, Tony, but after she finds herself pregnant, she knows the only reliable soul in her life is her grandmother. She leaves Tony before he even knows she’s carrying his child. Gros-Jeanne never liked Tony or Ti-Jeanne’s “stupidness” with him, but she accepts her back nonetheless.
Now Tony turns up on their doorstep asking for help. Rudy, the leader of the gangsters, is forcing Tony, who was once a nurse, to find, kill, and take the heart of a “donor” for the province’s dying premier. There’s a lot of money at stake. Tony is a drug addict and a low-level thug but he can’t stomach murder. He asks Gros-Jeanne to use her abilities to get him out of the city. He doesn’t realize the power Rudy has and once Gros-Jeanne uses hers a battle between good and evil begins.
Once I got beyond the point of not knowing what the hell was going on (that’s just me and this kind of fiction), I flew through the book quickly. Ti-Jeane isn’t always a likable heroine. She can be a bit bratty at times, but she grows up and takes charge of things. She doesn’t have much choice in the matter when it comes right down to it. Tony is even more difficult to like. He makes such bad decisions. Every time I thought I was going to like the guy, he’d do something that made me say, “Ah no, Tony!” It was interesting to see these two struggle with their demons while struggling with a Demon.
So the fantasy part of this book not only includes this futuristic Toronto but the folklore of the Caribbean. Gros-Jeanne and Rudy can contact the gods and ask for their assistance. Though they only wish to be used for good, they can be called upon for evil purposes. Gros-Jeanne uses them to help and heal; Rudy uses them for revenge and power. It’s a dangerous game because the gods don’t appreciate being used for evil. Once the evil-doer loses their hold over them, the gods will have their revenge. Rudy’s thirst for power has made him a monster, but his days are numbered.
I’m glad I finally read Brown Girl in the Ring. It was a fun read with a fast plot. I loved the part the CN Tower played in the book and the diverse characters. This was Nalo Hopkinson’s first novel and a Canada Reads finalist for 2008.