A More Diverse Universe: Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

brown girlWhen 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.



  1. Glad you found a way to participate!

    Man, that cover is dated, but the book sounds good. I like protagonists who have to go through character growth.

  2. I was wondering where the fantasy element came in, thinking this was more dystopian (I guess it could be that, too). I like the way it's rather mature in it's issues but the magic makes it sounds young at the same time, and the use of folklore sounds great.

    1. There's a lot going on in this book. It can fit many genres. I read another of hers: New Moon's Arm and it had selkie folklore in a modern Caribbean setting. She is very experimental.

  3. Sounds interesting! Glad you thought of reading it. One less book too make you feel guilty about not reading it!

  4. This sounds really interesting. I haven't read anything by Nalo yet, but I'm planning to - hopefully soon.

  5. I'm so glad you were able to participate! Not only did you read a fantasy book outside your comfort zone, but you managed to find one that takes place in Canada, too ;-) Good work!

  6. I was really wanting to participate, too, but the fantasy piece definitely put me off. Sounds like you enjoyed your visit outside of your comfort zone!

  7. I was thinking of re-reading this one for this event; the first time I read it, I wasn't living in Toronto, but I still remember it having a strong sense of place, and I'm curious how I'd find those parts of the story come to life on the page differently (or not) now. It was the first book of hers that I read, so I have remained fond of it, but I wonder whether it wouldn't seem rather straightforward, reading it on the other side of her later works like Midnight Robber and The Salt Roads...


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