Nalo Hopkinson,
Midnight Robber
(Warner Aspect, 2000)

Like Nalo Hopkinson's stunning debut novel Brown Girl in the Ring, Midnight Robber is an original and tasty melange of science fiction and Caribbean culture wrapped in a vibrant storytelling style.

Toussaint is one of the Nation Worlds planets, colonized largely with people of Caribbean descent. At birth, each citizen is injected with nanomites which develop into a receiver that links each person into a web which both gathers and transmits information, nicknamed "Granny Nanny." Only a handful opt to remain "headblind."

Everyone is considered equal to everyone else, and people tend to live well. Violent criminals and other "misfits" who can't live in society for whatever reason are sent to "climb the half-way tree"; they are shifted to New Half-Way Tree, another dimension of the same planet from which there is no return.

Tan-Tan is the only daughter of Ione and Antonio, mayor of Cockpit County on Toussaint, both possibly the most immature and self-centered people on the planet. Her parents notwithstanding, Tan-Tan is a pleasant and loving child, if a bit headstrong. She especially loves Carnival time, with its music and dancing, processions and masquerades. Among her favorite masque characters are the "Midnight Robbers" who stop revelers and demand gifts in return for sweetly told stories. Tan-Tan envisions herself as a Robber Queen, right down to the Robber Queen costume she doesn't like to take off.

Her happy world is suddenly turned inside out when she ends up exiled on New Half-Way Tree with her father. This world is rough and wild, populated with Toussaint's outcasts as well as sentient creatures called douens who are adept at survival in the bush. Tan-Tan and her father find a place for themselves for a while, but abruptly, Tan-Tan is on her own and running for her life.

Like other outlaws before her, she takes on a persona: the Robber Queen who rights injustices in the settlements through which she passes. Finally, though, she has to stop running and face her past.

The Carib English in which the book is written in no way detracts from Hopkinson's masterful storytelling. Rather, the lilting musical language adds a lively dimension to the story, and after a couple of pages, you stop trying to "translate" and just flow with the absorbing and compelling story. Hopkinson's writing is a feast for the senses; her vivid imagery brings alive the sights, sounds, and smells of both of Tan-Tan's worlds.

The characters are at once larger than life and uniquely defined personalities. Tan-Tan is a vibrant feisty heroine who makes mistakes and has flaws, but you'll be rooting for her every step of the way. Give yourself a treat and introduce yourself to Tan-Tan -- this Robber Queen will steal your heart.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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