by Nalo Hopkinson
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Midnight Robber is an interesting coming of age story by Nalo Hopkinson. Rather than just bring Tan-Tan to adolescence, Hopkinson follows her through multiple life-changing events from the time she is seven and her father, Antonio, catches her mother, Ione, with another man until she becomes a mother in a world, and under circumstances, she couldnít have conceived of at the beginning of the story.Although set in the future, the tone of the story and the types of creatures Tan-Tan encounters in her travels and her growth are more reminiscent of Caribbean legends than of modern science. Tan-Tanís home planet, Toussaint, is on the verge of celebrating a Carnival-like event when the story opens. On the opening day of the celebration, Antonio challenges Ione's lover to a duel which results in Antonio and Tan-Tan fleeing Toussaint for a never clearly defined alternative dimension which is the home of a variety of exiles.
In this new world, Tan-Tan meets strange creatures of Toussaint mythology and learns that her father is not exactly what she expected him to be. Her education continues as she and her father begin to reverse roles. Tan-Tan is more able to adjust to her new surroundings than Antonio is and she practically becomes a caregiver to her father. Nevertheless, Antonio is still able to function and his true nature is slowly revealed as he completes his fall from being Mayor of Cockpit County. Tan-Tan, meanwhile, must again flee her home and become an outlaw queen of legend, the Midnight Robber of the title.
Hopkinson has elected to employ a rhythmic dialogue with a Caribbean, possibly uneducated, feel throughout the entire novel. Once free of Toussaint, Antonio comments, "I do a stupid thing last night. I sorry. I make a long, long journey to this strange place, and it sitting heavy on my heart that I never going to see home again." While this style takes getting used to, and continues to be jarring throughout, it also gives a constant reminder that Hopkinson's culture is different in myriad ways from the cultures of the United States or Canada which might be more familiar to her readers.
Tan-Tan is forced to find her own way in the world and develop her own sense of community at the very moment that she is becoming a woman. Scorned by the humans of her new world, she must make her way among the secretive creatures who are native to the planet. While trying o establish her new, legendary, identity, Tan-Tan learns more about what it means to be a human even as she shuns her own kind.
Hopkinson's style in Midnight Robber may not be to everyone's taste and may be too difficult for some readers to get past. It is, however, worth the effort to get past the stylistic difficulties to read a book which is filled with well defined characters in a culture which is not widely used in North American science fiction (although, intriguingly, it also plays a role in Kathleen Ann Goonan's Crescent City Rhapsody, another Nebula nominee).
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