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Literature / Brown Girl in the Ring

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Brown Girl in the Ring is a 1999 novel by Nalo Hopkinson. Ti-Jeanne, a young mother, lives in what remains of Central Toronto after it was abandoned by the wealthy and powerful. Speaking of the wealthy and powerful, the premier of Canada needs a human heart to replace her own. She calls on Rudy, who is a powerful gangster who controls the flow of Buff to procure it for her. He deputizes Tony, Ti-Jeanne's baby father, to do the killing for the organ. Frightened, Tony calls on Ti-Jeanne and her grandmother Gros-Jeanne for help. And so Ti-Jeanne's journey begins.

It's set about more than twelve / thirteen years in the future of 1999, given lines and news that has not occurred at the time, like:

Large-scale chaos in the city core: the Riots
In the twelve years since the Riots, repeated efforts to reclaim and rebuild the core were failing

He'd cut headlines from newspapers that were twelve, thirteen years old
Ti-Jeanne had read the headlines:


This work contains examples of:

  • And I Must Scream - The duppy is conscious of what it's doing when Rudy sends it after his victims, although it despises him and wants to be free. The reveal that it's actually Mi-Jeanne's soul ramps this trope up to eleven. She is ordered by Rudy to kill Ti-Jeanne, and the helpless mother is fully aware and helpless to stop the spirit as she burns her own daughter alive.
  • Body Horror - Crazy Betty gouged her eyes out years ago and walks around blind with the holes in her head still visible.
  • Chekhov's Gunman - Crazy Betty who is revealed to be Ti-Jeanne's mother
  • Domestic Abuse - Rudy is depicted to have hit his wife Gros-Jeanne
  • Family Theme Naming: Gros-Jeanne, Mi-Jeanne and Ti-Jeanne - Big, Medium and Small Jeanne - Grandmother, mother and child.
  • Fate Worse than Death - Instead of allowing Dunston to pass to Guinea Land after killing him, Rudy forces his tormented soul to a purgatory-type world where he is forced to outrun murderous spirits for all eternity. He is finally freed of this torture when Ti-Jeanne shoots the duppy bowl, and his spirit returns to earth by occupying Baby's body.
  • Flaying Alive: Rudy does this to his zombified housekeeper Mabel while a paralyzed Tony is Forced to Watch.
  • Forced to Watch: A paralyzed Tony is forced to watch while Rudy flays Mabel alive.
  • Hologram: Presumably, it's what a "deeplight projector" makes, as it creates the visuals and noise of angry kids made to scare people away from the actual kids who live in the subway.
  • Landmarking the Hidden Base: Toronto crime lord and obeah man Rudy has his offices in the main pod of the CN Tower.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Rudy is Ti-Jeanne's grandfather.
  • Missing Mom: Ti-Jeanne's mother left her in the care of Gros-Jeanne. She's actually Crazy Betty.
  • No Name Given: Ti-Jeanne's child is named only 'Baby'. Justified by the fact that it seems to be common practice to wait to name children until a certain amount of time has passed.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Type V Voodoo zombies.
  • The Paralyzer: Synapse Cordons and their portable version, the Dazer. Synapse Cordons uses "baseball-sized lump[s] of what looked like modelling clay" to create "stake[s] sprouting a good eight feet high" that define the cordon's borders, and kicking the cordon creates a "synapse surge of current", a.k.a a "daze charge" inside the field, that "short-circuit[s] [the] neuromuscular system".
  • The Pig-Pen: The street kids. Justified in that they live in the filth and squalor of the abandoned subway. Their odor and grimy appearance are often mentioned.
  • Protagonist Title: It could refer to Ti-Jeanne living in the circular remenants of Metropolitan Toronto, but more as a reference to the song, and the Ring games that are mentioned in Epigraphs.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Ti-Jeanne has a Disappeared Dad and Missing Mom and so is raised by her grandmother.
  • Sleazy Politician: Downplayed with Premier Uttley. She's only seeking a human heart instead of the typical pig heart for her transplant to look good in her upcoming reelection campaign, not out of any moral stance on pig farming.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Ti-Jeanne is a teenager, pregnant with Tony's baby.
  • Urban Hellscape: Implied by one of the newspaper headlines Ti-Jeanne reads that are "twelve, thirteen years old" or so:
    Crime at all-time high but budget cuts force Ontario provincial police to downsize
  • Voodoo Zombie: Rudy, the gang lord, controls several zombies, one of which is his own daughter, Mi-Jeanne, using a process taught to him by a Ioa.