Midnight Robber

( 3 )

Overview

It's Carnival time and the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint is celebrating with music, dance, and pageantry. Masked "Midnight Robbers" waylay revelers with brandished weapons and spellbinding words. To young Tan-Tan, the Robber Queen is simply a favorite costume to wear at the festival-until her power-corrupted father commits an unforgiveable crime.

Suddenly, both father and daughter are thrust into the brutal world of New Half-Way Tree. Here monstrous creatures from ...

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Midnight Robber

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Overview

It's Carnival time and the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint is celebrating with music, dance, and pageantry. Masked "Midnight Robbers" waylay revelers with brandished weapons and spellbinding words. To young Tan-Tan, the Robber Queen is simply a favorite costume to wear at the festival-until her power-corrupted father commits an unforgiveable crime.

Suddenly, both father and daughter are thrust into the brutal world of New Half-Way Tree. Here monstrous creatures from folklore are real, and the humans are violent outcasts in the wilds. Tan-Tan must reach into the heart of myth and become the Robber Queen herself. For only the Robber Queen's legendary powers can save her life . . . and set her free.

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Editorial Reviews

Seattle Times
"Caribbean patois adorns this novel with graceful rhythms...Beneath it lie complex, clearly evoked characters, haunting descriptions of exotic planets, and a stirring story...[This book] ought to elevate Hopkinson to star status."
Washington Post
"...employs Caribbean folk elements to tell a story that is by turns fantastic, allegorical and contemporary."
The New York Times Book Review
"Deeply satisfying...succeeds on a grand scale...best of all is the language....Hopkinson's narrative voice has a way of getting under the skin."
From the Publisher
"Deeply satisfying...succeeds on a grand scale...best of all is the language....Hopkinson's narrative voice has a way of getting under the skin."—The New York Times Book Review

"Caribbean patois adorns this novel with graceful rhythms...Beneath it lie complex, clearly evoked characters, haunting descriptions of exotic planets, and a stirring story...[This book] ought to elevate Hopkinson to star status."—Seattle Times

"Spicy and distinctive, set forth in a thoroughly captivating Caribbean dialect."—Kirkus Reviews

"Hopkinson's rich and complex Carib English is...quite beautiful...believable, lushly detailed worlds...extremely well-drawn...Hopkinson owns one of the more important and original voices in SF."—Publishers Weekly

"Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"...employs Caribbean folk elements to tell a story that is by turns fantastic, allegorical and contemporary."—Washington Post

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The sounds and rhythms of the Caribbean and Carnival suffuse Hopkinson's second novel (after Brown Girl in the Ring). On the Carib-colonized planet of Toussaint, Antonio Habib, the scheming, philandering mayor of Cockpit County, murders his wife's lover in a rigged duel and must then flee his high-tech planet, taking with him only his young daughter, Tan-Tan. The pair end up on New Half-Way Tree, Toussaint's alternate-universe twin, a primitive and dangerous world inhabited primarily by Toussaint's exiled criminal class and the douen, an alien race reminiscent of creatures from Caribbean folklore. There, Antonio's life lacks purpose, and although he remarries, he gradually degenerates into an angry, sexually predatory drunk. Growing to adulthood, Tan-Tan is deeply scarred by her father's assaults on her. Eventually she kills him in self-defense and, pregnant with his child, flees into the forbidding bush that surrounds their small settlement. Tan-Tan is kept on the run by Antonio's jealous widow, seeking vengeance for her husband's death. Hiding among the trees, Tan-Tan learns the secrets of the douen and gradually transforms into another figure out of Caribbean folklore, the Midnight Robber, who dresses in black, spouts poetry, steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Hopkinson's rich and complex Carib English can be hard to follow at times, but it is nonetheless quite beautiful; her young protagonist, at once violent and vulnerable, is extremely well drawn. Both Toussaint, a world almost awash in nanotechnology, and the more primitive New Half-Way Tree are believable, lushly detailed worlds. Like its predecessor, this novel bears evidence that Hopkinson owns one of the more important and original voices in SF. Agent, Don Maas. (Feb.) FYI: Brown Girl in the Ring won a Locus Award for Best First SF Novel. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA
Fresh on the heels of her first success with Brown Girl in the Ring (Warner/Aspect, 1998/VOYA August 1998), winner of the Locus Award for Best First Novel, Hopkinson creates another captivating story set in a richly imagined world. When her influential father commits an unforgivable crime, Tan Tan is exiled from her privileged life on the Caribbeancolonized planet of Toussaint. The planet of exile, New Half Way Tree, is a world of mythical beasts, thieves, and outcasts. As Tan Tan attempts to adapt to her new environment, she struggles not only with her alienation from family and home but also with an abusive father. Having lost its focus in the early chapters, the story regains momentum at this point when Tan Tan finds herself on New Half Way Tree. Here the narrative takes on the quality of a told story as Tan Tan reinvents herself as the powerful Robber Queen to survive and finally is able to come to terms with her past and her future. Hopkinson's writing is rich with elements of fantasy, science fiction, and magic realism. The author populates her novel with fascinating characters and intriguing descriptions of the advanced technology used on Toussaint. Although Hopkinson has been compared with Octavia Butler, it is hard to slot this novel into a particular category. Adventure, SF, and fantasy readers all should find something here to interest them if they can adapt to the sometimes difficulttoread dialect and the novel's slow start. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2000, Warner, Ages 16 to Adult, 352p, $13.95 Trade pb. Reviewer: Alison Kastner
Library Journal
As the beloved daughter of the mayor of Cockpit County on the planet Toussaint, Tan-Tan grows up spoiled and cherished until her father's crime leads to her exile with him to the prison planet of New Half-Way Tree. Forced to survive in a lawless world, Tan-Tan takes refuge in childhood games, becoming the legendary Robber Queen, whose daring deeds provide the young girl with the courage to overcome her harsh surroundings. The author of Brown Girl in the Ring once again draws from African, Caribbean, and Creole folklore to flavor her tale of a fierce and resourceful young woman determined to make her way in a world she has not chosen. Highly recommended. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
YA-Hopkinson regales readers with a tale in which West Indian folklore and cadence are combined in a futuristic fantasy set on a planet that borrows from both Haiti and Canada in its geography and cultural history. Sixteen-year-old Tan-Tan, the victim of incest, murders her trespassing father, only to become a permanent runaway from her society on the planet of Toussaint. Her childhood heroine, the Robber Queen, becomes something more personal to Tan-Tan as she fights to survive in New Half-Way Tree, a land of exile and horrifying creatures: Tan-Tan learns to emulate her heroine. In this compelling and literary novel, the author provides fully developed characters of both genders and all ages. Tan-Tan's allies include her old godmother and a male peer who quietly took the implied blame when Tan-Tan became pregnant at 14, although her father was that aborted baby's sire. The beasts of New Half-Way Tree are also fully realized, making Tan-Tan's world seem less like one of a horror story and more one of myth. While the language consistently blends Creole with standard North American English, teen readers will have little trouble following the linguistic nuances. As she did in Brown Girl in the Ring (Warner, 1998), Hopkinson provides an engaging nexus of science fiction and folklore.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Durbin
Midnight Robber is perfect for a lazy summer afternoon at the beach-or the three-hour flight getting there.
Paper Magazine
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446675604
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/1/2000
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 383,934
  • Age range: 14 - 18 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Nalo Hopkinson was born in Jamaica and has lived in Guyana, Trinidad, and Canada. The daughter of a poet/playwright and a library technician, she has won numerous awards including the John W. Campbell Award, the World Fantasy Award, and Canada's Sunburst Award for literature of the fantastic. Her award-winning short fiction collection Skin Folk was selected for the 2002 New York Times Summer Reading List and was one of the New York Times Best Books of the Year. Hopkinson is also the author of The New Moon's Arms, The Salt Roads, Midnight Robber, and Brown Girl in the Ring. She is a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, and splits her time between California, USA, and Toronto, Canada.

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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


Come Jour Ouvert morning, Tan-Tan was afraid to even self get out of bed. She had asked her mother the rules of the fight over and over till Ione got fed up and refused to repeat them any more. Tan-Tan knew the rules in her own head by now. As she opened her eyes she started to recite them like a mantra. Daddy would be all right.

"Young Mistress," said eshu softly. "Ione say is time to get up now. She say to clean your teeth and take a shower, then put on your best frock, the white one with the sailor collar"

Tan-Tan got out of bed. She went outside through the bedroom doors that led to the back verandah. The morning was looking dreary, oui. Papa Sun was hiding his face behind one big mako cloud. Rainflies flitted everywhere, dancing on their wings in anticipation of a wetting. Tan-Tan went to her bathroom, washed herself and brushed her teeth. She reached into her closet for the white dress with the blue-piped collar, but her hand touched her Robber Queen outfit instead. She put it on. It covered up some of her scared feelings.

Nursie bustled into the room, carrying combs, ribbons and fragrant coconut oil for Tan-Tan's hair. "No, child, Put on the white dress, you ain't hear what your mother say?"

"I wearing this."

"Tan-Tan . . . "

"Mistress say is okay," chimed the eshu out loud. It confused Tan-Tan. She hadn't had any message from her mother.

Nursie sighed with exasperation. "Let me just get some red ribbons then. These blue ones not going to match."

Nursie oiled and parted Tan-Tan's hair, wove it into plaits, then rubbed some of the coconut oil into her elbows and knees so theywouldn't be ashy. "My pretty little girl." She kissed the top of Tan-Tan's head and took her to have breakfast with Ione.

Tan-Tan's mother was sitting at the table, staring off into the distance. " Oh, you prefer to wear that instead, doux-doux?" She said absent-mindedly. "All right."

Nursie narrowed her eyes. "Compère, eshu tell me that you give permission for Tan-Tan to wear this."

It was a second before Ione replied. "Eh? No, but is all right." With a sigh she got to her feet and pulled out a chair for Tan-Tan. "Just ask Ben if he will please do a synapse wash on the eshu, nuh? It must be past time." She stood and patted Tan-Tan's shoulder, a little too hard. She smiled nervously, muttered at the air; "Eshu, we ready to eat."

Mummy was wearing a beautiful white dress that left her shoulders bare. It had puffy sleeves and a deep flounce from knee to ankle. Tan-Tan thought Ione was the most beautiful woman in the whole world.

A chicle fetch slid into the room, loaded with covered trays. Ione took them and put them on the table. Bammy bread and saltfish with cabbage and thyme. "Oh, what a creation! Eshu, thank Cookie for we, please."

But Ione only nibbled at breakfast. She kept asking Tan-Tan if she looked okay, kept checking her hand mirror all the time.

Outside, the threatened passing shower broke. Drops pounded like fists at the windows and thunder shouted at lightning.

As soon as the meal was over, Ione had the eshu make a full-sized mirror on the nearest wall. She put a colourdot from her purse onto one lip, then pressed both lips together. Her lips flushed with her favorite oxblood burgundy.

The eshu said out loud, "The limousine waiting, Mistress."

"Oh God," Ione whispered. "Time to go." She hugged Tan-Tan to her, a little too hard. "Don't fret eh, doux-doux? One way or another, it go work out all right." Silently Tan-Tan repeated the rules of the duel to herself. They bustled out into the front yard.

The shower was over. Tiny so like babies' fingernails, transparent rainfly wings were everywhere, held pasted in place by drops of water. Outside twinkled. Flightless as ants now, the rainflies were crawling off to wherever they went after a downpour. The sun had come out, was burning down full. Registering the way Tan-Tan's pupils contracted against the glare, the nanomites swimming in the vitreous humour of her eyes polarized, dimming the light for r.

Plang-palang! Plang-palang! Cockpit County was in the full throes of Jour Ouvert morning revelry. People beat out their own dancing rhythms with bottle and spoon, tin-pan and stick. What a racket! Bodies danced everywhere: bodies smeared with mud; men's bodies in women's underwear; women wearing men's shirt-jacs and boxers; naked bodies. They pressed against the car, pressed against one another, ground and wound their hips in the ecstatic license of Carnival. Someone grinned into the limo at Tan-Tan and Mummy. The woman had temporarily cell-sculpted her skin to be Afro on one side, Euro on the other. The Euro side was already sunburnt. She licked the length of the window with her tongue, which had been pierced with a star-shaped platinum nugget. The metal scraped against the window glass.

The limo crept along, slow as a chinny worm. A mako jumbie strode through the crowd, picking his way on his tall stilts. His tattered motley had been made into pants that clothed the stilts all the way to the ground. His chest was bare and he'd tied a long, pointy beak onto his face.

A Robber King stepped into the road in front of them, brandishing pistols almost as long as he was tall. He blew a shrieking whistle that brought to a halt the comess and carrying-on all around him. A circle of space cleared for him. People called out to him cheerfully and drew closer to see what he would do. The limousine braked, tried to go round the man. He stepped into their path again. Ione sighed. "Let he give he speech," she told the car.

Tan-Tan could have lain comfortably under the expanse of the Robber's hat. It had small white skulls bobbing all round its brim. The skulls' lower jaws yammered, but it was too loud in the street to hear if they were saying anything. The Robber's black and red outfit was the essence of Robber King style: bandoliers, holsters, chaps, alligator skin boots with enormous spurs. For a second, Tan-Tan felt the old fear: had he come to take her away for being bad?

The Robber gestured with his guns, spat his whistle from his mouth and broke into a nonsensible rant he had written especially for this day. "Arrest thou compunctively, embroiled despoilers. Dip and fall back, and hear my sultry cry." He turned his head towards the car as he spoke, and it was as though he were sitting right beside them. He must have been wearing a pointmike. Tan-Tan leaned forward to get every word of his speech. Maybe she could pick up some new ones for hers.

"My seraphic dam was a very queen of Egypt; mine pater its monarchical magnate, and I, a son of the sun, a coddled cocotte in my child's robes of ermine and cloth-of-gold. Who would curdle my kingly boy's joy, who mash me down and steal me away like jacks from a ball?"

And so it went: the classic tale, much embroidered over the centuries, mirrored the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, an African noble's son stolen into slavery on seventeenth-century Earth. The Robber Kings' stream-of-consciousness speeches always told of escaping the horrors of slavery and making their way into brigandry as a way of surviving in the new and terrible white devils' land in which they'd found themselves.

". . . and then," the Robber went on, "I wrestle the warptenned flying ship from the ensorcelled dungmaster, the master plan blaster in his silver-fendered stratocaster with wings of phoenix flame, and I . . ."

Ione opened the window, stuck her hand out. "Here," she called to the Robber. "Take this, and make we move on." She held out money in her hand.

He was supposed to stop when offered payment, but he wouldn't reach for it. "Avaunt!" he shouted. "Get thee behind me, horny horning whore of Babylon!" Someone in the crowd giggled. "Thine gelt shall not tempt me, too wise am I to be clasped by your thighs."

"Take it," Ione growled. "Is fight yard we going, you hear me? "

Fight yard. Fight yard . . . was whispered through the crowd. "Robber man," someone yelled, "take she blasted money and let she get through. She going to see she husband duel."

Ione threw the coin. The Robber leapt, swept off his hand, bent on one knee to catch the coin between his teeth and came up smiling. Tan-Tan clapped her hands and whistled to salute him. "Shut up, pickney," zone snapped. Tan-Tan pouted and slouched back against the seat.

The Robber stepped back to let them through, bowed and flourished his hat as they passed. The ring-bang ruction and the dancing started up round them again.

They reached the fight yard to find Quashee standing in the machète circle already, looking stiff and serious in his leather armour gleaming with jumbie oil, and holding his helmet under his arm. Ione made to wave to him, but pulled her hand back before the gesture was finished. She sucked in her bottom lip and hurried with Tan-Tan to a seat. Some people glared at her, some smiled. An old, white-haired woman with a cane made the kiss-teeth sound of disgust and leaned over to whisper with her companions, another old woman and an old man.

The fight yard had been rearranged to accommodate the only activity it would feature today: the duelling circle. The circle dominated the whole yard. It had rows of benches erected all round. Spectators sat on one side, everybody dressed to puss-foot, everybody excited. The duelling parties sat in two separate boxes on the other. A team of medics sat beside the fighters in one box, a stretcher propped up nearby. Higglers moved through the crowd of watchers, shouting, "Roast peanut? Topi-tambo? Chataigne? Who going buy my fresh roast peanut?"

Tan-Tan craned her neck, trying to see the fighters better. "Mummy, is where Daddy there?" Tan-Tan asked.

"I don't know, darling. I don't see he. Mama Nanny, tell me that after all this fret I fret, the blasted man not going to just forfeit. "

The fighters were all dressed differently, according to their fighting style: some armored like Quashee; some in leotards; some in dhotis with bare chests or bubby-bands. They all looked jittery.

Daddy finally came striding out from the change rooms. Ben the gardener was running in front as squire, carrying Antonio's helmet and machète.

Quashee ain't have a squire.

The crowd went silent. Daddy walked into that ring tall and proud. You could tell he wasn't 'fraid nobody. Tan-Tan's heart was thumping like drums.

She had never seen Daddy look so fine as this day. His leather armour was all in black with silver joints for the elbow and knee. His matching black leather helmet had a silver mouth guard. His machète was sharp so till it caught the little bit of sunshine that had graced the day and flung the light into Tan-Tan's eyes, sharp like a razor cut.

Tan-Tan could see the fear-sweat already on Quashee's brow.

Quashee and Antonio stood opposite each other. The machète marshall examined both their armour, ran a black box over their bodies. "Mummy, what he doing?"

A woman beside them answered. "He checking to make sure them ain't using electronic fields to protect themself."

"Granny Nanny," the marshall chanted in nannysong to the air, "Let the record show: the combattants dress fair to fight fair" His enhanced voice echoed. He put a hand on either man's forearm and switched to patwa. "Gentlemen, I want you to inform the crowd who issue this machète challenge this Jour Ouvert morning."

"Is me, Marshall. Antonio, mayor of Cockpit County, against Quashee, the man who take away me wife honour from me. "

Somebody muttered, "Eh-eh. Like her honour is yours to have or lose."

Mummy shot a quick glare at the man, her lips set hard together. He returned her gaze sheepishly, shrugged. Mummy looked back at the ring.

The marshall boomed, "Quashee, you accept the challenge? "

"Yes, Marshall." His voice trembled a little.

The marshall nodded and looked up at the stands. "People, listen good, for though Granny Nanny hearing we, you is the human eyes of the law this morning. This fight must go according to these rules:" Tan-Tan whispered the rules along with the marshal

"Them could only use bare machète, no other weapon or device."

"Them could wear leather armour for protection."

"If the fight going fair, nobody must interfere"

"The thing must continue until one of them beg mercy or can't fight no more."

"The winner shouldn't kill, but should show mercy."

"Them is the rules. All you go be witness?"

"Yes, Marshall," the crowd yelled back. As the marshall turned and walked to safety at the edge of the ring, Tan-Tan could hear the excited voices all around her:

"Quashee, man, is Quashee go win! Put a ten rupees on Quashee, there for me."

"You know so! He been practicing! He sure to beat out Antonio. Look my five rupees."

"Nah, man. Is fool allyou fool. Antonio have more life experience. I bet you the dog have solve tricks in he. I putting down twenty on Antonio, oui?"

From the edge of the ring the marshal called to the two fighters: "All right; allyou ready?"

They nodded. Quashee put on his helmet. Even from where she was sitting Tan-Tan could see how his trembling hands fumbled with the chin buckle. Ben made to put on Antonio's helmet, but Antonio stopped him cool-cool. He swaggered over to Mummy and Tan-Tan. Ione giggled like a sob. She put her hand to her mouth.

"Doux-doux," Antonio called out to his wife, "give me your favour, nuh? Your lace handkerchief to tie back me hair from out me eyes?"

Ione put her hand on her bosom. Her lips wavered into a smile. She reached into her bodice with two fingers, slow, the way molasses does run down the side of the bowl. She drew out a pretty lace kerchief from her blouse, dabbed it against the moisture gathered between her breasts, and then flung it to Antonio. He caught the little piece of lace and held it up to his face, inhaling the perfume of Ione's skin. "Oh God," a man whispered from the crowd. "Look how he love she, even though she did horn he."

"Never mind that at all," somebody replied. "Ain't you would give anything to be that kerchief, and rest where it does rest ?"

Antonio smiled at Ione and tied back his long black hair with the kerchief. Only then would he let Ben put on the helmet. Tan-Tan clutched at the Robber Queen cape Daddy had given her. She closed her eyes and said silently, The winner can't kill. He must show mercy. The winner can't kill . . .

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First Chapter

Come Jour Ouvert morning, Tan-Tan was afraid to even self get out of bed. She had asked her mother the rules of the fight over and over till Ione got fed up and refused to repeat them any more. Tan-Tan knew the rules in her own head by now. As she opened her eyes she started to recite them like a mantra. Daddy would be all right.

"Young Mistress," said eshu softly. "Ione say is time to get up now. She say to clean your teeth and take a shower, then put on your best frock, the white one with the sailor collar"

Tan-Tan got out of bed. She went outside through the bedroom doors that led to the back verandah. The morning was looking dreary, oui. Papa Sun was hiding his face behind one big mako cloud. Rainflies flitted everywhere, dancing on their wings in anticipation of a wetting. Tan-Tan went to her bathroom, washed herself and brushed her teeth. She reached into her closet for the white dress with the blue-piped collar, but her hand touched her Robber Queen outfit instead. She put it on. It covered up some of her scared feelings.

Nursie bustled into the room, carrying combs, ribbons and fragrant coconut oil for Tan-Tan's hair. "No, child, Put on the white dress, you ain't hear what your mother say?"

"I wearing this."

"Tan-Tan . . . "

"Mistress say is okay," chimed the eshu out loud. It confused Tan-Tan. She hadn't had any message from her mother.

Nursie sighed with exasperation. "Let me just get some red ribbons then. These blue ones not going to match."

Nursie oiled and parted Tan-Tan's hair, wove it into plaits, then rubbed some of the coconut oil into her elbows and knees so they wouldn't be ashy. "My pretty little girl." She kissed the top of Tan-Tan's head and took her to have breakfast with Ione.

Tan-Tan's mother was sitting at the table, staring off into the distance. " Oh, you prefer to wear that instead, doux-doux?" She said absent-mindedly. "All right."

Nursie narrowed her eyes. "Compère, eshu tell me that you give permission for Tan-Tan to wear this."

It was a second before Ione replied. "Eh? No, but is all right." With a sigh she got to her feet and pulled out a chair for Tan-Tan. "Just ask Ben if he will please do a synapse wash on the eshu, nuh? It must be past time." She stood and patted Tan-Tan's shoulder, a little too hard. She smiled nervously, muttered at the air; "Eshu, we ready to eat."

Mummy was wearing a beautiful white dress that left her shoulders bare. It had puffy sleeves and a deep flounce from knee to ankle. Tan-Tan thought Ione was the most beautiful woman in the whole world.

A chicle fetch slid into the room, loaded with covered trays. Ione took them and put them on the table. Bammy bread and saltfish with cabbage and thyme. "Oh, what a creation! Eshu, thank Cookie for we, please."

But Ione only nibbled at breakfast. She kept asking Tan-Tan if she looked okay, kept checking her hand mirror all the time.

Outside, the threatened passing shower broke. Drops pounded like fists at the windows and thunder shouted at lightning.

As soon as the meal was over, Ione had the eshu make a full-sized mirror on the nearest wall. She put a colourdot from her purse onto one lip, then pressed both lips together. Her lips flushed with her favorite oxblood burgundy.

The eshu said out loud, "The limousine waiting, Mistress."

"Oh God," Ione whispered. "Time to go." She hugged Tan-Tan to her, a little too hard. "Don't fret eh, doux-doux? One way or another, it go work out all right." Silently Tan-Tan repeated the rules of the duel to herself. They bustled out into the front yard.

The shower was over. Tiny so like babies' fingernails, transparent rainfly wings were everywhere, held pasted in place by drops of water. Outside twinkled. Flightless as ants now, the rainflies were crawling off to wherever they went after a downpour. The sun had come out, was burning down full. Registering the way Tan-Tan's pupils contracted against the glare, the nanomites swimming in the vitreous humour of her eyes polarized, dimming the light for r.

Plang-palang! Plang-palang! Cockpit County was in the full throes of Jour Ouvert morning revelry. People beat out their own dancing rhythms with bottle and spoon, tin-pan and stick. What a racket! Bodies danced everywhere: bodies smeared with mud; men's bodies in women's underwear; women wearing men's shirt-jacs and boxers; naked bodies. They pressed against the car, pressed against one another, ground and wound their hips in the ecstatic license of Carnival. Someone grinned into the limo at Tan-Tan and Mummy. The woman had temporarily cell-sculpted her skin to be Afro on one side, Euro on the other. The Euro side was already sunburnt. She licked the length of the window with her tongue, which had been pierced with a star-shaped platinum nugget. The metal scraped against the window glass.

The limo crept along, slow as a chinny worm. A mako jumbie strode through the crowd, picking his way on his tall stilts. His tattered motley had been made into pants that clothed the stilts all the way to the ground. His chest was bare and he'd tied a long, pointy beak onto his face.

A Robber King stepped into the road in front of them, brandishing pistols almost as long as he was tall. He blew a shrieking whistle that brought to a halt the comess and carrying-on all around him. A circle of space cleared for him. People called out to him cheerfully and drew closer to see what he would do. The limousine braked, tried to go round the man. He stepped into their path again. Ione sighed. "Let he give he speech," she told the car.

Tan-Tan could have lain comfortably under the expanse of the Robber's hat. It had small white skulls bobbing all round its brim. The skulls' lower jaws yammered, but it was too loud in the street to hear if they were saying anything. The Robber's black and red outfit was the essence of Robber King style: bandoliers, holsters, chaps, alligator skin boots with enormous spurs. For a second, Tan-Tan felt the old fear: had he come to take her away for being bad?

The Robber gestured with his guns, spat his whistle from his mouth and broke into a nonsensible rant he had written especially for this day. "Arrest thou compunctively, embroiled despoilers. Dip and fall back, and hear my sultry cry." He turned his head towards the car as he spoke, and it was as though he were sitting right beside them. He must have been wearing a pointmike. Tan-Tan leaned forward to get every word of his speech. Maybe she could pick up some new ones for hers.

"My seraphic dam was a very queen of Egypt; mine pater its monarchical magnate, and I, a son of the sun, a coddled cocotte in my child's robes of ermine and cloth-of-gold. Who would curdle my kingly boy's joy, who mash me down and steal me away like jacks from a ball?"

And so it went: the classic tale, much embroidered over the centuries, mirrored the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, an African noble's son stolen into slavery on seventeenth-century Earth. The Robber Kings' stream-of-consciousness speeches always told of escaping the horrors of slavery and making their way into brigandry as a way of surviving in the new and terrible white devils' land in which they'd found themselves.

". . . and then," the Robber went on, "I wrestle the warptenned flying ship from the ensorcelled dungmaster, the master plan blaster in his silver-fendered stratocaster with wings of phoenix flame, and I . . ."

Ione opened the window, stuck her hand out. "Here," she called to the Robber. "Take this, and make we move on." She held out money in her hand.

He was supposed to stop when offered payment, but he wouldn't reach for it. "Avaunt!" he shouted. "Get thee behind me, horny horning whore of Babylon!" Someone in the crowd giggled. "Thine gelt shall not tempt me, too wise am I to be clasped by your thighs."

"Take it," Ione growled. "Is fight yard we going, you hear me? "

Fight yard. Fight yard . . . was whispered through the crowd. "Robber man," someone yelled, "take she blasted money and let she get through. She going to see she husband duel."

Ione threw the coin. The Robber leapt, swept off his hand, bent on one knee to catch the coin between his teeth and came up smiling. Tan-Tan clapped her hands and whistled to salute him. "Shut up, pickney," zone snapped. Tan-Tan pouted and slouched back against the seat.

The Robber stepped back to let them through, bowed and flourished his hat as they passed. The ring-bang ruction and the dancing started up round them again.

They reached the fight yard to find Quashee standing in the machète circle already, looking stiff and serious in his leather armour gleaming with jumbie oil, and holding his helmet under his arm. Ione made to wave to him, but pulled her hand back before the gesture was finished. She sucked in her bottom lip and hurried with Tan-Tan to a seat. Some people glared at her, some smiled. An old, white-haired woman with a cane made the kiss-teeth sound of disgust and leaned over to whisper with her companions, another old woman and an old man.

The fight yard had been rearranged to accommodate the only activity it would feature today: the duelling circle. The circle dominated the whole yard. It had rows of benches erected all round. Spectators sat on one side, everybody dressed to puss-foot, everybody excited. The duelling parties sat in two separate boxes on the other. A team of medics sat beside the fighters in one box, a stretcher propped up nearby. Higglers moved through the crowd of watchers, shouting, "Roast peanut? Topi-tambo? Chataigne? Who going buy my fresh roast peanut?"

Tan-Tan craned her neck, trying to see the fighters better. "Mummy, is where Daddy there?" Tan-Tan asked.

"I don't know, darling. I don't see he. Mama Nanny, tell me that after all this fret I fret, the blasted man not going to just forfeit. "

The fighters were all dressed differently, according to their fighting style: some armored like Quashee; some in leotards; some in dhotis with bare chests or bubby-bands. They all looked jittery.

Daddy finally came striding out from the change rooms. Ben the gardener was running in front as squire, carrying Antonio's helmet and machète.

Quashee ain't have a squire.

The crowd went silent. Daddy walked into that ring tall and proud. You could tell he wasn't 'fraid nobody. Tan-Tan's heart was thumping like drums.

She had never seen Daddy look so fine as this day. His leather armour was all in black with silver joints for the elbow and knee. His matching black leather helmet had a silver mouth guard. His machète was sharp so till it caught the little bit of sunshine that had graced the day and flung the light into Tan-Tan's eyes, sharp like a razor cut.

Tan-Tan could see the fear-sweat already on Quashee's brow.

Quashee and Antonio stood opposite each other. The machète marshall examined both their armour, ran a black box over their bodies. "Mummy, what he doing?"

A woman beside them answered. "He checking to make sure them ain't using electronic fields to protect themself."

"Granny Nanny," the marshall chanted in nannysong to the air, "Let the record show: the combattants dress fair to fight fair" His enhanced voice echoed. He put a hand on either man's forearm and switched to patwa. "Gentlemen, I want you to inform the crowd who issue this machète challenge this Jour Ouvert morning."

"Is me, Marshall. Antonio, mayor of Cockpit County, against Quashee, the man who take away me wife honour from me. "

Somebody muttered, "Eh-eh. Like her honour is yours to have or lose."

Mummy shot a quick glare at the man, her lips set hard together. He returned her gaze sheepishly, shrugged. Mummy looked back at the ring.

The marshall boomed, "Quashee, you accept the challenge? "

"Yes, Marshall." His voice trembled a little.

The marshall nodded and looked up at the stands. "People, listen good, for though Granny Nanny hearing we, you is the human eyes of the law this morning. This fight must go according to these rules:" Tan-Tan whispered the rules along with the marshal

"Them could only use bare machète, no other weapon or device.

"Them could wear leather armour for protection.

"If the fight going fair, nobody must interfere

"The thing must continue until one of them beg mercy or can't fight no more.

"The winner shouldn't kill, but should show mercy.

"Them is the rules. Allyou go be witness?"

"Yes, Marshall," the crowd yelled back. As the marshall turned and walked to safety at the edge of the ring, Tan-Tan could hear the excited voices all around her:

"Quashee, man, is Quashee go win! Put a ten rupees on Quashee, there for me."

"You know so! He been practicing! He sure to beat out Antonio. Look my five rupees."

"Nah, man. Is fool allyou fool. Antonio have more life experience. I bet you the dog have solve tricks in he. I putting down twenty on Antonio, oui?"

From the edge of the ring the marshal called to the two fighters: All right; allyou ready?"

They nodded. Quashee put on his helmet. Even from where she was sitting Tan-Tan could see how his trembling hands fumbled with the chin buckle. Ben made to put on Antonio's helmet, but Antonio stopped him cool-cool. He swaggered over to Mummy and Tan-Tan. Ione giggled like a sob. She put her hand to her mouth.

"Doux-doux," Antonio called out to his wife, "give me your favour, nuh? Your lace handkerchief to tie back me hair from out me eyes?"

Ione put her hand on her bosom. Her lips wavered into a smile. She reached into her bodice with two fingers, slow, the way molasses does run down the side of the bowl. She drew out a pretty lace kerchief from her blouse, dabbed it against the moisture gathered between her breasts, and then flung it to Antonio. He caught the little piece of lace and held it up to his face, inhaling the perfume of Ione's skin. "Oh God," a man whispered from the crowd. "Look how he love she, even though she did horn he."

"Never mind that at all," somebody replied. "Ain't you would give anything to be that kerchief, and rest where it does rest ?"

Antonio smiled at Ione and tied back his long black hair with the kerchief. Only then would he let Ben put on the helmet. Tan-Tan clutched at the Robber Queen cape Daddy had given her. She closed her eyes and said silently, The winner can't kill. He must show mercy. The winner can't kill . . .

Copyright (c) 2000 by Nalo Hopkinson"

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 9, 2014

    Huge story packed into a small book. In this novel, Hopkinson di

    Huge story packed into a small book. In this novel, Hopkinson displays her talent for creating worlds with their own complex ecosystems of both sustenance and power relationships. Both planets come alive but through the limited understanding of Tan-Tan, who must adjust to a new world and carve a place out for herself. As with Brown Girl in the Ring, the reader is drawn into the concerns of just a few characters while recognizing that there are so many other stories in these worlds that yearn to be told. Hopkinson builds her worlds form the ground-up rather than from the top-down and yet I'm never left wondering why things are the way they are.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    Interesting tale as told by a naive young woman.

    Author's skilful use of Caribbean patois lends an air of reality to the story. Plot is somewhat unusual.

    ----- LME

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent science fiction tale

    On the planet Toussaint, womanizing Cockpit county Mayor Antonio catches his wife Ione sleeping with Quashee. Irate, Antonio moves out of their home, but for the next five months does nothing about being cuckolded. He has only a few hours left to challenge Quashee to a duel of honor in the fight yard before the legal limit for such a matter ends. The rules do not allow for loss of life, but Antonio kills his opponent anyway. <P>Under arrest for murder, Antonio, accompanied by his daughter Tan-Tan flees their technically advanced planet through a dimension shifter to land on its primitive ¿twin¿, New Half Way Tree. On their new home planet, the dinosaur-like Douen that are mythological creatures on Toussaint thrive. As the years pass Antonio drifts into a world of alcohol and sexually abuses his daughter, who ultimately kills him in self-defense. As she flees from her stepmother¿s ire, Tan-Tan begins to understand her new tree mates the Douen and soon becomes the MIDNIGHT ROBBER, a legend on her former home planet. <P>The MIDNIGHT ROBBER is an excellent science fiction tale because author Nalo Hopkinson makes both of her worlds seem vividly real. Toussaint appears to be a technologically advanced Caribbean planet while New Half Way Tree seems very primal. Antonio is a strange, but fully developed character while Tan-Tan will steal the hearts of the audience. As with BROWN GIRL IN THE RING, the award winning Ms. Hopkinson proves she has a unique and wonderful perspective that provides a fresh voice in the science fiction arena. <P>Harriet Klausner

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