Life could be better for Tan-Tan on Toussaint. On the Carribean themed planet, her parents, Ione and Antonio, live apart because of their adultrous behaviour. In an attempt to win Ione back, Antonio makes a big risk, failing miserably and resulting in bringing himself and Tan-Tan to Toussaint’s counterpart: the planet of New Half Way Tree.
New Half Way Tree doesn’t have Toussaint’s technology or society. The population is made up of the convicts of other planets, after all. Them, and the curious douen, the native creatures of the exile planet.
With no way home, Tan-Tan must learn to survive, to become strong. To become the Robber Queen.
I really do love this book. Tan-Tan’s journey is a tragic one, and the novel portrays it well.
What’s so interesting about the story is that while the setting is very science fiction, the conflict itself could have taken place anywhere. It, at the its base, is a coming-of-age story.
Tan-Tan is a seriously complex character. Her trials force her to undertake several coping mechanisms and to grow. She’s not likable, she’s identifiable.
This is mostly because of her scumbag of a father. Then there’s the douen, Chichibud and his daughter Abitefa, who are wise old man and supportive friend respectively.
What I love about the characterization in Midnight Robber is that each character is given the right amount of detail. Tan-Tan is really complex, Melonhead is given a medium amount (being an important side character), and even Gladys, a minor character is memorable.
My only complaint on the character front is Antonio. He’s a very stock antagonist, with very little depth or complexity. And I mean, there’s enough going on in the book already due to his effect on Tan-Tan’s psychology, but for a book with so much in there, Antonio is rather bland, except for one scene with a bucket and cloths.
The writing in the book is solid. Smooth character development, smooth plot. At some points the pace can be a little slow, but I think that’s reflective of Tan-Tan’s situation.
Midnight Robber also features an oral narrative frame and interrupts the story with folklore retellings of the novel’s events. Some are grossly fantasized while others are sharply realistic, and rather than breaking flow they add to it. Hopkinson plays with oral tradition and regular narrative, the two complementing each other rather than being a redundancy.
The book has heaping amounts of thematic content. It talks about utopia/dystopia, oral tradition, independence, overcoming abuse, environmentalism, colonialism, carnival, and upright vigilante. It’s a lot to fit in so short a space, and Hopkinson does her best to fit them all in. The book sort of suffers, though, since we don’t really see the book’s namesake until the last third.
To understand what I mean, think of James Cameron’s Avatar. (There are actually quite a few parallels.) Now imagine that movie was half its viewing length. Sure, it’s a shorter watch, but now a lot of important stuff is probably cut out.
To be fair, Hopkinson does fit them all in quite well, but I wish they were better spread throughout the story.
Overall, I really did enjoy Midnight Robber. It’s a serious story in a fantastical setting…what more could I ask for?