A review by colossal
Midnight Robber, by Nalo Hopkinson


This book has a central issue to it without which it really can't be meaningfully discussed. It is a spoiler to something that doesn't start until about 40% in the book, and frankly, had I known that this was the subject of the book I never would have picked it up. I'm kind of glad I did though.

I would recommend you skip the remainder of this review if you don't want to read the spoiler, because I'm going to proceed as if you're aware of it. Sorry, I don't want to put the whole review under spoilers because you need to read this explanation.

SpoilerTan-Tan, the main character of the book, is repeatedly raped by her father from the age of 9 until the age of 14 when she falls pregnant. Tan-Tan knows a doctor though who gives her abortifactants. The sexual abuse stops until she is 16, when she attempts to run away but is then brutally raped again by her father, but in the process she kills him. She falls pregnant again to this last rape.

Toussaint is a planet that has been colonized by people of Caribbean descent and it maintains the Caribbean-speech and culture from Earth with lots of believable additions. It's a post-scarcity civilization with ubiquitous AI surveillance and robot labor. No humans need to work although some do. Antonio, the mayor of the local city, and his wife Ione have a fractious relationship built around pointless grabs for attention, drama, cheating and basically being idiots. This eventually leads to serious criminal charges against Antonio when he kills one of Ione's lovers. One of the fates possible for criminals is to be shoved through a dimensional wall into an alternative Toussaint, called Half-Way Tree, and rather than wait for a trial or sentence, Antonio opts to kidnap his daughter Tan-Tan and jump to Toussaint without any equipment or provisions.

Half-Way Tree is a much more primitive world than Toussaint but it has friendly and peaceful locals and a variety of settlements created by the people sent through from the other world. It's a tough life, but Tan-Tan finds happiness there with friends and surprisingly, family.

Until her ninth birthday. Cue events in the spoiler tags above.

The second half of the book is about Tan-Tan, a 16 year old girl, pregnant with an incestuous rape baby and convinced that she is a murderer. She is pursued beyond all reason for her "crime" and she brings disaster on the people that help her, but she has been given a "curse" that guides her through her life from that point.

For every life she takes, she must save two.

And thus the Midnight Robber, Tan-Tan the Robber Queen is born.

Ok, I loved this. It's about a subject I find personally disturbing, but if you're going to read a book about child rape, this is probably the one to read. The emotional impact of it is not glossed over. Tan-Tan hates what her father is doing, but she still loves him. Her thoughts around this and her own reaction to the abuse are brilliantly set out and makes complete sense in terms of abuse survivors. Then her guilt over killing her father is heartbreaking.

The world-building is amazing for both of these worlds, and the aliens and alien ecology are brilliantly set out as well. Sprinkled throughout the story are Caribbean-style Anansi stories that have been merged with the myths springing up around Tan-Tan's own actions as the Robber Queen, a sort of vigilante executor of justice in these rough penal colonies. So one section is the depressing reality of Tan-Tan living rough as an outcast, and then there's a Tan-Tan story which is obviously a tall tale, and then you're back to fine-grained reality only some of the things that happened in the tall tale actually really happened.

And all through in the background you're getting a narrative of social construction, choices and community. It's just wonderful with so many layers to work through and hardly anything to gripe about. Ok, I got called Mr Grumpy Pants for my commentary on [b:Planetfall|24237785|Planetfall|Emma Newman|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1424627926s/24237785.jpg|43823353], so I need to live up to that a bit. The only thing I will gripe about is that I'd like to see a bit more about where it goes from the end of this book. The douen (the aliens) are just sort of left where they were and I'd like to see where their evolving relationship with the humans will go. There's a particular alien character who I feel has been left in limbo at the end of the book. The revelation at the end of the book has all sorts of interesting implications as well.

Good book. Horrible subject.