Review (Amazon): 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.
My Review (Spoilers!):
Executive Summary: original
I can’t recall where I got this recommendation, but it didn’t disappoint. It’s a book that is both futuristic and sci-fi but at the same time almost Medieval feeling. It is also written by a black author and has only black (Caribbean) characters. I only mention this because as a white person, I do tend to read books by white authors about white characters, and I have been trying to remedy this at least somewhat.
The main character, Tan-Tan, starts out this story as a young girl of 7. She lives on Toussaint with her mother Ione and her father Antonio. Both of her parents are sad scoundrels. Antonio is the mayor and spends much time away from his family both working and philandering. Ione eventually becomes sad and lonely and gets into some philandering of her own. Of course to Antonio, only he is allowed to have fun on the side, so he gets furious with Ione. The planet is governed by “Granny Nanny” a sort of implant which provides internet-like capability for all on Toussaint. However, Antonio gets acquainted with a group who evades the overrule of Granny Nanny. When he eventually decides to challenge Ione’s lover, a virile young man, to a duel, he solicits the help of this group to get him some contraband. He wins the fight due to the poison, however, he ends up killing the man in the process. It is discovered that he has cheated to win the fight, and he is sentenced to trial. The man who Antonio had been working with reaches out to Tan-Tan to give her a package to deliver to Antonio. She smuggles away into the trunk of the car which is escorting her father to jail, however Granny Nanny alerts everyone where she is. Still, she is placed in the jail cell with her father until her mother is able to get her. While in there, she give Antonio the package, which will allow him to flee to New Half-Way Tree. New Half-Way Tree is like the (ancient) Australia of Toussaint–it is an uncivilized natural planet where prisoners are sent. Selfish Antonio takes little Tan-Tan with him there because he doesn’t want Ione to get to keep her.
They arrive in Halfway Tree, and are greeted by a creature named Chichibud, who manages to transport them to the nearest human village (barely as Antonio very nearly got them killed by being a selfish prick) where there is a strict penal system a la Hammurabi. While in this town of Junjuh, Tan-Tan meets her half-sister who with her mother is there because of Antonio and his terrible ways. Antonio eventually remarries a woman named Janisette, and the two of them drunkenly fight all the time. Starting at age 9, Antonio begins raping and assaulting Tan-Tan because she’s so beautiful just like her mother. Awful. The story skips ahead a bit and Tan-Tan is about to have her coming of age (16th birthday) party. She and her friend Melonhead are planning to run away to a town called Sweet Pone, where things are better (and she can escape her terrible father and step-mother). Her father drunkenly catches her outside talking to Melonhead, takes her inside and beats and rapes her. As he is raping her, she pulls out her new birthday present, a knife, and kills him. Chichibud somehow finds her, stuck under her dead father, and helps her escape. They are chased into the woods by the sheriff’s dogs, but Chichibud’s wife is a bird, and she is able to help them escape by climbing into a tree. In the Douen culture, Chichibud tells Tan-Tan, “When you take one life, you must give back two.”
The next part of the story is very interesting and creative. Tan-Tan begins living with Chichibud and his family in their giant tree (a whole village lived there). Douen and Tall People (humans) have never fully existed together, and certainly a human has never lived with a douen family before. It is a struggle to understand their customs and to find something to eat as Tan-Tan doesn’t want to eat grubs and worms. Eventually she starts sort of getting the hang of things, and makes a friendship with Abetifa, Chichibud’s daughter. At this point, she realizes that she is pregnant, from her father, and tries to locate a human town where she can have an abortion (difficult concept for the Douen who are egg-layers). When they locate the nearby town, it’s a terrible place. They don’t even have a doctor. Tan-Tan decides to be her own hero and begins spreading fear, but also respect of “the robber queen” through the village with various visits, causing people to start thinking twice before doing terrible things. However, with this, the rumor of the robber queen manages to make its way back to Junjuh where Janisette has been awaiting word of Tan-Tan. She appears in a broken down old car (a car is a rare sighting on New Half-Way Tree) with a gun. She sees where Tan-Tan runs to, and follows her to the tree. The Douen are too nervous to stay, so in one night, they destroy their tree and move to a new home. They leave Abefita and Tan-Tan to find their own way. (Abefita can eventually join them, but she is on a period of growth and learning typical of their species).
The two adolescents begin wandering around the woods, learning from each other, and scoping out human villages. Tan-Tan continues playing Robber Queen in the towns they find, and she enjoys finding out that her reputation precedes her. Eventually they find the town of Sweet Pone, and Tan-Tan is surprised to find that Melonhead is there, and he has been waiting for her all this time. Tan-Tan assumed that he wanted nothing to do with her after she murdered her father, so she is very surprised by this. Melonhead is the town’s tailor, and he convinces Tan-Tan to stay for Carnival even making her a Robber Queen costume like she had a child. She is conflicted. She wants to stay with Melonhead and be with other humans, but she has been on the run for so long and Abefita is her friend. She doesn’t know what to do. While out at Carnival though, Janisette arrives in a tank (uh, ok?) and threatens her. Tan-Tan stands up for herself in front of everyone, and calls Janisette out for knowing what Antonio was doing to her and not stopping it. Janisette is defeated and leaves, and Tan-Tan takes Melonhead back to the woods to Abefita because her baby is about to come. When he is born, she names him Tubman, and realizes that she has saved two lives, just like the Douen said.
Verdict: 3.5 stars
I like the fantasy and sci-fi aspects of this book. I even like the phonetic Caribbean language. I didn’t write about them but there are few interlude sections of fables that were very curious and foreign to me which I also enjoyed. I just really hated that the “coming of age” story had to involve a rape and a baby born out of that incestual rape. It just feels cheap. It feels like the trope of female superheroes. Male superheroes just become (or are born) superheroes. The women have to overcome some great tragedy, typically rape, to be a superhero. Is that just shitty real life? Maybe, but if I’m looking for a story to escape real life, I don’t want that to be the premise.