As I mentioned in my review of “The Justice Trilogy,” when you are a minority author writing a genre book, you’re risking ending up with a fractal audience, occupying a niche inside a niche. The hope might be that you end up, like best-selling mystery author Walter Mosely, with the intersection of two audiences, but a more likely outcome is that in the Venn diagram of possible audiences, you’ll end up just with the center core. Conversely, as a member of that sub-niche audience, you may have to wait a long time for work that hits your sweet-spot. That’s why I was excited to stumble across Nalo Hopkinson’s “Sister Mine,” a mostly lighthearted contemporary fantasy with an almost entirely black cast.
The book has many of the characteristic strengths of the genre: a fresh, accessible voice, heady and imaginative concepts, and technicolor imagery. It also has some of its most typical weaknesses, including a confusing plot, underdeveloped ideas, and a certain “gee-whiz” factor that undercuts the reader’s ability to take it all seriously. In sum, it reminded me of one of my favorite authors, Diana Wynne Jones, whose books also often revolved around dysfunctional families with vast, cosmic powers –and who often squandered ideas that could have anchored entire series on incomprehensible sideplots. In other words, like Jones’s books, Hopkinson’s work is often an overabundance of riches. Enchanted objects springing to life, trips to alternate planes of existence, deities having affairs with mortals, a cursed rock band, twin sisters holding each others’ destiny; each one a rich enough idea in its own right, and each one that would have arguably fared better with some room to breath (i.e. without the others pressing in all around it).
In the end, I’m not afraid to admit that a lot of what appealed to me in the book was a demographic in nature. How many more stories can one read about the Greek and Norse gods, or British pagan deities? The Afro-Caribbean pantheon in this book was a breath of fresh air. It was also nice to see black characters freed from dreary realism, as well as the distinctiveness of a black author’s imagination applied to fantasy. In particular, I loved the main characters development of her own handcrafted magic, and wished it had made up a larger part of the narrative. But that’s a small quibble. This book will be a pleasure to anyone seeking a little technicolored escapism. Go read it!