Midnight Robber

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Midnight Robber
Midnight Robber.jpg
First edition
AuthorNalo Hopkinson
Cover artistLeo and Diane Dillon
CountryUnited States
PublisherWarner Aspect
Publication date
Media typePrint (paperback)
813/.54 21
LC ClassPR9199.3.H5927 M53 2000
Preceded byBrown Girl in the Ring 

Midnight Robber is a science fiction bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel) by Jamaican-Canadian writer Nalo Hopkinson. Warner Aspect published the novel in 2000.


The novel is set in the far future, where interplanetary and alternate-dimension travel is possible. In addition, an Internet-like information system, known as "Granny Nanny", dominates daily life, with each person being injected with nanomites that allow mental access to Granny Nanny at birth. This access takes the form of an eshu, a mental voice within the head that provides information upon request and operates as a sort of sixth sense. The use of Granny Nanny is so widespread that the word has somewhat of a religious overtone (characters will often swear to Granny Nanny, for example). The story is eventually revealed to be narrated by Granny Nanny, speaking to Tan-Tan’s child as he is being born.

The book’s protagonist is Tan-Tan Habib, a seven-year-old girl living in Cockpit County on the Carib-colonized planet of Toussaint (named for Toussaint Louverture), with her father Antonio and mother Ione. The story begins on Jonkanoo during Carnival season, of which the highlight for Tan-Tan is the Robber Kings: performers who dress up as the mythical figure of the Robber King and tell exaggerated, boastful tales of their adventures. Antonio (an adulterer himself) discovers that Ione has been having an affair. After driving out the lover and separating from Ione and Tan-Tan (who becomes distraught over the incident, blaming herself for Antonio’s abandonment), he then challenges his wife’s lover to a duel for her honor during Jour Ouvert. During the duel Antonio ends up killing the lover with a poisoned machete blade, causing him to have to escape Toussaint; he takes Tan-Tan with him.

The two take a shift portal to New Half-Way Tree, an alternate universe version of Toussaint that serves as a place of exile for convicts. They are met by Chichibud, a douen (one of several alien species on New Half-Way Tree), who takes them to the nearest human settlement, Junjuh Village, run harshly by One-Eye the sheriff and his deputy Claude through a system of punishment (being locked in a tin box for several hours at a time) and death (hanging).

Tan-Tan eventually adjusts to life in New Half-Way Tree, growing familiar with the other locals of the town such as Michael and Gladys the local blacksmiths, and Janisette, her father’s new wife. She even befriends the local boy Melonhead, and together the two plan to move to Sweet Pone together, a better settlement on New Half-Way Tree. As Tan-Tan grows older, her father slowly slides into alcoholism and depression until he takes to beating and raping Tan-Tan on a regular basis.

On her sixteenth birthday, Tan-Tan kills him in self-defense and, pregnant with his child, flees into the forbidding bush that surrounds their small settlement with the help of Chichibud, who takes her to live among the Douen in his village tree. The Douen, concerned about letting a human into their home tree and learning their secrets, reluctantly allow her to live with them.

Tan-Tan struggles and fails to adopt to the Douen lifestyle, although she does end up likewise befriending Abitefa, Chichibud’s daughter. She eventually hears of and visits a human village, looking for a doctor to abort her baby. While there, she defends a man being abused by his mother, assuming the persona of the Robber Queen as she does so. Over time, she returns to the village night after night in the persona of the Robber Queen, seeking to right wrongs and make up for the guilt she feels over killing her father.

She is finally found by Janisette who, with a car and rifle built by Michael and Gladys, has been looking for her and seeking vengeance for Antonio’s death. In the process of running away, she inadvertently leads Janisette and the other two to the Douen tree, forcing them to destroy it and move on to other trees. Tan-Tan and Abetifa are left behind to fend for themselves.

The two take to wandering through the bush, looking for a town for Tan-Tan to live in, as she is still being hunted by Janisette. Tan-Tan visits the villages they pass in the night under the guise of the Robber Queen, seeking to do good for others. As the two travel on, she hears stories being told about her exploits, both real and imagined.

After some traveling, she arrives in Sweet Pone. She runs into Melonhead, who is now the local tailor, and the two strike up their friendship once again. Tan-Tan becomes torn between her desire to stay with Melonhead and her fears of Janisette, all the while still feeling guilt over her father’s death and disgust at her still-unborn child. She ultimately stays for Sweet Pone’s carnival, dressing up in the Robber Queen costume Melonhead makes for her, until Janisette arrives in a tank, demanding Tan-Tan’s return to Junjuh village and her revenge. Tan-Tan finally confronts her face to face, accusing her of knowing that Antonio was raping her all those years and admitting to both herself and to Janisette that she killed Antonio out of self-defense. Janisette, ashamed, leaves while Tan-Tan, relieved from her guilt and sensing the oncoming delivery, returns to the bush. There, accompanied by Melonhead and Abitefa, she gives birth, accepting her son as her own and naming him Tubman.

Cultural references[edit]

Midnight Robber (named after a Trinidadian traditional Carnival/Mas character) incorporates a number of characters and stories from Caribbean and Yoruba culture, including Anansi, Dry Bone, Papa Bois, Duppy, Obeah, J'Ouvert (from Trinidad Carnival), Tamosi (Kabo Tano), douens, and Eshu.[1]

The planet on which Tan-Tan (Trinidad Carnival Character) is born is called Toussaint, after the Haitian revolutionary hero Toussaint L'Ouverture. The municipality where Tan-Tan's father is mayor is called Cockpit County, after a region in Jamaica. There is a statue of Mami Wata in the middle of the town. A local group of pedicab runners calls itself the Sou-Sou Collective, a reference to a West-African-specific form of credit union or collaborative. A nearby quarry is named Shak-Shak Bay. The company that landed the settlers on Toussaint is called the Marryshow Corporation, after T.A. Marryshow.[2] The book also references Jonkanoo Week celebrations.

The planet to which the main characters are exiled is called New Half-Way Tree, a reference to the Half Way Tree neighbourhood of Kingston, Jamaica. Settlements include Sweet Pone, named after a sweet potato dessert, and Chigger Bite. One of the native creatures has been named the "manicou rat" by settlers, which is a Caribbean term for an opossum.

Tan-Tan befriends a douen whose name is "Chichibud", a reference to a mento song by Max Romeo. Chichibud's partner is named Benta. In the end, Tan-Tan names her child Tubman, after Harriet Tubman.


Midnight Robber was nominated for a Hugo Award and shortlisted for the Nebula Award, the Tiptree Award, and the Sunburst Award.[3][4]

Gary K. Wolfe praised Midnight Robber, characterizing it as "an inventive amalgam of rural folklore and advanced technology" and commending Hopkinson's distinctive narrative voice, which "reminds us that most of the world does not speak contemporary American middle-class vernacular, . . . raises questions about the highly conventionalized way that SF has always treated language, [and] mak[es] us question the hegemony of American culture in SF worlds."[5]

Locus reviewer Faren Miller praised the novel, saying "Hopkinson take[s] potentially downbeat material and compel[s] the reader's attention with vigorous narrative, vividly eloquent prose, and forms of magic which may actually be SF."[6]


  1. ^ "Carib Legends (Folklore, Myths, and Traditional Indian Stories)". www.native-languages.org. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  2. ^ "Marryshow". www.open.uwi.edu. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  3. ^ "Article: Under the Daddy Tree, by Heather Shaw". www.strangehorizons.com. Archived from the original on 2016-08-08. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  4. ^ "Midnight Robber - The Nebula Awards". Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  5. ^ "Locus Looks at Books: Reviews by Gary K. Wolfe", Locus, February 2000, p. 61.
  6. ^ "Locus Looks at Books: Reviews by Faren Miller", Locus, February 2000, p. 19.

External links[edit]