An Unkindness of Ghosts

Review From User :

"I am a boy and a girl and a witch all wrapped into one very strange, flimsy, indecisive body. Do you think my body couldn't decide what it wanted to be"
4 1/2 stars. This was so good. Living on the lower levels of a worldship from which there is no escape, a group of characters live constantly struggling to survive, as Aster attempts to figure out coded messages from her mother and perhaps a route off the ship.

I think to me, this book is about collective trauma within a community. While Aster is perhaps one of the most okay members of the community, we see in every interaction between her and the people around her that she is struggling.

I have never been much a fan of worldbuilding, but I really think it is at the heart of this book - the world is a fundamental part of these characters and forms the very thematic core of the novel. There's a lot of thematic discussion of colorism via the structure of the ship. I've kind of alluded to this, but Aster and her friends are on the lower levels of the ship, where most of the inhabitants are black and brutality from the upper-deck "owners" is the norm. The upper-deckers of the ship are white. Within the book, this functions almost as a sci-fi version of American slavery with even less of an escape route.

Another really major dynamic within the story is queer acceptance, and the fact that while lower-deckers live in a less cisheteronormative environment, upper-deckers are very confined by gender norms. I don't know if this is the intent, but it kind of echoes the fact that gender-normaitivity was artificially forced on many cultures in Africa that did not have such strict roles previously, or that interacted with these roles in very different ways. Certain decks on this ship use all they/them pronouns, and then are often misgendered by upper deck members. It's this incredibly subtle part of the story and it is brutal to read.

As you might have gotten from that paragraph, this is really not an emotionally easy book to read [though a very readable one]. You really should be prepared for that going in. There is a lot of racist & transphobic violence [major trigger warning for that] and it is... often not easy to read.

Oh, and also, I really like all of the leads. Aster is queer, autistic, and black, and written with so much dimension and honesty. I love how she's written - her thought process is very consciously rigid compared to the voices of characters like Theo and Giselle, and she has a strict view of the world that is not shared by other characters within the ship. Meanwhile, Theo is quiet and as kind as he can be given his situation - he's above Aster on the ship's heirerchy. Aster and Theo both describe themselves as not being girl or boy, and are both very much written as nonbinary [the quote from the top of the page is Aster speaking, and the author is agender themselves!]. Side characters such as Giselle are similarly well-written, effortlessly gaining audience sympathy even as they anger us.

The problem is mostly that the plot is really all over the place, which makes the story feel unbalanced and the ending unearned. I personally think Katie describes it super well in this review - the plot is 1) not driven by the characters, and so lacking in agency and 2) lacking in full conclusion. I love these characters, but they didn't push the plot forward, and that disappointed me. Honestly, the amount I loved it anyway should say a lot about the strength of the characters and the strength of the thematic core - despite some debut-level writing & plot structure elements, Rivers Solomon has a natural talent that makes it impossible not to fall in love.

audiobook: recommended. I utterly adore the voicing of this narrator, and their shifts between voices for different points of view were really spectacular.

Yeah, anyway, the point is: I really enjoyed this novel. I think the plot could have used editing, but there is just so much worth reading here. This is a book and an author definitely worth your attention.

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Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cookfire.

Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.

When the autopsy of Matilda’s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.

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