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An Unkindness of Ghosts

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Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak.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.

351 pages, Paperback

First published September 18, 2017

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About the author

Rivers Solomon

18 books3,217 followers
Rivers Solomon writes about life in the margins, where they are much at home. They live on a small isle off the coast of the Eurasian continent.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,066 reviews
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,096 reviews17.7k followers
July 13, 2020
“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 plot structure elements feeling a bit first-draft, it's 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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Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,103 followers
June 7, 2018
This one is rather hard to rate for one good reason: It is good, and I did not like it. I would reasonably give this 3.5 stars, but let me explain:

The good.

Really quite wonderful main characters, all full of interesting mixtures. Astra seems to have autism, is rather more gay than not, but more closely binary. She's also strong and pretty brilliant and she also has a tendency to say exactly what she means and do exactly as she wants, regardless of whether it's safe for her to do so. This is a mixed blessing. Theo is a somewhat distant character but he is also fairly nicely rounded, as is a few other of the MC's.

As a study on slavery and cultural abuse taken up ten notches, it is a quite sickening study, and this brings us to the title. Ghosts are Whites. The slavery is almost ship-wide.

It's almost unbearable to read. When you can count up to 90 massive trauma events to your person by the time you reach 40, both of a strictly abusive nature and a sexual one, and this is considered the normal and natural order of things, then you know something is slightly off.

For what this tale does, in making a very varied read and one that illustrates the horrors in so many ways, it is very good.

Now, the bad.

It's almost unbearable to read. If the author is intending to depress the living hell out of me and make me want to end it all because I happen to have white skin, then I shall call her a winner. There is VERY little, other than Theo, to make me think that whites are anything other than complete and utter a**holes.

All the villains, and I mean the ghosts, are cardboard cutouts of complete and utter evil. A slight taste of a rounded villain or at least a lying rounded villain might have given this whole thing a bit more meat. As it was, I just learned to hate and hate and hate and hate and hate and hate. Maybe I need to be more clear... it's tiring to hate so much. Emotionally. Intellectually. Everything.

And then there's an SF reason to dislike this novel. If I am to accept the premise that a generational starship can be made, maintained, and piloted for an unknown number of years on a slave-race, then this is doable. It's a completely dystopian (turn your mind off) SF trope, applied to a generational starship. Good for reinforcing that whole world-as-prison mentality, NOT good for rational thought.


I kept asking myself that one question, over and over and over. WHY? Ignore the how. Social structures can be maintained indefinitely with a little ruthlessness and power, even with the possibility of revolution. My big question is WHY would anyone put a bunch of slaves on a high-tech, easily destroyable, long-term spaceship? You need a VERY educated workforce, and one that is more than willing to go the extra effort not to punch holes in hulls or start random fires that can wipe out the entire crew. Instead, we have fires and rifles here. On a spaceship. Okay. Turn off the mind. Got it. Assume it's super high-tech, as is implied by the computer at the end or the hints at faster FASTER travel through space. I beg the question again. WHY all the hate, hate, hate? I'm talking about the ghosts. If they hate so much, why didn't they just gather themselves up with a bunch of robots and go *uck off to some other planet, if it's so easy to have a bunch of a**holes GET a generational spaceship in the first place? Why bring along a slave-workforce to abuse at all? Especially when you KNOW it's bound to turn bad?

Religion could have been an answer, but the closest we get to that is the ghosts calling themselves gods. So, not developed. Even the Pharaohs had a rich and varied social system to account for the pyramids.

No. This is just social inequity, massive abuse built into the culture, a bit of cool character-building, and lots of really difficult (emotional) reading. It's not hard to follow or enjoy, otherwise.

So? Good and bad. It really depends on what you're looking for. A rich SF this is not. A heartbreaking tale of a world-prison? This is.
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
February 12, 2019
I really enjoyed this! I love how the book incorporated intersectional black/gender identities and paralleled the antebellum South to create a richer story. It was a unique take on the scifi & dystopian genre that opens wider paths for inclusive storytelling. I'm not just giving it diversity points - I truly believe the author's inclusion of autism and queer identities was purposeful in painting a deeper story that reflects our society. Aster feels real and I loved being in her headspace because it's a perspective so uniquely told. I also enjoyed her quiet and subtle relationship with Theo, who is equally as complex. The gratuitous violence also helps paint the harsh realities of slavery and humankind.

I did not rate this 5 stars because although I was enraptured by the beginning, my interest dipped in the middle parts. The ending felt a little rushed and unsatisfying. There are some issues with pacing, which is understandable since this is Solomons' debut novel. I would've loved to see other perspectives expanded throughout the story to enhance the themes even more. Regardless, I plan on following Solomons' work because I'm sure it'll continue to be captivating.
Profile Image for Monica.
621 reviews631 followers
May 26, 2019
Back in 2016 (which seems so long ago), Barrack Obama was in the last year of his Presidency and I was still sane. Anyways, that was the year my cup runneth over with slave narratives. I read three that year: Kindred, Homegoing and The Underground Railroad. All three were excellent, but they are slave narratives. Painful, infuriating and heartbreaking to read. Provocative of angry emotions. I came to loathe slave narratives for their incongruence to humanity, their unfairness, their lack of compassion, their torment of human beings, the irredeemable deeds, the callous disregard for human rights, the unfettered privileging of a group of people who deserve no absolution. Nope, don't like the subject and can read only in small doses. In the intervening years between then and now, I managed to read only one until An Unkindness of Ghosts. Because that is what this book is; a slave narrative "In Spaaaccceee". It's a good book that kept my interest, but the main premise left me hollow. Slavery on a spaceship doesn't make sense. A caste system on a space ship? Perhaps, but slavery? I didn't buy it. If you don't buy into the premise, the book becomes "oppression porn". And I just don't love reading about slavery and the indignities the arise due to slavery. I'm not sure what the point of the novel was. Was it to highlight man's infinite ability to be inhumane to other people? I think Solomon is talented and interesting. They had some very interesting ideas about the future. They had strong things to say about the long term impacts on a society as a whole and how trauma and slavery impacts/corrupts a culture and people. There are all kinds of oppression in this book: racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, resource inequality, nepotism etc. As I said, interesting, but in the end it just wasn't for me.

Almost 3.5 Stars

Listened to the audiobook. Cherise Booth did a great job, I was riveted the entire time. But I was put off by the oppressed characters having what I interpreted as a Carribbean accent. I don't know, it felt unfair and almost an offensive stereotype. Funny how the oppressors did not adopt a detectible accent in the audio interpretation. Solomon lives in the UK. What would have happened if the oppressors had a British accent? Would that be considered too literal…possibly racist? Asking for a friend…
Profile Image for Evelina | AvalinahsBooks.
880 reviews447 followers
November 22, 2017
Shiver shiver, tremble tremble. I am not nervous about writing this review at all. I do not have any of my typical book was too good to write a review for it jumbles. Nope. Feeling at my most confident here. *escapes*
Can we just agree to make this book as famous as possible and leave it at that? No? I'll have to elaborate?.. Oh.. Alright…

So... We've got a spaceship that has escaped a dying Earth centuries ago. Naturally, it's failing. Of course, due to various constrictions, combined with pure human nature, the ship is authoritarian, slavery-driven and as violent an environment as can be. We find ourselves following the story through the eyes of several of the characters, but most of them are based on the lower decks, as the 'lowest form of life'. You can see where this is about to get challenging. We explore life through their eyes and search for all sorts of meaning, explore all sorts of existences.

So let's just look at the reasons of why I would recommend this book, and let me tell you in advance, there was not a thing I was unhappy with it. This book is PURE AMAZEMENT and I think absolutely everyone should read it. Yes, it was that good and important.

Reason #1. The Book Is Diverse Without Appearing To Try To, Plus, It's #OwnVoices

I don't know if I'm making it clear, but I think you know what I mean. Diversity is important, and it's sought out right now – but sometimes authors only try 'to make the quota' – and so insert diverse characters into their books as placeholders. They're just sort of there, but they feel so forced. This is not the case at all in this book! I think it's partly because it's #OwnVoices, plus – it's just so well done emotionally. The diversity is just there. It doesn't try to convert you, it doesn't try to fight a cause, it doesn't try to explain itself. It's just there. And it's so naturally diverse you can't help understanding it, relating to it, championing it. It's not diverse in the placeholder sense, it throws away any labels! Even the labels diverse groups use for themselves. It's diverse on, well, pretty much molecular level, as I'd say metaphorically? You don't have to belong to a group to exist and be validated – it's alright if you belong to a group of 'you'. That's enough.

Reason #2. The Ship Is An Amazing Analogy Of Captivity
I found this most fascinating. Yes, a spaceship is a spaceship, it's part of a scifi story. But, at the same time, I felt like it symbolized so much more! Being indentured means there simply being no means of escape, wherever you go, whatever you do. And what better symbol of that is there than a dying spaceship? I feel like this draws an amazing comparison to the life of an enslaved, trapped person. Your life is limited to not even being able to control the choices regarding your own body, much less choices of how your life progresses. This is truly a song to all enslaved peoples, not just slavery in the history of America. My heart wept at the tale, and I believe, so will yours.

Reason #3. I Have Never Read A More Relatable Tale Of Slavery

I have read stories on slavery. Even written by the slaves themselves, stories of their escape. Fictional stories too. And although I could feel empathy towards them, they are stories from another life – a life elsewhere, a life in a totally different time. That automatically makes it harder for us to relate. But a life almost like our own? In a technical environment, and yet – enslaved? That is so much more approachable. And it's also so well-written in terms of depicting emotions that I feel it taught me much more about captivity than any of the tales I've read before.

Reason #4. Emotion Even Among The Rubble

I could have said love. But I don't want to make this cheap. This is no love story. This is not about a love story. Yet a love story is ever-present. And I'm not talking about between man and woman, or lovers, or whatever you have it. I am talking about human love, soul love – love of the bigger kind. No pain and suffering can be survived without it, and this book is so good about showing it. Human affection, human bonds. It blooms like a flower in the wastelands. It charms you with the way it does. And it gives you hope in a whole world full of destruction.

Reason #5. Non-Neurotypical Characters
It's hard to say, and I'm obviously groping in the dark here, but I think the main character Aster might be on the spectrum, or at least some kind of non-neurotypical. As everything of the diverse kind in this book, it's not overtly mentioned – but not because it's taboo, rather because it's cultural of the ship – there are no such concepts in this society (I'm not sure the concept of 'woman' is even present in this society, as the lower deck slaves are without an exception all women.) The way Aster is, is not treated as a deficiency in the book, it's treated as a way to be. It's explained so understandably that you will relate and empathise even if you're nothing like Aster yourself. And it's not limited to the main character either – Giselle, Aster's best friend, suffers from mental illness bouts as well, and it's also presented in a great way, easy to pick up and understand. None of the characters are even looked down on for the way they are, whatever they're like.

I could go on. The plot, the setting, the writing, the way you're transported into this incredible world. Keep in mind I listened to this book on a read-back app! And yet it still felt every bit as magical as if I was reading it (usually, books read back to you by a mechanized voice are harder to get into.) But I believe you should discover this book for yourselves. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone, even if you're not so much into scifi – it's more character-driven anyway. Scifi is only the setting, the backdrop. The real stuff you're reading about is the condition of being human in a society that is horribly skewed for particular kinds of be.

Something for the people who have read this already:

I thank Rivers Solomon and Akashic Books for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. I already can't wait for Rivers Solomon's next book!

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Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books474 followers
September 18, 2017
Somewhat like a mashup between Battlestar Galactica, The Handmaid's Tale, and Roots. The thematic premise of this story seems to be that even in the future (about 300 years) in a situation where humanity is traveling between stars, the current unjust class system will not only be reproduced but will be exacerbated. We won’t have some flatline merit-based, deprivation free world. Solomon has created the anti-Star Trek.

The storyline finds, like in Galactica, a colony ship traveling from Earth to some distant unknown destination. But in Solomon’s version, the class system is systematized by decks. Each deck carries some several thousand individuals. The “lower” decks are people of color, and they are essentially prisoners working the crops that feed the upper decks, which are primarily Caucasian. Gender is more fluid and ambiguous in this world, but primarily women are at least represented in the story in these lower decks. We don’t meet any lower-class male characters. Like Handmaid’s Tale, the ruling class enforces religious doctrine that must be followed, curfews and other checks. Guards have free reign to abuse any lower class residents and rape women. The ship has regressed to a system of slavery to benefit the upper class. Most of the history of Earth has been forgotten and the ship has developed its own cultural systems.

The storyline follows one female character, from the lower deck, who is apparently a medical genius of sorts and a few of her “friends:” another lowerdeck female who is a bit insane and an upper-class surgeon who recognizes her brilliance.

So far, so good, the story has a valuable and meaningful premise. Unfortunately, I found much of the mechanics of the storytelling to be a bit…mechanical? And somewhat frustrating and monotonous to read. Solomon’s linguistic skills, the actual writing itself, was solid enough. Somewhere between the characterization decisions she made and the development of relationships and interactions between the characters, combined with some awkward storytelling choices, left me feeling a bit cold and bored with the story.

For example, the main character is rather robotic in her personality. She takes everything very literally. One might think she was portrayed as having some profile such as Asperger Syndrome. As such, her decisions were almost always very frustrating and obtuse. Most of her interactions with other characters didn’t develop into deeper connections. And this was exacerbated by the storytelling technique where characters seemed to have fairly short and unsatisfying conversations. They always seemed to be leaving each other with unfinished communications, either running away before the conversation could be completed due to anger or being cutoff by some event that occurs or one individual leaving due to some urgent demand. In the end, this left me feeling disconnected from the characters. And it also felt like herky-jerky storytelling…the key plot points that characters communicate to each other get unnecessarily distributed throughout the story making it feel much longer than it needed to be. Some degree of frustration of the reader can be thematically appropriate and necessary. But as a pattern over the whole book, it made it feel too long and dare-I-say it, boring. I kept wanting to just get to the heart of the matter, and Solomon continually postponed it. It didn’t help matters that the main character’s childhood friend has been driven rather insane, making the story’s second most important character also hard to relate to or connect with. The third main character is the upper-class surgeon. While he had an interesting backstory, he never quite jelled for me. As written, he felt too mechanical.

Oh, and I wish the publisher had googled “An Unkindness of…” because this phrase is in the title of at least two other novels, making this less original than it seems.
Profile Image for Kay.
220 reviews
August 13, 2018
Reread- #RWLChallenge: A book with an intersex main character.

Now that this is out I'm looking at everyone like..."y'all gon' read this or nah?"

Pre-publication review below the cut:

I wanted to give myself to some to fully process “An Unkindness of Ghosts” before writing my review. There is a lot to unpack. Let’s start with how good I think this book is. It has multiple layers that one can spend close to an eternity unpacking. A number of themes jumped out at me while reading this novel. They include, inter alia, friendship, self-actualization, race, class, religion and extremely important for me, gender. “An Unkindness of Ghosts” was one of the few books I know I wanted to re-read even before finishing. This is definitely the type of novel that keeps giving with each read and I can guarantee my copy will be well loved. While reading, there were numerous times when I wished it were a movie. It one that could easily be adapted and I need Hollywood to get off their high horses and just adapt this already!

This book is 100 per cent ambitious, and Solomon excels at it. World building is by far the most stand-out element of the book. The world-building shines through, so much so that one finds themselves being fully immersed in this novel quite quickly. The world of Matilda is extremely well-detailed and it is obvious that the author spent time crafting it. The setting of the book definitely creates a level of cohesion, and it is difficult to image the story in any other setting. The care and detail to world-building is most noticeable in the description of the ship’s wings and the decks. However, while these aspects seemed well thought out without maps to guide the imagery there was a bit of a disconnect. I will check with the final copy to see if this was included.

The pacing was also one of the book’s stand-out elements. There wasn’t much of a lull in any of the sections. The major plot developments occurred at the right times and tied in well with the rest of the story. This was further enhanced by the structure of the novel. While Aster is the main character each section of the book presents insight into her interactions with key supporting characters who also important parts of Aster’s life. This is a great tool for breaking up any monotony as the majority of the story is otherwise told from Aster’s point of view.

The characters are all fully drawn, not one felt like a caricature or stereotype. Each voice was unique and there was no confusion or overlap within these personalities.

The language used by the lower-decks is absolutely beautiful and I could not get enough. In fact, I may have taken away a tiny weeny star because of it. The language variations among the decks is often references but hardly on show within the novel. I would have loved to have seen the language Tolkien style: extremely intense. This is, however, a very personal preference and in absolutely no way detracts from the brilliance of the story. In addition, this book is chock-full of medical jargon, which is extremely appropriate since Aster is in our parlance, a “doctor.”

One nuance that jumped out at me was the misgendering of Flick by The Lieutenant. Flick (and those on their deck) identify as non-binary (more on this further down), however, the Lieutenant constantly refers to Flick using she/her pronouns. The reader is not sure if this is meant to underscore the divergence between the upper and lower decks - viz. a callous disregard for the self of lower-deckers, particularly differences related to culture and gender- or if it is an error. If it is the former, this attenetion to detail further highlights the layering and literary nuances that exist within this novel.

Gender and sexuality are constantly explored, and again extremely layered. All this is done without feeling forced or like a diversity checkbox. Sexuality is painted in a positive light without any slut-shaming. Despite these positive portrayals, I did find the reveal of one a key character to be acephobic and therefor problematic. I am curious to see if this changes in the final copy. In a similar vein, I do enjoy that a number of characters are neuroatypical, while I do find that their portrayal often time borders on ableist, I am able to elaborate further and would happily default to members of this community. The acephobia and ableism are things that I will check against the final copy. While these two concerns were jarring to read in what is otherwise a stellar book, I am hopeful that they have been revised. Pending these changes, An Unkindness of Ghosts is a 4 star read.

In conclusion, An Unkindness of Ghosts was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 and it did not disappoint. This book is one for the ages and I do recommend, pending changes to the final copy.
Profile Image for Beverly.
835 reviews313 followers
April 6, 2018
As in most repressive societies the overlords are hardest on women and children of color and so it goes in An Unkindness of Ghosts. Aster is strong and smart, but she can only do so much for her people who inhabit the lowest strata in this society inside of a spaceship that holds the remnants of the damaged earth. She makes medicines and performs operations, some things self taught and others learned from the powerful Surgeon, a kind and decent man, and a mysterious one, whose motives for helping Aster are slowly revealed. Surgeon, Aster, her Ainty, and Aster's friends, especially Giselle, are all beaten down physically and spiritually, but still retain hope that they will be set free from this Hell created by man.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
811 reviews1,268 followers
November 19, 2018

“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?”

Please, please, please! Tell me there will be a sequel to this book!!! I loved it! I think this is my favourite sci-fi of 2018. Rivers Solomon is a fantastic writer and storyteller, her characters so real and deep. It only took about 10 pages for me to be submerged in this story, and there I stayed for the entirety of the book.

Sometime in the future, humankind has embarked on a voyage to another star system in search of another planet to inhabit. Unfortunately, this Type 1/2 civilization has reverted to Type 0 behaviour, becoming tribal and exclusive, sorting people according to skin colour. The dark-skinned people are treated as slaves, living miserable existences in the lower parts of the ship, toiling away in fields all day, beaten and raped by white guards. There we find Aster, a bright and rebellious woman who, because of her self-learned knowledge of plants and medicines, becomes assistant to the Surgeon General. Aster still has to work in the fields, and is still restricted to certain areas of the ships; she still faces brutal beatings and rapes. Aster never knew her mother, but has been secretly encrypting the notes she left behind, plans of the ship, maps of the stars. Is there a way off the ship? Are they really travelling to another planet or have they lost their way? Can there be a brighter future in store for humans?

An Unkindness of Ghost is action-packed and never dull. Rivers Solomon has a deep understanding of the human psyche and how persistent mental and physical abuse and trauma affects people. She uses this understanding to create the most compelling of characters. Aster is a survivor and a fighter, but there are other characters upon whom the abuse has had a different effect. Rivers also explores gender identity and sexuality in a most believable way. All in all, this is one heck of a story and I will be pre-ordering the sequel if/when there is one!
Profile Image for Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd).
332 reviews7,309 followers
February 10, 2020
Maybe more 3.5/5? I’m unsure right now.

There’s a lot I loved here but I personally was underwhelmed by the plot and by the novel’s resolution. Aster is an incredible character, as is Theo, and I loved reading about them even as I read so many horrifying passages about them struggling with being marginalized and brutalized by the people aboard their ship. This has incredible scope and brilliant ideas, it’s just that many of those ideas get lost along the way or fall short of the final execution. I’ll need to think about it more, but those are my feelings for now.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books751 followers
November 7, 2019
This book was interesting. I'm not quite sure how to categorize it. Set on a gen ship with the social constructs of the Antebellum South, this book is less about spacefaring, heroes, or mystery, and more about the psychological impact of subjugation, trauma, and class over those generations, and what it means to be a person. It was a bit...jumpy as a read, though. The personal parts were easily 4 or even 5 stars. The structural parts were 2 or 3.

CONTENT WARNING: (no actual spoilers, just a list of topics)

Things to love:

-Aster. Resolute, unapologetic, neuro-atypical and smart as hell, she's wholly herself. In a book about making people someone else, that's very refreshing. It's refreshing in general, but against all of the pressures in this society, I really enjoyed that "sorry" and "set it on fire" were equally likely things for her to say.

-Gender discussion. If you thought Ancillary Justice was a trip, try this on for size. I have absolutely no idea what anyone really picked for themself, except maybe Theo, who is already very complicated as a character. Gender seems to be mostly about power and privilege than it is about your body and what you whisper to yourself in your head. The social use and the personal are completely divorced in this book in a way that highlights the individual, and suggests an awful lot without condemning anything. Really, just astoundingly complex and relatable stuff on this topic.

-The focal characters. My god, these are some of the most complex characters I've seen in ages. Instead of focusing on good or bad, kind or mean, Solomon started from a place of violence and based characters on decisions. I hated several of the characters on the side we were meant to want to see succeed. And I did want them to succeed still. They were all broken in ways that felt like people I've known--the sort of people you know need empathy and pity, but because of what you've been through with them, or what you need from them to live your life, you can't help but be angry that they are this way. Stellar character writing.

-Moments in the prose. There were some absolutely cutting lines. Some sentences had ideas crystallized so perfectly that it felt like it was not about this ship and this story but about all of us across history. They weren't everywhere yet, but I think this author is one to watch. They clearly have the insight and the skill that, with honing, could create something of resounding power a la Butler or Le Guin.

-The view of oppression. This book was novel in its complete lack of attention on oppressors. They were there just to highlight the decisions and realities of the oppressed. The oppressed were real--mangled but true people. The oppressors could have all been named Becky or Susan or other names we use to convey the stereotypes of privilege. I have some reservations about how this was done, but it was nice to have a story that actively shunned the viewpoint of power and resettled it in the people with potential.

Things that didn't quite work for me:

-The story. We start with a mystery, take a break for a character study, skip the mystery for a revolt, and sprinkle in a bizarre romance. Bizarre not that they want each other, just that it got so much screen time when we see everything else going on that feels a lot more pressing.

-The pacing. Like the story it's all over the place. Taut, violent suspense! Lyrical, gentle exploration! Solve the mystery! Make a little love! Get down tonight! Change the world! I was invested for all of it, but sometimes it felt like a student driver learning to change gears.

-The bad guys. I know, I just said I liked the refocus of oppression. And I do, very much. I get that this story isn't for the white folks, and I have no issues confronting the violence done in that aspect of the story. But in a book with characters you simultaneously want to fix and strangle, whose decisions feel at once righteous and completely suicidal, cardboard cutout YT villains feel like a let down. I trust this author to have had way more complex thoughts about what makes someone part of the cycle of oppression. They could have eviscerated people who trample on someone else for self-aggrandizement, and instead we just got a cartoon megalomaniac and his shock troops. If the rest hadn't been as strong, this would have been something I glossed over, but it made my reading experience lopsided.

-The end. Not the actual end. I liked the ambiguity. But the build up wasn't there. I don't feel like I solved a mystery or witnessed a sacrifice, or really saw growth at all. And maybe that's the point. But if so, at least one of the three different story arcs we were privy to was misleading. It all felt rushed and unsatisfying, with one gory exception.

All in all a worthwhile story with a lot to unpack. I didn't even really touch on the mental health aspect! Not an easy read, but not as devastating (read: graphic) as many authors I've read that write on themes of slavery and oppression. Worth it for the exploration of personhood and gender alone--the rest is all a bonus for the benefit of our imagined empathy and our senses. While I'm not sure this does everything the author intended, I would recommend this to others, I know I will consider it for some time to come, and as strong characters and elegant prose are usually the things that speak to me most, I will bump my rating on the higher end of things.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,773 reviews208 followers
December 17, 2017
Devastating. Beautiful. A story of a generation ship travelling away from earth for centuries, with each deck containing a different strata of people and privileges. The upper decks are home to the Sovereign and his brutal guards, and the various privileged. The mindset here is sickeningly patriarchal, rigid, homophobic, racist, misogynistic. The lower deck is inhabited by the slaves, who grow the food and keep things running, and who suffer constantly at the Sovereign's and his guards' whims; assault, rape, verbal slurs, and imprisonment are common against the people here. The lower decks are also peopled by a wonderfully diverse set of characters of different genders, mental states and sexual orientations. This is where the main character Astra and her friends live. Astra is brilliant, and her relationships with Giselle, Aint Melusine, and Theo, the ship's surgeon, are wonderful. There is some humour in this story, but the situation is grim and frequently horrible and increasingly tense for the lower decks, as Astra struggles to decipher clues left by her long dead mother that might help change the lives of those Astra cares for. That's the setup.
The author's writing is glorious, and nuanced, from Astra's precise use of language to Giselle's impassioned and furious words, and Theo's ever so careful dance of words with Astra and with Lieutenant. Rivers Solomon tells the story from Astra's perspective, but also gives us Giselle's, Theo’s and Aint Melusine's perspectives, filling out some of the gaps and mysteries on board the Matilda. This book is wonderful and all I can really say is read this book.
Profile Image for Katie/Doing Dewey.
1,077 reviews211 followers
October 9, 2017
Summary: Great characters and world building, but I didn't feel totally engaged in the story and I didn't love the plot.

"Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South....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." (source)

I really wanted to love this book. I loved the title, the cover, the premise, and the promise of a story that dealt with issues of race and gender. I did enjoy the story, but I didn't feel completely absorbed as I read and the ending was a bit of a let down. I'm working through what made this fall flat for me, so I'm going to give you a list of pros and cons for this one.

Things I Loved

The world building - specifically the society the author created. While this society was modeled on the antebellum south, it was also very unique. I loved that people who lived on different decks had different cultures. I also loved that part of that culture was the passing on of advanced technical knowledge in science and medicine.
No info dumps - it was a little work to grasp the world the author had created, but I preferred the slow revelation of the world as the story passed to the author spelling it out for us.
Diverse characters - in addition to there being characters of different races, the main character seems to be autistic (no label is given). To my the best of my limited knowledge, she is portrayed accurately and positively. I really enjoyed seeing her leverage her strengths and overcome her weaknesses
The main character - In general, I loved reading about Aster. The author didn't shy away from writing Aster's anger, grief, and weaknesses. At the same time, Aster's strength and pride in herself were equally believable.
Nuanced portrayal of slavery - like Octavia Butler's Kindred, this book brought to life the reality of slavery. It was clear why rebellion was so difficult. Each of the characters was impacted in their own way by their subjugation. Aster's aunt and each of the women Aster lived with had their own way of negotiating their terrifying reality. Each treasured different small freedoms and experienced different losses.

Things I Didn't

Lack of resolution - for me, things were just getting interesting when the story ended. I don't feel satisified with how much I know about what happened to any of the characters or to the society as a whole at the end of this book.
Unconvincing friendship - Aster's best friend was often cruel and destructive. Other than a shared history, I didn't see what bound them together. I recognize that can mean a lot, but I'd like to be able to point to at least one thing they each appreciate about each other.
Lack of emotional connection - I was horrified by a lot of the things that happened in the story, but it never made me weepy and I'm slowly starting to realize that I prefer when a story does. It means the author's gotten me invested in their characters. I'm not sure why that didn't happen for me here.
Lack of agency/too much luck - A number of events that drove the plot forward fell into Aster's lap. She was incredibly resourceful and managed an awful lot of agency given her circumstances, but as the reader, I felt buffeted by fate. The story bounced between opportunities and crises in a non-linear way, often not driven by Aster's actions. I wasn't always even sure what goal Aster was working towards.


Looking at goodreads, I'm not surprised to see that a lot of the reviews for this are five stars. It was an exciting story with a great premise and I had a hard time putting my finger on the reasons it didn't quite work for me. If it sounds appealing to you, I'd recommend giving it a try yourself.

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This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey
Profile Image for Ann.
150 reviews7 followers
February 12, 2022
A haiku for An Unkindness of Ghosts:

Wow this was awful
I so tried to like this book
Sadly I could not.

Where to begin? I realize that everyone else seems to have loved this book, and I can't understand why. It does depict slavery and racism in graphic terms, and sometimes I think people confuse grittiness and horrible things happening with being a good story. Maybe that's the reason for all the 5-star reviews. On my part, I don't feel obligated to like it just because it contains slavery or social commentary--there are books that do a much better job.

The plot is sloppy and slow-moving, meandering around until it finally reached an unsatisfying conclusion. Reveals built up to be surprising or interesting were woefully anticlimactic. The mystery of Lune's goals and Matilda's journey was initially presented as the main plot but came off as more of an afterthought; those story elements were clearly secondary to writing about the atrocities committed by the white upper-deckers against the dark-skinned low-decker slaves. Which would probably be fine, if the slavery plotline actually went somewhere. It doesn't. So what, exactly, was the point of this book? The story went nowhere.

Perhaps the character development was supposed to be the focus rather than the plot. Well, characters change very little over the course of the book, and it's difficult to identify with them or feel emotionally attached to them due to the style in which they're written. Aster's stiff way of expression due to her autism/Aspergers likely contributed to the sense of detachment, but other books I've read from the perspective of autistic characters are still successful at building emotional investment despite having a less emotive narrator.

Speaking of Aster's neurodivergence: the characters' traits read as a sort of Diversity Soup, random elements of minority identities tossed in simply for the sake of being diverse. I believe that diversity in literature is a positive thing, but it should be done well: it should be included organically and without fanfare. It should be realistic, a natural part of the story. Books that shove Diversity Soup down your throat are jarring and sophomoric. For instance, in the small group of characters here, we have: lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, autism/Aspergers, bipolar / some sort of personality disorder, OCD, and non-binary gender. Flick and children on their deck are "they" for no apparent reason other than to shove the existence of gender-neutral pronouns in the reader's face. Rivers also throws in several snarky little comments referencing gender that immediately threw me out of the story long enough to roll my eyes. There are multiple glaring examples of their own views being copy/pasted to Aster without any attempt at subtlety.

Rivers' figurative language is self-important and flowery. The book is written in third person with the exception of random first-person interjections from various characters, which were generally unnecessary. The romance was awkwardly written with zero chemistry. Oh, and because of Aster's formal way of speaking/thinking, this book includes the least sexy sex scene I've ever seen in my life:

Yeah, nope.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,895 followers
November 13, 2019
There is a powerful imagination at work here, as well as a deeply felt sorrow and a hard-earned rage. And there is a wonderfully vivid sense of characterization, bringing to life (especially in its depiction of the “low deckers” but less so with the villains) a cast of characters who are invariably brilliantly smart and delightfully oddly mannered, all of whom are courageously struggling to maintain their dignity in the face of a host of horrors perpetrated against them.

What’s missing a bit as the novel progresses is a sense of storytelling structure that adds up to a completely satisfying whole. And there are times when the horrors that Aster repeatedly faces start to feel like an authorial piling-on.

But Rivers Solomon is a wonderfully original and thoughtful writer, with a vigorous style, a wonderful ear for dialogue, and a profound regard for bearing witness to injustice and cruelty in a meaningful way. I eagerly look forward to encountering more of their work.
Profile Image for Michelle.
1,379 reviews141 followers
August 17, 2020
Popsugar Challenge 2020 - A book by a trans or non binary author

'Nothing is more sad than a person who believes in something that's so clearly not true'

Literally the whole world is talking about Rivers Solomon so it was time to jump on board this ship and see the fuss.

This is a scifi novel which explores sexuality, gender indentity and slavery in space. The world building in this is fab, I felt like I was on this spaceship, could feel the heat in the fields, everything was so vivid which wasn't the best as theres some truly disturbing scenes in these pages so do check content warnings for those.

Full disclosure, im not an own voices reader of this book and while I enjoyed this i know a ton of stuff went over my head, having just read some spoiler reviews from own voices im blown away with their insight.

Without understanding the deeper meanings that Rivers has a reputation for within their sentance structure I still really enjoyed this and shall tackle The Deep pretty soon as the hype is real.
Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews684 followers
January 1, 2020
3.75ish stars.

This book is strange and far from exciting, but it’s also kind of beautiful. Solomon manages to make this historical, contemporary, and futuristic all at once. The writing is incredibly assured for a debut author.
Profile Image for Basia.
193 reviews55 followers
November 11, 2017
Absolutely FIVE beautiful and gorgeous STARS!

My dear fellow readers: I’ve read quite a few books this year (as have we all), many of which I truly loved. But I have to say that this one is beyond question, my most favorite book of 2017.

It is one of those rare finds that pulls you in—body and soul—after a mere page or two. Aster was magnificent as the protagonist. Such an odd character, but one I couldn’t help but love.

The story takes place on a giant spaceship, one that’s been traveling for about 1,000 years. Solomon brilliantly used this ship as a microcosm for greater society. She expertly spoke volumes about human nature, gender, the stratification of people by economic status.

Best of all, perhaps? Although there is nothing I have read to suggest there may be more to come about Aster and life in such a rich, uniquely portrayed environment, I do see a spark of hope for a continuation of this story.

Fingers crossed.

Profile Image for Bogi Takács.
Author 55 books579 followers
April 4, 2018
Update: My review is finally online! It is long!


This was what I had up here previously:

This was awesome! Review coming soon IY"H, I still need to write it. (It was supposed to go up at the end of January, so February will have two intersex book reviews. Sorry for the delay!)

If you think you might need content warnings, PLEASE wait for the warnings in the full-length review, because there will be a lot. This book has descriptions of torture etc.

Source of the book: Bought with my own money
Profile Image for mina reads™️.
544 reviews7,024 followers
February 6, 2020
Reread 2/5/2020: just as amazing as I remember it, I still feel slighted by this ending tho I wanted more 😔 this book makes me want to sob and scream uncontrollably it’s just so good and the passion I feel for it is truly unmatched.

2018 review: Oh my god this was absolutely incredible ❤️❤️
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,204 reviews3,684 followers
May 11, 2021
Wow, I still don't quite know how to talk about this one. First off, I was not expecting it to be so difficult to read due to graphic content, or so frequently bleak. The writing is very good and there are so many layers to the experience Rivers Solomon has crafted in An Unkindness of Ghosts.

This is a piece of science fiction that is deeply character driven, set on a spaceship that seems more like a city where there are stark divisions along lines of race, class, and gender. The wealthy and white people live on the upper decks with significantly greater privileges and access to resources, while those who are poor and brown or black live on the lower decks, frequently in awful conditions, with very few rights, often abused by those in power.

Our main character is Aster, a woman who perhaps isn't quite a woman (and this is explored in the text). So a person then, who lives on the low decks, is probably autistic, has a history of severe trauma and abuse from childhood, and is a brilliant scientist who assists the surgeon. The surgeon: a man who isn't truly a man (again, explored in the text), a religious person, biracial but passing as white, who has a complex relationship with Aster. It's hard to say much more because this a snapshot in time of their lives, combined with flashbacks and stories passed down from elders, all revolving around the mysterious deaths of two different people. Aster's world is brutal and horrifying, but punctuated by moments of tenderness. An impressive debut, but a story I wasn't quite prepared for.

Content warnings include medical procedures on page including amputation and abortion, reference to past procedures including hysterectomy, mastectomy, and stitches, graphic violence, torture, and abuse, domestic violence, less graphic recollections of child abuse and child sex abuse, police violence, death, murder, gore, executions, suicide and suicidal ideation, parental abandonment and forced parental abandonment, racism, homophobia, described scenes of young teens role playing domestic violence and marital rape.
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,169 reviews1,141 followers
November 18, 2019
3.5 stars rounded down.

A quick review here since I am kind of tipsy, drinking my arse off after a horrible Skype call with my boss:

What I liked:
- A neurodivergent queer main character, which was something new to me and I thank the author for their introduction. Plus, it's POC in STEM. And I love any MC who's a healer/doctor in SFF.
- a fascinating generation ship story with quite a few speculative fiction elements. I heard that this is based on the 'antebellum south' (yet another new term for me, a non-US citizen)
- It is a stand-alone, which is always a great point in my book

What made me think, "Hmm yeah I am not enjoying this part or I am not sure about this" :
- The relationship between Aster and Theo which I think should remain platonic - I mean, cmon, can't we have a platonic close friendship between main characters for once!
- the occasional flashback with some folk stories/legends that annoyingly took me away from the main story and made me impatient
- the rushed ending

Overall, I enjoyed it and am putting Rivers Solomon in my watch list.

Oh wait, I am still sober. Hhhh. Apparently writing a review could sober me up. Let me get another shot.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Tori (InToriLex).
463 reviews367 followers
May 7, 2018
Find this and other Reviews at In Tori Lex

Actual Rating 4.5 Stars
Through the lens of Aster we are thrown into a harsh world where people have been used as slaves to help navigate the space ship Matilda, to the Promised land for over three hundred years. Aster is a compelling brilliant and queer character. She's on a mission to discover what happened to her mother and fight back against the cruelty of  the guards and leaders of Matilda. The low-deckers live on the poorest part of the ship, are dark skinned and treated like animals. Asters ability to understand science allows her to move beyond the low-decks and gain some status. But her aloofness and obsessions would place her on the Autistic spectrum. She works as a assistant to the Surgeon on the ship and uses her scientific research and knowledge to grow plants and provide much needed medicine to her fellow low-deckers.

 "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?"

Beyond the harsh slave like conditions people are subject to on the ship, there is diverse representation shown through the characters beyond race. Aster does not identify as a woman, and behaves in masculine ways. Some of the low decks go by the pronoun They, and the author does a great job describing how and why it is used. There are also non-hetero pairings described in the book between characters. Giselle is Aster's best friend/sister who is often negative and suffering from a mental illness. Aster shows her empathy and sympathy when dealing with the consequences of her illness. The community that persist among the low-deckers despite the harsh treatment they are subject to was inspiring. There are so many characters to root for. Aster and Giselle complemented each other well because Aster was painfully logical while Giselle was ruled by her emotions.

"You are mean because inside you're are tiny, so tiny you cannot hold up the weight of your own body. You must inflate your ego just to fill the skin. You float around like a helium balloon. Blown up and bloated and gassy and empty." 

The violence and unfair treatment described in the book was gory and hard to read at times. However the grotesque nature of what was happening highlighted the rampant  injustice on Matilda. The author did a great job immersing the reader into a technologically advanced but still morally bankrupt environment. This was a weird but powerful and important story. The author has different accents and dialects for the people who occupy the decks of the ship and the level of detail was amazing. The narrator did a great job capturing all of the nuance between the character's accents. The only reason why this wasn't a five star read for me was because I wanted a bit more from the ending.

Recommended for Readers Who
-enjoy diverse gender, sexuality and mental illness representation
-want a wider gaze on how slavery can manifest
-enjoy own voice science fiction and fantasy books
Profile Image for autumn.
273 reviews44 followers
May 16, 2019
this was completely incredible. i don't even know how to describe it, just phenomenal. it's an intricate analysis of classism + racism within a beautifully imagined sci fi world (though horribly harsh and cruel, not unlike our own world). this book is literally exactly what sci fi should be and i can't wait for the author's next 100 books!

in terms of representation, all the main characters are black and most of them are queer; the author is black and queer. most of the main characters are mentally ill as a result of the traumas they've all undergone and the main character is very clearly implied to be autistic; the author is disabled. at first the portrayal of autism seemed kind of stereotypical to me because i wasn't sure if the author was drawing from life or just regurgitating a laundry list of symptoms they found on web md, as the vast majority of autistic characters (all 6 of them) tend to read, but as i read more it became clear that the author definitely knows what they're talking about. in my opinion Aster is easily one of the most well written autistic characters ive ever read/seen (all 3 of them), not to mention how her autistic identity intersects with her racial and gender/sexuality identities! this book is really good! it's heavy but not depressing, serious but incredibly nuanced and anything but preachy. highly recommended!!
Profile Image for Emily.
297 reviews1,551 followers
March 7, 2018
4.5 stars

This is some FABULOUS science fiction. If you want sci-fi with substance, look no further.

Solomon uses the setup of the HSS Matilda to examine collective trauma. We see through the main character Aster, as well as other characters, the implications big and small of the active oppression of people of color. I also really liked that Solomon really dives deep into the ways in which white supremacy and hyper-strict gender roles (particularly in regards to masculinity) go hand in hand.

I adored Aster. She is intersex, queer, and neurodivergent. I haven't seen it confirmed anywhere, but based on the text it seems like Aster is someone with Asperger's--she has issues interpreting body language, tone of voice, and is extremely literal.

This took a lot of traditional sci-fi elements and made them feel fresh and new again. Can't recommend it enough!
Profile Image for Taryn.
1,210 reviews189 followers
January 26, 2018
I have read a few books lately, of which this is one, that have made me reflect very seriously on how good my life has been and how undeserved that goodness is. It’s a cliché to say I’m grateful in a world where we post selfies captioned #blessed, where we shamelessly flaunt our good fortune like it’s something we earned, or worse, something owed to us. For a while I’ve wondered what to do with the knowledge that my life is privileged in so many ways, and while I still wrestle with that question, I have come to the conclusion that for now, the best thing to do is to set myself aside and listen to others. Self-flagellation is still, after all, about the self. I want to get outside myself and my experiences and learn, as best I can, what it is like to be people who aren’t me. This is what I want my reading to do: grow my understanding of what it means to be human. I use the word “grow” deliberately, as this current moment feels to me like a time when some are trying to limit, shrink, and restrict the parameters of who is a worthwhile person and who is not. I would rather frame my world with more generous proportions. I would rather make room.

That last paragraph had a lot of sentences beginning with “I.” Maybe I’m not so great at setting myself aside yet. But if I can make one more “I” statement: I’ll keep working on it.

An Unkindness of Ghosts is a science fiction novel unlike any I’ve ever read. It’s set on a massive ship in deep space with stratified levels separating different classes of inhabitants. Aster, a lowdecker, is essentially a slave, forced to work in the fields at the mercy (or lack thereof) of harsh, power-hungry overseers. The only bright spots in her life are her memories of her mother, a brilliant woman trapped like Aster in a low station, and the time she spends with her mentor, the Surgeon. As Aster starts to decode some of the notes her mother left before her death, she realizes she may have a chance to upset the entire social order of the ship. Of course, it’s not a simple matter to topple a regime that has sustained itself on the backs of human chattel for hundreds of years. Some of the setbacks Aster suffers devastated me. I felt them in my gut. So no, An Unkindness of Ghosts isn’t an easy read. I’m pretty sure it will haunt me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The best science fiction illuminates a truth about our world by telling a story about another world, and Rivers Solomon is a master storyteller. Highly recommended.

More book recommendations by me at www.readingwithhippos.com
Profile Image for Elliot.
622 reviews37 followers
April 18, 2019
Two and a half stars

This is a really good book. And I did not like it at all. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

This book is a slave narrative filled with all the horror that entails. It is also, primarily, a character study. Solomon does, I think, a good job at drawing a complex and rich portrait of a queer black woman who sits somewhere upon the autism scale, and who has a history of abuse and trauma. This is no small feat, and Solomon's writing is up to the task.

The problem, for me, was that this was not a character I wanted to spend time with, nor was it a world I wanted to inhabit. Picking the book up was a struggle every time. Were I reading this book from an academic perspective it would have a lot of merit and plenty to chew on. Reading it for pleasure, however, was absolutely draining.

This is going to be a taste thing. For me it's also a timing thing. It's not to say that I need a constant stream of optimistic stories dripping in rainbow glitter, but I do need some relief when it comes to my reading right now. Because I am Tired. So yes, this is a good book. And if reading a book about the evils of slavery and what it does to people sounds like something you're up for I recommend it. For me it was too much heartbreak and not enough payoff.

Sci-fi book club 4/19
Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews195 followers
July 29, 2019
3.75 stars.

An Unkindness of Ghosts is a sci-fi novel set on a generation ship, Matilda, which is organized in way which is very similar to the antebellum South of the USA.

I have a problem with second halves, lately. An Unkindness of Ghosts is one of the many books I read recently in which the first half had so much potential to become something truly unforgettable and then... the book didn't do much with it. Not as much as I though it could have, anyway.

An Unkindness of Ghosts's worldbuilding is unlike anything I had seen before, and it's horrifying. The people who, like Aster, live on the lower decks are treated like slaves, humiliated daily. They live in terrible conditions, they are broken and tired, and yet they live, and they're still looking for a way out. The trauma - because no one is safe in the lower decks - is something universal, and everyone has their own way to cope with it. The narration doesn't shy away from mentioning and often showing what happens to Aster and the people around her.
Sometimes, it does that through tales. The main character often compares what happens to the fairytales she knows - it's one of the ways to look at reality when all that is real hurts too much. There are many small tales inside of this book, and they were some of my favorite parts. And the writing - the writing was great, too.

I loved Aster's narration. This book is told from the point of view of an intersex, black, autistic main character, and it has a mostly black and queer cast. There are major trans and aroace characters, and I really liked them too, but Aster was my favorite - she felt real to me, and I always love to read about characters who like science in SFF.
Another thing I found really interesting were the scenes about gender roles. The upper decks try to force cisheteronormativity on the lower ones, but their religious obsession with gender roles isn't something the lower decks share, and the people on the lower decks engage with upper-deckers' gender roles as if they were parts in a play.

So, this book had an unique premise, a main character I loved, solid writing and also some interesting messages. And yet, the second half managed to be a disappointment. Sometimes I got the impression the story didn't know where it was going or what it was trying to achieve - I can't explain why without spoilers, but I felt as if this book had a No Ending. I feel like I have missed something.
I usually say that I want violence and unpleasant fictional things to be balanced with less violent, less unpleasant fictional things - nothing is as boring as an emotionally flat sad book - and I already knew this wasn't going to be balanced because of the premise, but the book didn't get into tragedy porn/shock value territory, so that wasn't my problem. It's just that if I don't have balance, I want at least a memorable ending? Most of the book was brutal and the ending was... there, and that's it. I didn't feel much.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,931 reviews439 followers
March 10, 2021
I know already my review will NOT be popular.

'An Unkindness of Ghosts' is a hot mess. If I turn off my brain, I love it. It's a novel expressing outrage at all the right things for me, a leftie feminist reader! The writing is exciting, engaging, thrilling, vibrant. But the plot sucks. It doesn't make psychological sense. Also, the science in this science fiction novel is nebulous in spots but precise in others.

The characters live in a huge generation space ship, and everyone is highly educated, but the ship's design and the way people aboard the ship act psychologically is crap to me.

The whatever umpteenth generation of travelers are all as wrecked as any slum on Earth. It is as if the Island of Haiti was changed to a spaceship, only everyone who lives there has PhDs in chemistry, physics and botony. The people defined as being of color are slaves, but they hurt and fight and damage each other, wandering freely all over the ship except for certain places, despite horrendous punishments if caught for doing so, while the elite, all white, live in some kind of Nazi elitist hell of social conformity. Cruelty is endemic in this ship from top to bottom, but the bottom decks suffer the most. Despite this insanity of chaotic cruelty and torture from childhood, the slaves are as feisty and angsty as mentally-ill goth teens, and freely mouth off to the guards and the elite. The slaves are locked into cells at 'night', and have work assignments, but they could, and do, disappear, sometimes for days, into various abandoned and unused shafts, cubbyholes, hallways, rooms.

Plus, there is child torture, child rape, child abuse - somewhat graphic, so, not recommending this novel for the sensitive - which is endured by everybody, but mostly by the people of color. They should be traumatized, and they are, but they should be a lot more scared and afraid, which they aren't. Everyone is very educated, but also very religious. The elite have a religion of icons, the slaves seem to have a variety of folk remedies and magic incantations.

The generation ship, the Matilda, seems to be as huge as a small moon. It is very high tech, with revolving agricultural fields on spheres-like platforms which circling a sun-like light. People of color have to work in the fields along with doing the maintenance work of the ship. The elite live singly in very nice rooms, the 'slaves' are piled up on bunk beds in cells. Sexual identity seems somewhat a matter of choice, maybe because people are being born with physical characteristics of both sexes. It is not simply a matter of body dysphoria. Of course, the women are being raped whenever the brutal male guards feel like it, so the girls with vaginas have a lot of mental illness.

Aster, the narrator, is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. She is a woman of color, so she is a slave. However, she is a genius on a ship of highly educated people, so she is allowed some safety the others are not. She has the caught the eye of an elite called the Surgeon (shortened from Surgeon General) because of her medical knowledge. He calls himself Theo. Due to his illustrious white father and his primarily white skin, he is privileged despite his black mother. (If children from raped black women look more white, they are taken into the elite quarters.) He gives her travel passes so she has been able to move around the ship unmolested (literally - other women of color who do not have permission to travel between levels can be raped, beaten, punished by whippings, put in solitary for up to seven days without food or water).

Aster wants to solve a mystery. Her mother, Lune, committed suicide, a rarity, apparently. Why?

Frankly, I didn't care by the end of the book. The psychological dissonances and social craziness of character responses were overwhelming to me. These people did not behave like damaged abused people or like any society I know of on Earth. The slaves should have rioted and killed all of the elites long ago because of their educated intelligence, their in-your-face rage and overt disobedience towards the sadistic guards and their utterly amazing freedoms to roam all over the ship by traveling in the disused and abandoned places. Instead, they report to duty, dutifully. Children can't fight off rape and abuse, and they tend to grow up mentally-ill and fearful. These abused slaves are mean and violent towards each other, while being verbally defiant to the elite and often take off into forbidden areas at will.

The writing is enticing and beguiling, but the plot? The characters! This might have worked as a satire for me, but not as it is, a serious science fiction, a disguised scream of rage. I get it, I do, but I need stories to have some kind of footing in psychological foundations.
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