Aster’s world is too small for all the people living in it. Her world is the generational ship, Matilda, crammed with thousands of souls that live in a strict hierarchy based on skin color and desk level. Something went wrong with their home planet; then something went wrong with the ship. Matilda is dying. Unfortunately for everyone on the ship, their leaders are content to let Matilda float through space forever. But in An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon, everything comes to a head after Aster starts to investigate why her mother died on the day she was born.
Solomon populated her novel with diverse characters, which I deeply love and appreciate. Very few of the characters conform to traditional genre tropes. Instead, we have characters who are the next thing to asexual, have mental illnesses, or appear to be on the autism spectrum. Genders are rarely binary. Reading about Aster (who might be on the spectrum) alone is worth the price of admission to this book. But on top of all this wonderful diversity, An Unkindness of Ghosts has an intriguing conspiracy at its heart and the race to put right the wrong of the past is simply thrilling.
Aster has always struggled to fit in. Not only do metaphors and some human behavior baffle her and not only did she lose her mother on the day of her birth, but Aster was born too brown and too far from the upper decks to pursue her talent for healing. She is constantly harassed by the whiter guards. She has to labor on the field decks with her relatives and deck mates. In her extremely limited free time, she heals as much as she can with plants from her bodged together botanarium. We meet her as she is amputating the foot of a young child, whose foot turned gangrenous from frostbite. The cold—caused by the lack of warmth and energy from Matilda’s pocket sun—has made conditions nearly intolerable on the lower decks. (I say nearly because people are surviving. It’s just miserable.)
The injustice of how the upper deckers (the whiter folk) treat the lower deckers (the browner folk) makes Aster burn with anger. After the amputation, she starts to agitate for better conditions. Meanwhile, her volatile friend Giselle clues Aster in to the fact that Aster’s mother’s journals are written in code. Aster and Giselle start to tease out the meaning from the journals and discover that everything they’ve been told about Matilda‘s journey and its sun is a lie.
As it rolls on, An Unkindness of Ghosts puts more and more pressure on Aster and her few allies. The tension builds and builds—so much so that I had a very hard time putting the book down to go to bed. The tension, the plot, and the refreshing diversity of this book made for an utterly gripping reading experience. I hope this book gets lots of attention after it’s published.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration. It will be released 3 October 2017.