In short, this book is amazing.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by River Solomon
Published by Akashic Books on September 18th, 2017. I read the kindle version which has 340pages.
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 😁❤️
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, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remains of her world.
Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, 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. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot–if she’s willing to sow the seeds of civil war.
This book follows Aster as she searched for her mother in a world where she is a slave on a spaceship tending the crop fields. She is also the assistant of a medic and a healer on the lower decks. I loved her! ❤️
This book explores a lot of topics not normally found in a science fiction and fantasy setting, and especially not together. Rivers Solomon had a fresh view on it too and I very much enjoyed her view and the way she portrays them to us readers. I picked up on these topics;
- Women rights
- Sexual orientation
- Romantic orientations
- Not wanting children
Yes, slavery has been in fantasy and science fiction literature quite often. Normally in fantasy, it’s very middle-ages-type slavery, and in science fiction it’s usually war-prisoners-type slavery. But in An Unkindness of Ghosts, it’s the first time I’ve read about slavery so closely related to 19th century slavery in America’s southern states, which to me is the crueller kind of slavery, in a science fiction scenario. And it is very well written.
This book follows Aster who is a lowerdecker and therefore a slave. She has to work the crop fields during the day before tending to her other duties, and she doesn’t get paid for it. Some lowerdeckers are nannies and don’t get paid for it. There is no money on the lower decks, the only trade in existence is with valuable items such as food, textiles, or knowledge like the ability to make a makeshift oven. There are cabin checks and headcounts every day/night. They are punished for the simplest things, and the guards take advantage of the females as they see fit.
The power in the ship is given freely to the upper decks and increases in control downwards. If there is a shortage of power the upper deck doesn’t notice it, it’s all on the lower decks. The upper decks keep their heating on while the lower deck are freezing in the dark. Even the interior of the cabins/halls/etc changes depending on the levels. The lower levels are iron and metals, but when you get further up its carpets and plastered walls. As I said its very well done.
The slavery theme was mixed in with religion in the form of Christianity and “the white man is the chosen leaders and is here to tame the wild beast that is the coloured man” 😡 Stuff like this makes me angry. I’m not religious and all people are worth the same to me. But I know in history (and still in some very religious communities) these ideas existed. Me: There are no chosen people! We are all the same! We all bleed red!! Rant over…
Religion isn’t all bad in this book. It’s interesting how Solomon has combined religion with space, and how endless space and deep science affects people beliefs as they are floating towards the promised land.
Aster doesn’t necessarily believe in God. The amount of pain she has suffered in “the name of God” makes her question whether God really exists and if he hasn’t just given up on a ship floating in endless space.
There is a clear difference regarding the worth of you depending on your skin colour on this ship. As pale, you could live on the upper and middle decks, M and above. All the guards a pale, etc. If you a born mixed it doesn’t matter what your features are like it matters what shade of colour you are. If you are born pale, you can pas for pale and are ok on the upper decks even though you might have features which are that of a lowerdecker or a darker person would have. If you are darker, they will send you down on the lower decks. If you are born pale on the lower decks you are taken away to live on the upper decks. The segregation is in the background of this story, but it’s there and it’s hard. Now I could have a second rant here and it would be the same as in the religious section, but I think you get the point.
Aster is a darker colour, but her mother was a lighter colour and belonged to a deck higher up. After Aster was born she was brought down to be “with her own kind”.
There is rape in this story. Usually, it will be a guard on a female worker. But there were also breeding programs to breed out certain features and personality traits in the lowerdeckers, lucky it didn’t go far or for long. This is an issue for both women rights and slavery, as well as gender below, but I decided to put it under women rights as rape still a problem for us women all around the world, and for men. Rivers Solomon doesn’t go into details of the events, but you know that it has happened or it is happening.
In addition to that, there are issues on the upper decks which reminds me again on the late 19th century southern state America women, where their opinion doesn’t matter, they don’t have any say or power in anything, or they should be at home raising the children even when they already have a nanny and a nursemaid.
Aster is a woman with some masculine features but was deemed breedable, due to that she had her ovaries removed so couldn’t be breed. She’s hardcore.
This topic is very interesting to me and River Solomon explores some gender issues we have today in the form of non-binary, intersex and queer.
There is a deck which referees to all adults as “she”. There is a deck which referes to all children as They or Them, as non-binary people prefer. There are a few decks which have been biologically tested on and now produce mostly intersex children of varying degrees. It’s so facinating! And so well done. There is one passage which uses they and them, and yes its a bit confusing, but its so well done I just want to celebrate! YES Rivers!!
I just had a Yes-moment!
It’s very clear that on the higher levels girls are girls; soft, pretty and only there to become mothers almost, and boys are boys; brutish strong and powerful. There are no strong females, and there are no soft males. Go further down on the ship and this alters a bit, it becomes freer almost.
Aster is female with masculine features including broad shoulders.
There are a lot of different orientations represented in this book which made me very happy. Firstly we are introduced to an F/F relationship which is common apparently but a sin… typical 🤦♀️ There is also bi-characters without spelling it out that they are bi, which to me is the way any sexual orientation should be portrayed. It shouldn’t be spelt out that they are x, y or z, it should be a story about them and therefore their sexual orientation comes into play as a natural thing which it is. If not, it’s like writing a novel set in China and referring to their new year as the Chineese New Year…🤦♀️ they don’t have any other new year, they only have one.
There is a queer person in this book. You are slowly introduced to this person and after some time the person relates their orientation to you so I won’t spoil it. Again their view of other people and themselves in term of their sexual preference and their own gender is very interesting.
I believe there is an aromantic character in this book who doesn’t have the same need to feel for people as others do. She doesn’t want to be with people the way others do. She doesn’t want to share a bed with people the way others do. She loves her nearest to bits, but that’s it. She does not have the romantic feelings other do. It’s very interesting.
I have never met an openly aromantic person, so I’m not a 100% sure about this character. I apologise if I got it wrong. Still its an interesting view on life and people.
Not wanting children
There is one character in this book who works with children but never want her own children. And it’s not the normal arguments of not wanting to bring in a child to this horrible world. Her arguments are (to me) more sound. Having children isn’t attractive to her. She is not maternal by nature. She doesn’t want to have a child feeding on her breast. This is very refreshing. Finally, someone who provides us as readers with a real view of a subject, not just the mainstream type. It’s great!
Appart from all that Aster is trying to understand her mother’s notebooks and why she disappeared. While floating in space under a power cut where Aster still has to perform the regular medical procedures with cold fingers. Aster is very intelligent and knows a lot of languages, science and maths. She breeds plants and makes her own medicine in a proper lab that she made herself. She shares a cabin with four others ladies, two are a couple, and one is her best friend who is slightly mental and on the psychosis side of things. She always put Aster is positions she doesn’t want to be in. It’s a fascinating read and highly recommended!
What did you think? Have you read An Unkindness of Ghosts? Would you read it after reading my views on it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.