An Unkindness of Ghosts

Monday, October 1, 2018

An Unkindness of Ghosts
Rivers Solomon, 2017

Premise: Aster lives in the bowels of the great ship Matilda. As a dark-skinned lowerdecker, she is constantly in danger from the people of higher classes who run the ship and the society. Then she discovers that an affliction suffered by the leader of the ship may have a connection to her mother's long-ago disappearance.

This is a hard book to review for a lot of reasons. What's good about it is great, but what misses the mark for me personally threatens to derail the whole thing.

The best part of this book was the worldbuilding, the characters, and the texture of the writing. I feel as though I could recognize any of these characters at a glance. I absorbed the brutality of the violence. I can picture the ship in all its complexity and horror.

Most of the major characters are gender-fluid and/or LGBTQ and/or neuroatypical and/or suffering from severe trauma. Their complexity means that while they might not be "fun" or always "likable," they feel deeply, tragically true. Their fragile relationships and identities are all the more valuable because they live under constant threat.

The plot I had a bit more trouble with. Even though whenever I picked up this book I could touch its world, I kept putting it down again. I wasn't pulled along by what was happening, and I never understood certain twists and turns. Sometimes the timeline seemed to jump ahead suddenly.

And then it ended. And the ending... I'm not sure I understood it. It was an emotional and thematic ending, I guess, and lots of actions happened, but the plot feels extremely unresolved. (I immediately googled to see if there's a sequel in the works. There isn't.) There was a lot of action and buildup and then... Huh? There was even some foreshadowing in an earlier chapter that was never followed up on. For me, not sticking the landing can overshadow a lot about a book.

To sum up: brilliant writing but with a structure that didn't work for me. Your mileage may definitely vary.

3 Stars? 4? Good, Great? I don't know.