Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

May 7, 2018
An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon, InToriLex, Book Review
Published By: Blackstone Audio, Inc on October 3, 2018
Format Read:  Audio Book (TimeStamp 11:54 mins)
Genre: Science Fiction / LGBTQ/ Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Library via Hoopla
An Unkindness of Ghosts
Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak.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 sewing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she's willing to fight for it.


Content Warning: Rape, Violence, Slavery, Physical Abuse, Mental Illness


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


Rivers Solomon writes about life in the margins, where they are much at home. They currently live and write in Cambridge, UK, but they originally hail from the US, where they received their MFA from he Michener Center for Writers and their BA from Stanford University.


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