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 non-binary 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.
My rating: ★★★¾
I read this book for the “read an ownvoices book with a black main character” challenge of Marvel-A-Thon.