An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

This book was phenomenal.

I usually don’t start off a review this way, but I couldn’t help it. I just finished it a few minutes ago, and I can already tell that its a book that will stick with me for a long time.

This is the story of a generation ship that has been traveling through space for a few hundred years, fleeing a planet (presumably Earth), that has become uninhabitable. Whether it was a man made catastrophe or not, is not really clear. Needless to say, they are traveling to the promised land, i.e. “Heaven”. Or at least this society’s version of it. The ship is divided between classes, with the upper classes on the higher decks, middle class (merchants, skilled tradesmen, etc.) occupying the middle desks, and of course the lower classes (slaves, servants, etc.) on the lowest decks. Class is very much determined by race and skin color, with the darker skinned people as the slave class, and the lighter skinned and white people are the upper classes. The story is told from the point of view of Aster, who is somewhat of an outcast among her own dark skinned people. She is extremely intelligent, and socially awkward. She’s not quite sure how to relate to people, and doesn’t always respond the way people think she should.  Aster’s mother, who died shortly after childbirth, left behind a series of journals with a hidden message. Of course, if Aster and her friends can decipher the message, it could change this society forever.

There is so much going on, that its hard to really talk about it without getting deep into the plot. I will say that this novel explores many themes around religion, class, gender and race in a very fluid, realistic way. Its not only the struggle to change society, but the struggle an individual has to freely express themselves, and to openly explore what it means to be a person. To have other humans beings to see as being… alive.

As a protagonist, we see Aster, and the trouble she has with dealing with the world around her. As much as she struggles, she still maintains this strong sense of self. She knows how others perceive her, she knows who she is and she accepts it. She has no intention of changing, and this is what makes her so strong, and so admirable. At times she can be exasperating, because you want her to make different decisions, but you still root for her.

Her relationships with Giselle, Theo and Ainy Melusine are rich, deep, and well developed, even in such a short book. These supporting characters each have their time to shine, and it just provides a deeper look into this society that has been built up on this ship, over hundreds of years.

And what a society this is. There is a strict class system that has developed that is clearly based on religion. How and why does a society that is technologically advanced enough to construct a generation spaceship of this magnitude, that can last for hundreds of years, maintain a culture that is based on subjugating and enslaving an entire race of people? This is, at its most basic, a slave culture on a spaceship. Throw in issues with gender expression and identity, which are quite modern, to your more traditional expressions of gender roles, and you have a culture/society that is bound to fall apart.

I am not doing justice to this book, so I’ll just end here and say, read this book!

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Persepolis Rising by James S. A. Corey

Persepolis Rising is Book 7 in The Expanse series. Considering  where Babylon’s Ashes left off, I was anticipating a story focusing on a civil war. I was wrong! We jump ahead 30 years, and what we actually get are the long term consequences and effects  of the events of Babylon’s Ashes, rather than the immediate aftermath . Its an interesting way to go, and I have to say I was skeptical at first, but I came to appreciate skipping over the details of rebuilding, and focusing on the results, which is much more interesting.

As always in this series, with each new book we are introduced to new characters and perspectives. There’s a new empire in town, and its more powerful than anything Earth, Mars and the Belt have ever seen. This empire has a cult of personality built up inside of it, and getting the perspective of someone who has fully bought into it let’s us see how the concept of a benevolent dictator can be so enticing. Humanity must be brought together under one strong rule, but at what cost? Of course, Holden, Naomi, Bobbie, Alex and Amos are right in the middle of the struggle.

With a 30 year gap, we see a Rocinante crew that is on the cusp of big changes. They’ve been through the war, its aftermath, and now they are just beginning to settle into new phases of their lives. But we can’t have that, now can we? Once again, they are caught in the center of intergalactic conflict. In many ways they approach their situation the same way they always have, but now they have different priorities, different roles, and different expectations. They have all grown, but at their core, its the same characters we’ve come to know.

There are two more books planned in the series. This is a good starting point for the last arc of the story. It has a great setup for all the players, without feeling like its a set up. By the end, I was definitely prepared for the final showdown of the series.

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