This was so good, but so hard. I did not go into it expecting fluff, but damn. I started reading it right after watching the first episode of the Snowpiercer TV show, and finished it on the last night we had a city-wide curfew because of protests and riots. An interesting cocktail of race/class topics. I usually use fiction as an escape, but knowing that so many of the awful things that happened on the ship happened for real, and then surfacing from the book to be reminded that so many of these awful things are STILL HAPPENING…it’s a lot. But I’m so glad I read it.
Aster lives in the lower decks of the Matilda, a huge spaceship/ark that left Earth centuries ago. Something bad and mysterious happened to kill the navigators, so now the Matilda just flies and flies, carrying the last humans aimlessly through space. The tyrant in charge says the ship is being steered by god, and that if people don’t obey, it’s their fault if they never find the promised sanctuary.
The rich (white) people live on the upper decks, with fancy food and ice skating rinks and small, insignificant perks like lights and heat. The poor (non-white, coincidentally) people live on the lower decks, where they sleep six to a cabin, huddled together for warmth, and work in the fields during the day. (The descriptions of the ship and its internal sun and rotating fields of crops are pretty great.) It’s a giant, flying plantation, and the overseers and guards are just as foul as you’d expect them to be.
Aster is a scientist, a doctor, a thinker, a studier. She’s created a botanarium in an abandoned deck, and she makes her own medicines to serve the lower deckers. The ship’s Surgeon has taken a liking to her and treats her as a real person, taking her on as his apprentice. Aster’s mother died mysteriously when she was born, but she was a brilliant engineer. When Aster’s best friend (the fiery, unapologetic, absolutely maddening Giselle) points out that her mother’s journals are in code, Aster sets out to crack the code, solve the mystery, and possibly save the ship.
Aster’s great. She’s flawed and fierce, she’s brave and terrified, she’s neuroatypical and doesn’t give a fuck what you think of her. She’s slow and methodical, and while her way of getting to the answer might not always be easy, her path is always the one that helps the largest number of people.
I haven’t read anything so brutal and yet so hopeful in a long time, and I can’t wait to hear what you guys thought of it at #CannonBookClub!
Giselle gets the best lines:
“I wish I was better, but I’m not, and so there’s nothing to do but love who I am.”
I would cut out my own heart and throw it into the beyond for the split second it would beat somewhere other than this cursed fucking cage.”