I wish I’d had more time with this novel but I had to give An Unkindness of Ghosts back to the library because someone else requested it. This means I may have had to rush reading a little and thus may not be as particular about the style and details as I might otherwise be. Here’s why this matters: this is not one of those books you read and enjoy. This is one of those books you read, either don’t exactly like or quite understand in general story sort of way, have to think about a while, and then start to see all the possibilities.
For example, it took me a while to get used to the style. Aster narrates much of the novel, though as few places briefly switch over to Theo, Melusine, and Giselle. The thing about Aster, as she herself admits (I’m going with the pronoun Theo uses here; pronouns and gender get complicated in this story) is that she does not seem to feel or understand the world the same way as most people. She’s almost detached, which is not quite the right word (it’s more complex than that) but it’s the closest I can get to describing her personality and way of communicating. There are references to other languages and dialects as well, but not much in the way of example. The other perspectives use more relatable styles, but I suspect that contrast is intentional, designed largely to highlight or foil Aster’s voice.
For another example, by about the middle of the story, I found myself wishing there was more world-building. There is not a lot of information about the history of humanity to explain how-why the Matilda is what it is and heading to where it’s heading. There is very little detail about how or why the class and cultural divisions developed. I would have liked to see at least a little bit about those things to help fill in holes in the narrative world. But. Upon further reflection, it occurred to me that maybe the reason those kinds of details were not there was because they might add to the story, but take away from Aster’s experience. Aster’s perceptions and general life experience both past and present to the current story are the focus. Explaining the backstory would take away from the immediacy of her thoughts and reactions to what goes on around her.
Final example, the general plot and premise. The back cover blurb describes the setting as “the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South”. Such a description, especially right now, sets up some very specific expectations, many of which are met. There is class and racial tensions, there are efforts at rebellion and change which gradually increase in frequency and intensity, there are the characters who try to at least work with or even like “the other side”, there’s the inevitable blow-ups, both emotional and social, and then the unexpected bit where the novel sort of cuts off before the aftermath of the final confrontation between sides can be fully explored. Upon first read, this was vaguely irritating, since Aster had solved one big mystery of the story so why not show how she used that information to force change and progress? Upon further consideration, the ending fits what the novels seems to have been trying to do and focus on: the immediacy of Aster’s experiences. Explaining or exploring further would be spoilers, so I’ll leave off with this: don’t read this one for fun. It’s not that; you’d rate it as a 2. Read this one to make you think. You’ll have to; you’ll rate it a 4+. Hence my star rating of a 3; it’s the average.