I have to admit that sometimes my mind is foggy. I love reading, but some days, my reading comprehension is lower than usual, and if I return to passages later I see there are tiny details I missed that make the story come together. I am hoping that this is what happened with An Unkindness of Ghosts, because I can’t make sense of it otherwise.
I loved the first part of this book. It wasn’t an easy read, especially not right now, when any black person is probably already feeling raw just by having to revisit the injustices of our various societies with friends and acquaintances who don’t understand the protests, who feel they can’t support it, and so on. Starting a book where in a very distant future black people are back in bondage is not fun. But I had heard great things and I wanted to read it. The first few chapters were hard to get through exactly because of that pain. It’s hard to imagine that not that many generations ago (and Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, so truly not that many) my own kin was in this position. But once I acclimated myself to this world I was able to fly through the story, connect with the characters, and of course, root for them.
Then I got to the second half and I just couldn’t make sense of it. Not the story itself—I would even say the plot came together beautifully. The sci-fi elements were easy to follow and they made sense. I am not entirely sure the science checked out, but there was nothing so glaring that even I knew to dispute it. But Aster’s behavior didn’t. Now, I don’t know how to feel about the fact that the character’s actions defied my expectations. I am lucky to have been born at a time when despite descending from black women on both sides of my family, I am not a survivor of this level of trauma. I am lucky that this is actually quite unimaginable and beyond comprehension to me.
I don’t have a problem when the main character in a book has to wander from misery to misery without respite. I loved Underground Railway and I would hardly say it’s a book that lets you relax. And I think that books about systemic oppressive systems might as well be sincere about the inescapability of it. So I can’t figure out why Aster’s troubles bothered me so much. I can’t figure out why they felt stupid. But almost everything that happens after the Lieutenant ascends just felt contrived.
It confused me that I could finish reading passages that felt so brilliant and beautifully written and moving and find myself reading about a character that previously had a very clear personality do a bunch of stupid ass things. Then I got to the ending and got angry.
That so much happens in the second half of the book without adding anything to the narrative and the book ends without us knowing the ultimate fate of the ship is annoying. That all of this narrative mess seems to take place so the main character can finally get together with the nephew of the Master honestly pisses me off. I loathe this trope. I hate it when white people do it, I dislike it when black people do it, I don’t care for it even if you throw some sci-fi and a mixed non-binary person in there instead of a white person. But I figured it would be a minor plot in the book and I could live with it. I didn’t realize the book would contrive a series of very stupid plot points so Theo can finally get angry enough to defy his Uncle and so they could have sex.
I was so confused as to why Aster would go through such trouble to infiltrate a Coronation, poorly concealed, since she was one of two black people in the room, only to make a provocation that was empty, useless, and could easily be tracked back to her and result in torture for herself and everyone around her. Aster is neurodivergent, clearly, but she’s not stupid; in fact, she is at first portrayed as smartest than everyone else around her, and she has a very logical brain. And yet this is what she chose to do? I was baffled, but decided it was just an odd character choice and to let it go.
Except the odd plot choices kept mounting. It wasn’t just that Aster was tormented on purpose. That was to be expected. It was that Solomon seemed to keep making choices that could Aster to be punished only if Theo could be around, only if he could try to defend her and ultimately fail. When I realized was reading a member of Master’s family/slave romance disguised as a parable, I was more than a bit queasy.
I loved Aster and Giselle and Ainy and I was intrigued by Theo and Lune at first. I was happy to sit through a lot more of character development, if that was what Solomon wanted to do. But I hated that instead I had to sit through Aster shedding all her self-preservation instincts just so she was in a position for Theo to have to choose rebellion. The pairing is bad enough, but that Aster’s personality seemed to matter less than Theo’s growth left a very bitter taste in my mouth.
I wanted to like this book, and I hope Solomon keeps writing, but I don’t think I will be reading anything from them ever again.