An Unkindness of Ghosts is an Afrofuturist novel that merges the historical fiction and science fiction genres to weave a story steeped with influences from the African diaspora. FIrst time novelist Rivers Solomon takes the premise of a slave narrative, sets it in deep space, and then throws it into the future. A future that mirrors the past by incorporating a class system that reverts these last peoples of Earth to a racially segregated, feudalist inspired society where religion, skin color, and long-term survival is used to justify why some are inferior and meant to do menial, lowly work in servitude to those considered superior. The author doesn't disappoint in writing a tale that hauntingly resonates with our societal patterns from past to present, creating something that feels familiar, but also new.
The plot follows Aster, an inhabitant on the spaceship Matilda which is housing the last of the human race after the Earth has become uninhabitable. Matilda has been traversing space for more than 300 years and has developed its own societal structures and beliefs based in what they remember from their history on Earth, and the needs that arose in keeping hundreds to thousands of people alive all this time.The community aboard Matilda has fallen into a slave society. Certain races have been deemed inferior to others and live on the lower decks of the ship, doing the work that the upper levels deem to be (literally) below them. Aster is from the lower decks, and while doing her best to survive is discovering new truths about her deceased mother and the ship.
The strongest aspect of Solomon's writing are their characters. The development of each character in this society that has forced them to conform to labels and abuses that we imagine to be past us as a society is painfully real and terrifying. Aster's best friend Giselle, Aunt Melusine who raised her, and her mentor Theo provide a varied cast of characters who are complicated and relatable especially for their queerness, their blackness, and their struggles with gender identity, along with mental disabilities and wellness.
Rivers Solomon pulls you through a difficult journey that is shockingly real, while being utterly engaging as science fiction. The language and tone effectively places the reader in this world. The way that the people have morally fallen because they have forgotten their history and mistakes of the past is an eery commentary on the current political climate here in the US. It's refreshing to read a new writer who can manipulate such well known motifs, while churning out a story that still instigates a contemporary discourse, one that dares to remind the reader that the past doesn't always stay buried.