Author: Rivers Solomon
Summary: Great characters and world building, but I didn’t feel totally engaged in the story and I didn’t love the plot.
“Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South….the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human. When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.” (source)
I really wanted to love this book. I loved the title, the cover, the premise, and the promise of a story that dealt with issues of race and gender. I did enjoy the story, but I didn’t feel completely absorbed as I read and the ending was a bit of a let down. I’m working through what made this fall flat for me, so I’m going to give you a list of pros and cons for this one.
Things I Loved
- The world building – specifically the society the author created. While this society was modeled on the antebellum south, it was also very unique. I loved that people who lived on different decks had different cultures. I also loved that part of that culture was the passing on of advanced technical knowledge in science and medicine.
- No info dumps – it was a little work to grasp the world the author had created, but I preferred the slow revelation of the world as the story passed to the author spelling it out for us.
- Diverse characters – in addition to there being characters of different races, the main character seems to be autistic (no label is given). To my the best of my limited knowledge, she is portrayed accurately and positively. I really enjoyed seeing her leverage her strengths and overcome her weaknesses
- The main character – In general, I loved reading about Aster. The author didn’t shy away from writing Aster’s anger, grief, and weaknesses. At the same time, Aster’s strength and pride in herself were equally believable.
- Nuanced portrayal of slavery – like Octavia Butler’s Kindred, this book brought to life the reality of slavery. It was clear why rebellion was so difficult. Each of the characters was impacted in their own way by their subjugation. Aster’s aunt and each of the women Aster lived with had their own way of negotiating their terrifying reality. Each treasured different small freedoms and experienced different losses.
Things I Didn’t
- Lack of resolution – for me, things were just getting interesting when the story ended. I don’t feel satisified with how much I know about what happened to any of the characters or to the society as a whole at the end of this book.
- Unconvincing friendship – Aster’s best friend was often cruel and destructive. Other than a shared history, I didn’t see what bound them together. I recognize that can mean a lot, but I’d like to be able to point to at least one thing they each appreciate about each other.
- Lack of emotional connection – I was horrified by a lot of the things that happened in the story, but it never made me weepy and I’m slowly starting to realize that I prefer when a story does. It means the author’s gotten me invested in their characters. I’m not sure why that didn’t happen for me here.
- Lack of agency/too much luck – A number of events that drove the plot forward fell into Aster’s lap. She was incredibly resourceful and managed an awful lot of agency given her circumstances, but as the reader, I felt buffeted by fate. The story bounced between opportunities and crises in a non-linear way, often not driven by Aster’s actions. I wasn’t always even sure what goal Aster was working towards.
Looking at goodreads, I’m not surprised to see that a lot of the reviews for this are five stars. It was an exciting story with a great premise and I had a hard time putting my finger on the reasons it didn’t quite work for me. If it sounds appealing to you, I’d recommend giving it a try yourself.