Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

Don’t you love a debut novel? Admittedly in this trashfire world I am prone to getting sentimental about things it is insane to get sentimental about, like tiny foods and sitcom episodes where people discover emotional truths about themselves; but I do feel sentimental about debut novels and the hope they represent. There’s something quite magical about an editor believing in a brand new author, and there’s something even magical-er about an author setting their first-ever book into the world like a message in a bottle, searching for their exactly-right community of readers.

Which is why I’m mightily grateful to Sarah of The Illustrated Page for putting me onto Rivers Solomon’s debut, An Unkindness of Ghosts. It’s a dystopian story about a generation ship, the Matilda, that sharply segregates its people by class. The (mostly darker-skinned) citizens of the lower decks are subject to forced labor, daily headcounts, floggings if they step out of line, and the whims of the guards who patrol their decks. In spite of this, our heroine Aster has managed to teach herself medicine and science from the gen ship’s archives and wangle a friendship with the ship’s revered priest/Surgeon, Theo. Poring through her late mother’s journals, Aster realizes that there may be a way to escape from the Matilda, but it will require all of her resources — and perhaps cost the lives of those she loves — to make it happen.

An Unkindness of Ghosts

Friends, An Unkindness of Ghosts is dark. The lives of the people on the lower decks are filled with brutalities perpetrated by those in power, including the second in line for the throne of the Matilda, a cruel Lieutenant who resents Aster’s friendship with Theo. Solomon isn’t as graphic with the sexual violence as I was fearing, but violence of every kind stands as a constant threat, and regular reality, of Aster’s world. So be braced for it.

The book’s light is Aster’s survival, and her insistence on finding (or, more often, making) pockets of beauty and joy in a world that tries to deny that she’s deserving of either. She’s angry and dogged, and she most wonderfully refuses to pretend to be anyone other than who she is. She’s black and autistic and intersex, and no matter how many people tell her that one or all of those things makes her worthless, she persists in knowing her own worth, valuing her own intelligence, and chasing after the things she wants. Here’s what author Rivers Solomon says about the book and the question that stands at its center.

An Unkindness of Ghosts is a brutal novel with hope at its core, and it should make you really excited for everything Rivers Solomon is going to write hereafter. It’s published by Akashic Books, an independent publisher I absolutely cherish.

Thanks to my lovely friend Alice for picking me up an ARC at BEA this year! If you want to read more by/about Rivers Solomon, you can check out their Patreon for regular content (poems, flash fiction, short essays, etc).

Not My Cheeriest Ever Links Round-Up

Happy Friday the 13th, friends! Hopefully it brings you good luck, not bad. I’m having a strange, emotional week, but it includes a lot of wonderful friends whom I get to vigorously embrace, so that bit’s good. Have some links!

“White men’s rage is burning down the world”: Sady Doyle on the profile of the mass shooter.

Also, an older article but an evergreen reminder that a lot of these people do it for the glory. Use the shooter’s name sparingly, if at all, when discussing crimes like these.

At a different point along the toxic masculinity spectrum, some thoughts from Aja Romano on the worst of Rick and Morty fandom and the recent dust-ups over Szechuan sauce at McDonald’s.

On Shirley Jackson and the fetishization of lady murderers. (This article includes spoilers for We Have Always Lived in the Castle.)

Did I link this last time? Lani Sarem’s interview with Vulture? It’s gold. I said “oh SHIT” a couple of times while reading it. Spoilers, Lani Sarem is an enormous liar.

Here’s some really good internet discourse content for your delectation and delight.

Harvey Weinstein in case you missed it (you didn’t miss it) has been accused of a massive amount of sexual harassment going back decades. He has so far apologized for doing it, called his accusers liars, and threatened to sue the New York Times. Rebecca Traister responds. Jia Tolentino also.

I am now in love with D’Arcy Carden, who plays Janet on The Good Place. Read this interview only ONLY if you are caught up on The Good Place.

When should you talk to your children about fascism?

I don’t watch Younger, but I do work in publishing, so this fact-check of Younger’s depiction of publishing charmed me no end.

Have a great weekend!

Review: Song of the Current, Sarah Tolcser

Either book covers have become more beautiful lately, or I have become more susceptible, but I find myself in a constant state of awe over book covers these days. Look at this one, for Sarah Tolcser’s YA novel of at-sea adventures, Song of the Current:

Song of the Current

With the moon? And the way it sparkles on the water? I’m into it.

Song of the Current is about a girl called Caro who comes from a family of wherrymen favored by the river god. At seventeen, she’s never heard the river god’s voice and fears she never will. When her father is arrested and her friends’ boats burned, she must agree to take on a dangerous smuggling job to secure her father’s freedom. Water- and land-based adventures ensue (but mostly water) (hooray).

This book is hard to talk about without spoiling at least one thing, so I’m going to spoil that thing now. It happens very early on and is quite guessable (I guessed it, QED). The crate that Caro is asked to smuggle turns out to contain a human boy. GASP. He’s snooty and bad at boats, and he wears fancy clothes, and he doesn’t want to be smuggled to the place where Caro has been ordered to smuggle him. But she has no intention of letting a snooty landlubber determine the fate of her wherry and her family. DOES a grudging respect build? You’ll have to read it to find out.

(But yes. I mean, of course. What blog do you even think you’re reading right now?)

Song of the Current is so fun, y’all. Caro is clever and resourceful, a smuggler and a talented sailor; she belongs to a number of overlapping communities, all of which are deeply important to her. Her growing relationship with Marko is important, but it’s not the only relationship that matters or changes in the book. We also get to see her coming to terms with her destiny, with her mother’s family, with her father, and none of these relationships are as simple as she wants them to be.

This is also my favorite thing, a road trip story!, which necessarily makes it a little episodic. If you are fine with this (I am), you will be delighted — not every obstacle is an antagonist, and not every antagonist fights with the same weapons. We got a chance to see each of the characters at their best, a series of competences that makes it easy to root for everyone. Song of the Current reads like a standalone but appears to be the first in a series, and I can’t wait to see more of these folks. Song of the Current is a fresh, exciting debut with all the watery adventures your heart could hope for.

Review: The Bloodprint, Ausma Zehanat Khan

Note: I received a review copy of The Bloodprint from the publisher. This has not impacted the content of my review. As Katie always says, it would take more than a single copy of a single book to buy my loyalty.

Bloodprint

Arian is a warrior, linguist, and Companion of Hira, an order of women who draw their power from the Claim, a type of magic that draws its power from sacred scripture. They are battling against the Talisman, a movement led by the One-Eyed Preacher that seeks to eradicate scholarship and knowledge and the written word and to subjugate all the lands under an absolutist patriarchal rule. But Arian has a chance to find the Bloodprint, a physical copy of her faith’s scripture — if she can undertake the dangerous quest to retrieve it.

I’ve been a fan of Ausma Zehanat Khan’s for a while now. She gets me to read mysteries, and I never read mysteries! But her mysteries are grounded in history and grapple deeply with questions of culpability, complicity, and oppression, so they’re catnip to me. The Bloodprint deals with many of the same issues: Arian’s enemy, the Talisman, use a distorted version of her own faith to enslave women, brutally conquer every city in their path, and suppress literacy wherever they go. This is genuinely really hard to read in places, because the Talisman are destroying monuments and texts that Arian’s order values deeply, but that cannot be replaced.

The Bloodprint is very much a road trip story, which is always fun for me. Arian travels with her apprentice, Sinnia; her friend and would-be lover, the Silver Mage Daniyar; and a freed slave named Wafa. They cover a lot of territory, and I was glad that Khan had provided vocabulary and character guides in the back of the book. However, things did tend to get a trifle complicated, in that way secondary world fantasies often do, where the writer has a lot of elements and is trying to introduce all of them in the series’s first book. I got muddled in spots, and it wasn’t always clear which names and concepts I needed to remember for later vs which ones were just there to provide local color on Arian’s journey.

I gave up on secondary world fantasy years ago, when I started to notice how heavily inflected by imperialistic worldviews it all seemed to be. The Bloodprint, which draws on Islamic art, culture, and history, is a refreshing reminder that there’s nothing inevitable about Eurocentric fantasy stories. I’m thrilled to see Ausma Zehanat Khan branching out from mystery into fantasy, and I’ll look forward to reading more in this series.

Something on Sunday, 10/8

Happy Sunday, friends! I am right now hanging with my sister, the coolest and bravest lady on earth, and drinking fancy coffee from her confusing coffee maker. Later we are having scones. Tell me what’s going on with you this Sunday!

Touched by:

This thread by my pal, literary webseries pusher, and Women in Translation Month founder Meytal (at Biblibio).

Happy about:

I got a new watch with a verrrrrry thin band so it sits between my wrist bone and the base of my thumb, and every time I check what time it is, I feel like Lauren Bacall.

Also! I have been complaining pretty regularly about the absence of a full The Last Jedi trailer, but Mark Hamill as good as promised we’d be getting one tomorrow, October 9th. THAT IS TOMORROW AND I AM SO EXCITED.

Inspired by:

these three children’s book authors canceling an appearance at a Dr. Seuss museum on account of a racist mural. It is good to see people standing up for kids and doing the right thing. The museum has since said they will be removing the mural (although it would have been best if they’d removed it when the authors asked them to, not when they got all the negative publicity).

Self-cared for:

My sister said, “Here, try this weighted blanket!” so I lay down and put the blanket on top of me and I was like “I am compressed! But I don’t care,” and then I lay there for a bit longer and I was like “I am compressed! Actually this is kind of okay,” and then I lay there for a bit longer yet and I was like “Huh I prefer not to get up, maybe ever.” So there you go. Weighted blankets. It was too weighty to sleep under, but if you are experiencing anxiety, as who is not?, perhaps consider a weighted blanket to assist you.

Tell me about your Something on Sunday, friends! I confess I did not get the linky-loo working yet, and I may not have it working for next Sunday either because I have a very busy week this week BUT hopefully we will have it all set for the Sunday after that. I AM SORRY and hopefully you still love me.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep. 90: Forgotten Children’s Books and Watership Down

In the midst of strife and terror, Whiskey Jenny and I return to old favorites. This week we’re talking about children’s books that we love that an insufficient number of other people do, and then reviewing Richard Adams’s classic book Watership Down. We have a lot of feelings about Bigwig. Maybe we tear up a little. Who’s to say.

Watership Down

You can listen using the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Here are the time signatures if you want to skip around!

1:23 – What We’re Reading
4:35 – Serial Box Book Club: Episode 2 of Geek Actually
16:17 – Rescuing children’s books from obscurity
32:15 – Watership Down, Richard Adams
58:35 – What We’re Reading for Next Time!

Umami

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour

Something on Sunday

Okay, y’all, we’re trying this out! Per my post from last week, I want to take some time on Sundays to talk about things that kept me moving forward or gave me some joy. Tweet at me or link your posts in the comments, and I swear that next week I will have a proper Mr. Linky for your use. (I have encountered technical difficulties.)

Proud of:

I convinced two more people to try out the life-changing packing cubes (and perhaps other products!) of Ebags Dot Com, who somehow have still not given me an endorsement deal. I also received some wonderful advice for off-label use of packing cubes in long-term storage situations. God I love packing cubes.

Enjoyed:

Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail, by Marcus Rediker. Turns out this dude’s not just coasting on his reputation as the foremost maritime historian of our era. His books are legitimately really good: well-researched, informative, and entertaining.

Charmed by:

My sister and my baby nephew were at the coffee shop, and the baby was flirting — as he does — with everyone in line. When it came time to pay for her tea, my sister started trying to juggle the baby and the baby bag and her purse to fetch out money to pay for it; and the lady behind her in line said, “Hers is on me. I remember what that was like.”

Happy about:

Duolingo revamped their interface and I like it so much! I’m learning Spanish and feeling fancy!

Tell me about your Something on Sunday, friends!

KJ at owlmoose
Iz at Wright Here Reading
Sharlene at Real Life Reading
TJ at My Book Strings
Jean at Howling Frog Books

I’m Actually Really Anxious about Saturday: A Links Round-Up

Hi friends it is Friday but I have a Thing on Saturday that I’m terrified about, so Friday is no relief to me at all. Come Saturday night I will be relieved, and then not too long after that I have a vacation, and that will be very lovely indeed. In the meantime, have some links.

Mallory Ortberg’s piece about trying a binder for the first time is immensely lovely and moving (though also quite melancholy).

On Hemingway tourism in Cuba. Oh Hemingway. What a poop he was.

Deji Bryce Olukoton writes on the future of Nigeria and Nigerian science fiction upon the release of his debut novel, After the Flare. Sounds excellent!

Signature Reads pairs Tarot cards with books! It’s so in my wheelhouse!

What it’s like to have books that represent you (versus books that seem to hate you or not even to know you exist).

Subway systems (surprise!) are woefully unable to provide access to people who use wheelchairs. The Guardian compares subway maps to subway maps that show only stations with disability access.

Here is a story of Oscar and Constance Wilde promoting what passed for genderfuckery in Victorian times. Bless their hearts.

Ewwwww, Jack Sparrow impersonators are constantly getting sexually harassed at Disney and on cruises. Gross. Gross. No. Ew.

Indian Country Today is closing down its operations, and we’re losing a major voice for indigenous people and indigenous news. I’m crushed.

Dit dit dit dit, this just in, Lionel Shriver is a butthead.

I will always share stories about people loving Latin. Always. Here’s one!

There was a dumb article in the New York Times about romance novels that you shouldn’t read. Instead, you can just read this response to it! (Okay, and you can read the article itself; it’s linked herein.)

Happy weekend, friends! See you here on Sunday for happy news.

Something on Sunday (a Tiny Plan)

I have been seeing a lot of sadness and anxiety in the blogosphere lately; lots of people posting that they’re struggling to find motivation and time to read or post or go blog-hopping. And on one hand, I’ve been doing this for A DECADE and that just seems to be part of the natural cycle of blogging, to have times where you want to prioritize it more and times when you want to prioritize it less or maybe even step away.

On the other hand, I suspect that the same is true for other bloggers as is true for me, which is that this administration is sapping our strength. I live in a state of constant anxiety, whether it’s over the current terrible thing that’s happening or the next thing that I know will be coming down the pike but can’t even begin to predict. I am experiencing dread regularly now, in a way that I maybe never have before, and that’s exhausting, physically and emotionally. I feel guilty that I’m not doing more in every single area of my life: not reaching out to friends as much as I want to, not managing to be a flawless professional success in the way that I want to, not doing enough politically, not reading enough or blogging enough or keeping my house clean enough–

YES YES. The list goes on.

But what I think about the internet, about blogging in particular, is that it helps me to see that y’all are still there. Humans are contagious as hell with our emotions, and it helps me to see other people out there who haven’t given up. I don’t just mean people who haven’t given up hashtag-resisting. I mean people who haven’t given up frantically, vocally loving the things they love. Doing sportsy shit with their kids. Advocating for books and TV shows that are flying under the radar. Seeking out and publishing authors from marginalized groups because they deeply believe we need those voices (hi Book Smugglers!). It helps me to see people continuing to care about stuff, at a time when the world seems like it’s trying to bash us all into apathy.

(When I was contemplating this post on Monday, I said to Alice, “Is this just going to be some sunshiny Pollyanna bullshit?” It uh it is less sunshiney in execution than it maybe was in conception ha ha thanks Trump.)

I also told Alice, fairly insistently, that it’s better to do something than nothing. Even if the something doesn’t live up to our best hopes for ourselves, it’s still something, it’s still not nothing, it’s still us trying. I have the kind of brain that wants to insist I have to be perfect or be nothing — which is a total mug’s game because you can’t be perfect, and that only leaves nothing as an option. And nothing’s like, a really bad option. So I am always having to make a conscious effort to choose something.

I’m founding a thing I shall call Something on Sundays, which will commence THIS VERY SUNDAY and will have a link-up. The only guidelines are that you write about something that kept you on your feet that week, whether that’s a person that inspired you, an action you took that you’re proud of, a book or movie or TV show that nourished your heart, a self-care strategy that worked for you, a goofy event or moment that brought you joy. Whatever it is, every Sunday, I want you to tell me something that matters to you. If you don’t have enough energy for a post, tweet it at me (you can use the hashtag #SomethingonSunday).

Cool? Cool.

Nine Questions for the Book Smugglers

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me screaming about the Book Smugglers Kickstarter. The Book Smugglers, Ana and Thea, are seeking some funds to help them publish the wonderful, diverse SFF they’re famous for. As of now, they’ve got nine days left, so we’re asking Ana nine questions!

1. What are you going to do with all this money?

A: Lots of things! The idea is to fund our next season of short stories at a higher pay rate to writers and with freelance professionals working on the ebooks to help us out. We will open a submission call for regular, paid contributors to The Book Smugglers – we will be looking for essays on SFF, Fandom, YA, Comics and popgeekery from all over the world. We also want to get a new look for the website! All with the view to prop up and give more room and visibility to diverse voices. Our mission as Book Smugglers is to discover, share, and amplify stories from diverse authors and perspectives–to make SFF fandom a more inclusive place, reflective of the world we live in (and the speculative other universes beyond).

2. What makes Book Smugglers special?

A: I truly think it’s our eclecticism, openness and true passion for good stories. From the very start we covered Romance, Urban Fantasy, Comics, SFF, YA and Children’s books on equal ground. We like to read vast and wide, and we are firm believers that a good book is a good book is a good book. We are trying to do the same in our publishing arm too – we have had YA stories and adult stories. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Noir and a lot of different things. We like to experiment!

3. What’s your favorite thing about being a Book Smuggler?

A: THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS. The reading and the getting excited when a great book comes my way, then being able to share the love with tons of people – both has a reviewer and as a publisher. In a more micro-way, one of the things I absolutely adore is to work with artists on commissioning cover art for our stories. That moment when an artist GETS IT, and you see a story you have been working on come to life in front of your eyes, is amazing.

There is another thing that I am incredibly proud of: that we are two women – a Hapa Filipina who grew up in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Japan (Thea), and a Latina and native Brazilian (Ana) who lives in the UK – who have been working incredibly hard in what is effectively a ten-year old business.

4. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since becoming a publisher of fiction?

A: Realizing that there is an actual limit to what the two of us can physically do. For the past ten years it’s been mostly the two of us doing absolutely everything. And the more we do, the more we want to do – it’s a spiral! This is part of the reason why we are doing the Kickstarter – so that we get help to do even more.

5. How do you choose the themes for your short story programs each year?

A: Thea and I are pretty much on the same wave length most of the time and it’s just super easy to come up with themes. We have two in-person meetings every year and that’s when we decide. One of us usually goes “how about… X”. The other screams: “THAT’S AN EXCELLENT IDEA”. And that’s it.

6. I have to assume you’re spending most of your time these days anxiously gazing at your Kickstarter; but when you’re not doing that, what have you been reading?

A: Right now, I am finishing Provenance, the new standalone novel by Ann Leckie, which is phenomenally fun. I just finished reading a new book by my TOP ONE WRITER EVER: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge and it was amazing too.

7. Jane Eyre or Lizzie Bennet?

A: WHAT. WHY…. OK, fine, Lizzie. Because of her sisters too.

8. Star Wars or Star Trek?

A: NOPE I AM NOT DOING THIS ONE.

9. If you get fully funded ANA WILL YOU READ THE NEW MEGAN WHALEN TURNER BOOK ALREADY?

A: Jenny, I VOW TO YOU RIGHT NOW. If we get funded, I will read the new Megan Whalen Turner IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE CAMPAIGN ENDS.

Y’all, I have been trying to get Ana to read Thick as Thieves since it came out. She is afraid it won’t live up to her hopes but it will. So please donate to their Kickstarter because you want to support diverse SFF, but also because goddammit Ana’s going to love Thick as Thieves and we all want that for her.