WHAT A DEBUT! This book is confident and inventive, genre bending and thought provoking. It had all the trappings of scifi but the pacing and intrigue of a mystery; combined it made sort of a futuristic tech noir. The genre balance was particularly impressive; the way small pieces of information ended up becoming crucial felt unique for a sci-fi book, but the scale of the mystery itself fit perfectly in the space epic mode Solomon is working in. It’s a fantastic use of the antebellum era as well; not rewriting or adapting it, but letting history repeat itself, which seems easy until you read the detail they used.
However, the most impressive thing in my opinion is how nuanced they made their portrayal of Aster. Solomon tackles a lot in one character: a trauma victim, a black woman in the (new) antebellum south, a genderfluid/agender person in the future, a brilliant scientist, etc etc. It would be very easy for this character to turn into either a mess, with too much piled on and a nearly Mary Sue vibe, or a void with descriptors in place of a personality, but Solomon makes Aster’s personality convincing and endearing, without losing the emotionally stunted quality that gives so much of the book a blunt, harrowing feel.
The only clues to the fact that this is Rivers Solomon’s first books is that the prose is at times awkward, and the dialogue can sometimes feel stilted, but other than that, this is a stellar first novel and I can’t wait to see what they do next.