The HSS Matilda is a massive spaceship that has carried a small contingent of humanity for many years away from a destroyed Earth and toward a hazy vision of a promised land. Over generations, the ship’s decks have become harshly segregated by race and prosperity, and the corrupt leadership of the upper decks has imposed increasingly cruel rules, restrictions, and forced labor on the darker-skinned residents of the lower decks. Aster is an angry and strange young woman of the lower decks who struggles with deeply rooted anger and sadness but also provides medical care to her shipmates with great skill and compassion. When the ship’s sovereign falls ill and Aster’s friend and mentor, the Surgeon General Theo Smith—a member of the leadership class—asks for her help with his treatment, Aster finds herself thrown into the investigation of a personal mystery that is deeply entwined with the fate of the ship. A seemingly inexplicable link between the sovereign’s illness and her mother’s suicide 25 years earlier sends Aster on a dangerous search for answers that threatens to upend her understanding of herself, fuel an uprising, and open up the never imagined possibility of escape. Solomon’s characters are solid and easily likable, even when their more abrasive qualities and lack of self-reflection add exasperating misunderstandings to the plot. The HSS Matilda is a well-crafted world, and while the tyrannical regime of its leadership feels like a familiar dystopic trope, the diversity of the people who inhabit it—their various sexual and gender identities, physical abilities, and psychological burdens—is refreshingly visible and vital even as they face brutal discrimination for their differences.
An entertaining novel that does not neglect the vitality of its story while probing society’s assumptions.