A Lambda Award–winning writer explores America’s dark history of brutalizing Black bodies in their latest work of speculative fiction.
Vern is a young woman raising her twin babies in a forest, dressing them in the hides of animals she’s hunted and hiding them away in makeshift shelters. Vern is being followed by ghosts and stalked by someone who butchers animals and dresses them in infants’ clothes. Both are connected to the Black separatist commune from which Vern has escaped. As a parasite takes over her body, Vern develops superhuman powers and begins to suspect that she is a test subject being used by the United States government. There’s a lot going on here—perhaps too much. The novel starts out strong; the portion of the narrative in which Vern and her children are fending for themselves in the wilderness has the feel of folklore, and the idea that she is haunted by the experience of her ancestors is evocative. As Solomon moves further into the realms of science fiction, though, their voice loses much of its force. This is surprising given the quality of the worldbuilding in An Unkindness of Ghosts(2017), a dystopian tale set on a giant spaceship. The problem isn’t that the notion that Vern is part of a secret experiment conducted on Black people is implausible—Solomon references both the Tuskegee Study and the work of James Marion Sims, a 19th-century gynecologist who practiced new techniques on enslaved women. The problem is that the concept that drives the plot for half the novel is barely developed. With almost no evidence, Vern intuits that she is part of a shocking conspiracy, and, from that point, readers are supposed to take this as a given. Instead of building a compelling case, Solomon wrestles fantastic tropes into shapes that fit the frame they’ve created without effectively supporting it.
The fictional universe Solomon constructs here is inadequate to the real-world issues they are exploring.
Sorrowland is a tremendous, riveting work, sinking long, deep roots into the nightmare soil of American history in order to grow and feed something new.” —Amal El-Mohtar, The New York Times Book Review
"Sorrowland [is] a gothic techno-thriller in which the trauma of the past is parried with defiance and a thirst for understanding, as embodied by an electrifying young hero." —Hephzibah Anderson, The Guardian
“Sorrowland is a fully engrossing story that fully embraces its characters and beautifully engages with their lived experiences of gender, queerness, disability, racialization, power and corruption, and relationship with the land.” —Sarah Neilson, Shondaland
“If you’ve read Rivers Solomon’s previous work, you’ll be familiar with their fearless explorations of transformation, identity, oppression and power, and Sorrowland continues this investigation with fantastic, terrifying sci-fi brilliance.” —Karla Strand, Ms.
“Sorrowland is a powerful story about motherhood, survival, and the cruel treatment of Black bodies.” —Taiwo Balogun, Marie Claire
“Riveting and harrowing . . . This novel vividly portrays how Black bodies have been used for unethical experiments while it also celebrates queer love, motherhood, and vengeance. It’s gorgeously written and sure to be one of my favorite books of the year.” —Margaret Kingsbury, Buzzfeed
“A story you simply won’t see coming. You might think you’ve figured out the pillars of its structure after a few chapters, or come to truly understand its protagonist after walking a few dozen pages with her, but to read this powerful, moving and terrifying novel is to enter into a constant state of change. The story envelops you slowly, like a cocoon, wrapping you in its ever-increasing depth and heart until you emerge, at the end, transformed.” —Matthew Jackson, BookPage
“Science fiction and Gothic horror collide in Solomon’s ambitious third book... Haunting and hopeful, Sorrowland makes expert use of the fantastical to hold a righteous mirror to the very real traumas visited on Black bodies.” —Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
“Solomon once again stretches the boundaries of speculative fiction in this distinct and visceral exploration of the trauma of Black and queer bodies in an all-too believable near future.” —Anna Mickelsen, Booklist
“Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon contains so much wisdom and insight, wrapped in an abundance of passion and fury and tenderness. This is the first book I've read in ages that I'm certain I will come back to again and again, because there are rich gorgeous passages that I already know will mean more to me on subsequent readings. There is so much going on in this book, too: the spectre of what happens when rebellion is co-opted, our longstanding practice of using Black bodies for cruel and unethical experiments, the audacity of queer love. The arc of this book takes Vern and her babies away from civilization and then back to it — but they return changed, and they change everyone else, and this book restored my faith in our potential to transform just when I needed it most.”—Charlie Jane Anders
"Sorrowland, from Rivers Solomon, is a fantastical, fierce reckoning. It is the story of Vern, a young girl fleeing the only life she has ever known, her abusive husband, the cult he leads, to create a life for herself and her babies. But the tentacles of Cainland, the home she left, are always following her as she grows into a young woman and something more, something terrifying and powerful that just might allow her to break free from all that haunts her. Sorrowland is gorgeous and the writing, the storytelling, they are magnificent. This country has a dark history of what it’s willing to do to black bodies and Rivers Solomon lays that truth bare in a most unexpected, absolutely brilliant way." —Roxane Gay
“Sorrowland delivers! Black Power cults. Government conspiracies. Post-Human transformations. A mother willing to defy everything and everyone—even nature itself—to protect her family. Rivers Solomon has once again created an engrossing, emotional, and original read with pages that demand to be turned. The writing is visceral and soul-clenching. The charactersbold, creative, and memorable. The action, heart-stopping. This is imaginative storytelling at its finest. Once I started, I could not put down Sorrowland until I reached the end. And then I wanted more!” —P. Djèlí Clark, author of Ring Shout
"A furious utopia. Utterly compelling, brilliant and terrifying. Sorrowland seizes the history of white supremacy, racist medical experimentation, and the dream––and danger––of the commune, and gnashes it into something magnificent and truly reparative. An epic fantasy that interweaves righteous, large-scale confrontations with power, extremely sexy and moving erotic gothic horror, and exquisite, meticulous renderings of the daily life of parenting. This is a fairy tale for adults, spangled in the wreckage of the world. A gorgeous, singular, and profound work." –Jordy Rosenberg, author of Confessions of the Fox
“Sorrowland is a wonderland of fantastical and frightening, magical and real, in a world refreshingly unlike ours, yet scarily the same. At the center of this world and leaping off the page is Vern: unstoppable, unforgettable, and unlike anyone you have ever seen before.”—Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf
“Sorrowland is a raw, powerful, and visceral read. With Vern, Rivers Solomon has created a woman who simply side-steps her damage, and level after level of difficulty—young, Black, queer, blind, alone in the woods with two newborns and pursued by monstrous government agents—to assume her own power. Nature, joy, science, belonging, human metamorphosis, generational oppression, strength, and sheer lust for life: if Toni Morrison, M. Night Shyamalan, and Marge Piercy got together they might, if they were lucky, produce something with the unstoppable exhilaration of this novel. Sorrowland is sui generis.” —Nicola Griffith
“Sorrowland is intense and raw. But in the end it was beautiful in a bittersweet way . . . This book should be read. It was truly spectacular.” —The Fantasy Inn