Content notes for Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders: references to and descriptions of bullying, fatmisia, child abuse (all in the characters‘ pasts), violence and death, trauma, brain washing/distortion of memories
- The main character‘s best friend was bullied out of school and they talk about this several times throughout the novel – she is also self-conscious about being fat and socially anxious
- One of the side-characters makes references to his abusive, narcissistic father
- The space people are at war, so there are some armed conflict scenes and a lot of character death, plus genocide is an important topic
- One of super-powers of the BBEG is that he taints the memories of those he killed, so there are a few cases where the characters lose someone they were close to only to start thinking of them extremely negatively
Representation: queer main, a lot of queer side characters (main love interest is a bi/pan trans girl, there are gay and non-binary characters, many of the alien societies are queernorm), of the five humans in this two are Black (Black Brazilian & Black British) and two are Asian (Indian & Chinese), one of the characters is fat and has social anxiety or something along those lines
Ages ago I read Charlie Jane Anders‘ first novel and the only thing I remember about it now is that I did not like its prose. Still, when Victories Greater Than Death was recommended to me, I took a look at the reading sample and decided to give the novel a try. And I‘m really glad I did, because I enjoyed this SciFi adventure immensely!
The story is told from the point of view of Tina – the clone of an alien space captain whose heroic death in battle made her somewhat of a legend. Tina, however, got injected with some DNA, so she would pass as human, and dumped on Earth as a baby, so she would be out of harm’s way. She grows up knowing that she has a rescue beacon inside of her and dreams of the day the aliens will come to pick her up, so she can finally go on to fulfill the amazing destiny she was born to. But when the day comes and she – and accidentally also her best friend Rachael plus four other human teens – are whisked away from Earth by the Royal Fleet, it doesn‘t take long for Tina to realize that this whole adventure might not turn out quite as she had thought it would.
For one, the entire thing almost immediately turns out to be far deadlier than Tina had realized – even though her mother warned that some aliens would try to hunt her down as soon as her beacon activates, she had no clue about the full extent of the war that’s raging between the Royal Fleet and their radical splinter group, the Compassion. She also comes to realize that she has no idea about how to fill the shoes of her heroic predecessor. But maybe she doesn‘t need to. Maybe being Tina instead of Captain Thaoh Argentian is okay – after all, it‘s definitely hard enough.
I really, really liked the characters in this novel. Well, maybe apart from Tina, whom I found somewhat exhausting. But I loved Rachael and the misfit crew they get together and their whole found family vibe. I felt like some of them didn‘t get as much of a chance to shine yet but since there will be two more novels in the Unstoppables series, I hope they‘ll still get it. Apart from the five humans and Tina we meet a variety of alien creatures and it‘s so interesting to see how they all interact and the relationships they form. However, since the story is told from Tina‘s POV and she has known about aliens forever and also regains some of Captain Argentian‘s memories early on, there isn‘t much shock when Tina and thus the reader meets a new kind of alien.
Instead, and I really liked this, as Tina retains Captain Argentian‘s encyclopaedic knowledge about all things space and alien, she turns into „Space Wikipedia“ and offers facts and background information to the reader and her human companions. It‘s a nice way to get a lot of info dumps and world building done without them being too obnoxious. Also, Tina and her friends actively acknowledge that sometimes it‘s rather annoying or impractical for her to spout random trivia, which makes these info dumps feel more like an organic part of the story.
Obviously, Tina‘s knowledge also plays an integral part in establishing the novel‘s world building. And I very much enjoyed this world. There‘s a lot of stuff in there that reminded me of Star Trek and Co. But the thing I liked most – and that is also a central aspect of the story – is how they have to examine all the beliefs the Royal Fleet is built on. For the Earthlings, as Tina and the human teens call themselves, this isn‘t that difficult – after all they bring with them an outsider‘s perspective, but for Tina this obviously collides harshly with her inherited memories. I would have loved to see this conflict explored further in the aftermath of the action happening in Victories Greater Than Death, but even so it was nice to see how they actively questioned something like „oh, most aliens are humanoids, it‘s just coincidence“.
The one thing I really didn‘t like about Victories Greater Than Death? Tina‘s attitude to pretty much anyone. This includes the way the novel dealt with the trauma of anyone who isn‘t Tina. Each of the humans the Royal Fleet more or less abducts from Earth comes with a bunch of trauma – be it Rachael‘s experience with being bullied out of school or Keanzie who gladly fled into the unknown just to get away from his father or really any of them, because they just left behind everything they‘ve ever known and unlike Tina they hadn‘t been looking forward to a space adventure for years. And because the novel is told through Tina‘s POV, the fact that almost no time is spent on resolving or at the very least examining the other characters‘ trauma makes her seem like a very callous and aloof person at times.
However, as Victories Greater Than Death is only the first novel in a series of three (or something like that?), I am very much looking forward to seeing more of the Earthlings and really hope that we will see their relationships develop further. Luckily, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak will be out in April next year and seems to be told from the perspectives of not just Tina but also two of her friends – yay!
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