One of my most common anxiety dreams is having to do something I have already done well, but I can’t remember how I did it. I start off confident and everyone around me is confident and full of expectation. It slowly becomes clear that I don’t know what I’m doing. My panic grows as I feel everyone’s disappointment. Charlie Jane Anders turned my nightmare into the premise of a space adventure. Imagine that you grow up knowing you are the clone of an intergalactic leader and someday you will be called back to the fight, but you’re also a human teenager who can’t even protect their best friend from the bullies at school. In Victories Greater than Death, Tina is both anxious to start her destiny, but also doesn’t remember how, even when friendly and unfriendly armies arrive.
Tina believes she has a destiny and a purpose for good in the universe. Once in space, with her best friend at her side, she realizes that everything, including her very existence, is more complicated. How Tina navigates the complexity and builds a family of support is the meat of the book. This won’t be the book for someone looking for straight action.
I’m a little concerned that Victories Greater than Death is being marketed as a “romp.” It is not. It’s about the work that goes into doing the right thing, doing good without doing harm, and taking care of the people around you. There are adventures, space travels, battles, and life saving maneuvers. It does have light moments, but it’s also contemplative, gentle, and thoughtful about our choices, our inherent value, and the living with the expectations others put on us.
This is the beginning of a series and I really can’t wait to see what comes next. I grew to love these kids, outsiders on Earth who end up on a spaceship, and still outsiders.
When I finally wear myself out crying, Rachael says, “That’s the first time I’ve seen you cry since we got on this ship. I was starting to wonder if you’d had your tear ducts replaced with tiny rocket launchers.”
I laugh, and it feels good to laugh again. “It’s tough being a superhero.”
“Nah,” Elza says. “Being a superhero is easy. Being a real person? That’s hard.”
Yiwei starts playing his guitar again, some tune I’ve never heard before with a lot of high, short notes. Xiaohou chimes in with a peppy bassline. We all just sit for a while.
So much of Victories Greater than Death is about letting go of the idea of being a hero and and doing the work to be a good person. I loved it and I hope it finds its way into the hands of teens and adults who will also love it.
I received this as an advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.