Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders is the wokest space adventure I’ve ever been on and it was awesome. The book establishes pronouns for characters, celebrates gender identity and expression, displays love in all forms, and showcases a diverse cast of humans and aliens that would make the galaxy proud. And while I celebrate the inclusion portrayed in the book, I found it hard to connect with the large cast and shallow plot.
Tina Mains may look like a typical teenager, but she’s actually an alien clone of the famous war hero Thaoh Argentian. She’s living out a boring life on earth, waiting until her rescue beacon is activated. When the beacon does, it will be a day that will bring terrifying killer aliens to her doorstep in order to end a long intergalactic civil war. Tina is desperate for her beacon to activate so she can reunite with her crew and access Thaoh’s memories to end the war once and for all. Turns out, nothing is ever easy in space, especially when your human best friend decides to tag along. Tina is put to the test but finds herself way out of her element. The food is terrible, death is a very real threat, and the crew is searching for their beloved hero in a very-human looking face.
I’m having a hard time describing my experience with this book. I prefer deep, gut-wrenching, and devastating stories. So when a story tentatively scratches the surface of conflicts, I don’t entirely know how to digest it. It’s like being told the dehydrated space food tastes bad but you’re not given a chance to actually try it and see for yourself. That connection is really important for me, and without it, I’m just untethered and floating off into the stars. The book was too plot-focused, so the characters take a backseat. And thanks to the quick pacing that skims over the conflicts, I didn’t form attachments to any particular character. I enjoyed Victories enough to finish it, but I’m not particularly interested to see where the series goes from here.
Space is VAST, and so is the world that Anders created. Her imagination is boundless – aliens, cultures, planets, space tech – all of these elements in the book are fascinating and as numerous as the stars in the galaxy. However, the world was almost too big for someone like me who wants to dive in deep. Reading Victories was like looking at the galaxy through a porthole window. Not only do you view a small portion of the universe, but you’re only seeing it in a drive-by fashion, catching a glimpse of the information for a second before moving on quickly with the plot. I do formally request a guidebook and artist depictions of the universe Anders created because it was really imaginative. I can tell she crafted the details with care and flair.
Victories is a group quest adventure at heart, and the party is too large. The cast is beautifully diverse and the unique characters have interesting origins, but we really don’t get to know them. The characters only seem to exist to give agency to Tina but have no agency themselves. I think that’s what bummed me out the most because I could see the potential to explore these awesome characters but didn’t quite get there. I also found their dialogue awkward. Information, feelings, experiences, etc. would be dropped seemingly out of nowhere. And like a shooting star, it would be there one moment and gone the next as the plot carried on its merry way.
This modern space story is a colorful adventure at its core. If you’re willing to overlook some of the hiccups it can be a fun, easy book you tackle in a weekend. Victories Greater Than Death doesn’t take itself too seriously and instead encourages you to geek out and join the mission. And believe me, the crew on the Indomitable is going to need all the help they can get.