For everyone who is or was a queer kid dreaming of a destiny in the stars, a place more welcoming and wondrous than here—this book is for you.
In award-winning SFF writer Charlie Jane Anders’ YA debut, Tina Mains has always been destined for Victories Greater Than Death. Though she’s spent her seventeen years living like a fairly average white girl earthling, she’s actually a secret clone of the late Captain Argentian, a celebrated alien hero. She’s been living in wait for the sparkling beacon in her chest to call upon her to join the Royal Fleet and save the worlds.
When the beacon ignites at last, Tina and her best friend Rachael are whisked to the starship HMSS Indomitable. Along with a ragtag crew of some of Earth’s cleverest teens and a dazzling array of fantastical aliens, they must figure out how to fight the violent Compassion: a powerful, genocidal force led by former Fleet officer Marrant, who has a charged past with Argentian.
They were supposed to be able to restore all of Captain Argentian’s memories to Tina, but the experimental cloning process only restores her knowledge, not her emotions. She can recall alien facts and tech as she encounters them, and her muscle memory returns, but anything rooted in Argentian’s emotion stays secret. This means Tina gets to keep her own history and her own personality—but it also means she might not be able to live up to the skyhigh expectations weighing on her shoulders. With lots of help from her friends, she’ll have to learn what it really means to be a hero.
Victories Greater Than Death is a rollicking, joyous love letter to QTPOC nerds, especially those of us with anxiety, and who are figuring out how to feel at home in our own bodies. At last, at last, we get to have fun space adventures too. This is space opera at its brightest and most hopeful, even as it wrests with terrifyingly believable villains.
Full of twists and surprises, Victories Greater Than Death is crafted with care and deeply intentional worldbuilding. There isn’t a clean line between good and evil—the villains are thoughtfully, believably rendered, which makes them all the more threatening, and the heroes must always revisit their principles and power structures to ensure their actions are in the right. Anders seems to have had a lot of fun creating a vast array of alien species, including the lilac-skinned Makvarians, the bone-studded Monntha, and the furred Grattna, who have three eyes, three wings, three limbs, and use ternary logic for everything from conversations to war. The human characters too vary in ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. From the outset, this book and the worlds within it are trans-inclusive. No gender assumptions are made. Each character introduces themselves with their pronoun—except for those who don’t use pronouns—and they can include he, she, or they, as well as neopronouns, and some that are dialect- or species-specific. It reads as a very genuine celebration of difference.
Even as I delighted in the decidedly cool species reveals, it’s the teen human crew of burgeoning found family that captured my heart. Rachael, the artist; Yiwei, a creative engineer; Damini, who’s exceptional at puzzles; physics genius Keziah; and Elza, a trans girl from São Paolo who’s one of the best hackers on Earth. As the stakes soar and the story expands, they ground Tina and the reader alike. We get to know some of these characters better than others—an inevitability in the genre—but I trust that Anders will let them shine in future installments of the Universal Expansion series.
This is a vast, complicated, fantastical universe, and Anders keeps us anchored through Tina. Her experience as a clone who can access factual info about the Indomitable and the many species within it makes for a cool and accessible approach to worldbuilding—we get to learn the world as Tina remembers it. She’s a deeply compelling, imperfect protagonist. She’s not a human, but she doesn’t feel an emotional attachment to the Makvarians, so she’s an outsider on all fronts. She’s something else entirely, both and in-between. Tina was raised to believe in her great destiny among the Royal Fleet as Captain Argentian’s clone, so she initially clashes with Elza, who understands all too well that authority figures and organizations marketing themselves as any sort of “peacekeepers” are typically not to be trusted.
At its core, as most of the best scoping genre stories are, this is a story about found family and self-discovery. It’s about Tina’s journey toward finding who she is, rather than fighting to become who she thought she had to be. It’s also a sweet, tender trans f/f romance. As Tina and Elza help each other grow, it’s beautiful to watch their story unfold among the stars.
As someone who’s been consuming space opera stories my whole life, this is exactly what I want from the genre. Anders gives the Chosen One narrative a much-needed refresh. It calls to mind the tension at the center of Steven Universe, a destiny rooted in your body because of the powerful woman you come from. As fun and weird as Star Wars, as imaginative and inviting as Doctor Who, but trans and queer down to its very bones. Victories Greater Than Death subverts the conventions of the genre as much as it celebrates them. It wrests with the weight of battle and bloodshed, never losing sight of what’s at stake. It positions creatives as just as heroic, if not more so, than warriors. Anders exemplifies how to build fun, trans-inclusive sci-fi that interrogates power structures, manifests consent, and is emphatically anti-empire—challenging us to ensure that the rebellion rising to fight the evil forces doesn’t become the very thing it hates.
Victories Greater Than Death delivers an action-packed, propulsive intergalactic adventure full of heart and humor that I finally feel safe and seen within. As a queer, nonbinary, biracial, anxious nerd, I don’t have to bend over backwards to see myself as a hero in this world. I don’t have to read in the margins to see myself as someone worthy of love. We get to be the heart of the story. I’m so grateful to Charlie Jane Anders for her work. For the worlds it imagines, and the possibilities it cracks open. I cannot wait for the next installment.
Victories Greater Than Death is available from Tor Teen.
Maya Gittelman is a queer Pilipinx-Jewish diaspora writer and poet. Their cultural criticism has been published on The Body is Not An Apology and The Dot and Line. Formerly the events and special projects manager at a Manhattan branch of Barnes & Noble, she now works in independent publishing, and is currently at work on a novel.