Book Review: Victories Greater Than Death By Charlie Jane Anders Is A Vividly Imagined Space Opera
Charlie Jane Anders has made a name for herself in the realm of genre fiction in recent years. Her novel The City In The Middle of the Night won the top prize at the 2020 Locus Awards. Her debut novel All The Birds In The Sky also won the same award, and both novels hit bestseller lists. Now Charlie Jane Anders makes the move to YA fiction with her new novel Victories Greater Than Death. It is the first book in a planned trilogy. Although it is designed for a teenage audience the novel deals with a lot of weighty subject matter. Let’s delve into Victories Greater Than Death, and discover why it’s a great read for genre fans of any age.
Victories Greater Than Death Is A Fun Action-Packed Ride For All Ages
Image via Tor Teen
A vividly imagined space opera that is perfect for fans of Doctor Who and Star Wars. Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders follows a teen girl who knows that she is an alien. Tina has long been told her origin story. She was dropped on her mother’s doorstep as a tiny purple-skinned baby. The aliens who delivered her to Earth needed somewhere safe to hide her until the day she could take up her birthright. Tina is actually the clone of a legendary alien war hero. That means there are some murderous aliens who will come after her as soon as her emergency beacon activates. Tina has spent her whole life waiting for this moment. But she’ll soon discover that the reality is far different from what she expects.
The fast-paced novel departs Earth pretty quickly. Tina and her best friend Rachel are scooped up by an alien spaceship. They find themselves thrust onto the front lines of an intergalactic war. Soon they are joined by a group of other teenage Earthlings – the best and brightest young minds that the planet has to offer. This small group will band together to fight the genocidal group called the Compassion. Along the way they also fall in love and struggle to figure out their shifting identities.
An Ensemble Cast With Unique Characters
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Anders does a great job of fleshing out the characters in a short span of time. Each of the Earthlings has a unique skill set, background, and knowledge that will be valuable in the fight to come. They are artists, musicians, and activists along with being brilliant engineers, hackers, and scientists. The friendships between the Earthlings provide a solid foundation for the story, as their relationships with one another are just as important as the fight they’ve undertaken.
It would be easy for any member of this ensemble cast to get lost in the background. But each character gets their own moment to shine. The aliens are also a diverse assortment of races that we get to know pretty well as the story progresses. It is easy to follow the characters and story without getting bogged down in the history of each race, or their physical characteristics. This is an impressive feat considering that Tina turns into ‘Space Wikipedia” after she remembers the knowledge of her predecessor, without gaining her personal memories.
Gender And Sexuality Are Important To Character Development
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There are a number of difficult topics that Anders addresses in her story in a natural way. Happily one of the topics that is not so fraught is gender identity and sexuality. Gender identity is an important element of the language, with each character introducing themselves with their preferred pronouns. With a universal translator adapting the foreign languages of the Earthlings and the aliens alike, the need to be precise is tantamount. And so we have third-gender characters, genderqueer characters, transgender characters who are all part of the story. The universal translator helps to identify pronouns to prevent any misunderstandings. Sounds like something we need here on Earth.
Image via Tor Teen
In an interview, Anders spoke about the importance of the pronouns in the story, and how it tied into her worldbuilding. She says: “It made sense that, if you had a universal translator, it should let you know someone’s pronouns. When you meet an alien, you’re not going to be able to tell what gender, if any, they might have and how they want to be referred to in the third person just by looking at them.”
Image via Tor Teen
A number of queer characters also make up the ensemble cast of Earthlings. And it is refreshing to see queer teenagers living their lives (albeit in space) and falling in love without a dramatic struggle over their sexuality. Instead the struggles that they face are tied to the larger war they are fighting, along with their own personal conflict about becoming soldiers in this war. Tina struggles with her own identity a bit. But that is due to the fact that she is a clone, and expected to live up to the great legacy of the woman whose genetic structure she shares.
Fighting Genocide In Space
In Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders the antagonists are a group called The Compassion. A bit of a misnomer since they don’t really have any compassion for others. This group is a collective of aliens who are dedicated to wiping out races that do not appear humanoid. They draw inspiration from another group of aliens who meddled in planetary development in the distant past. That group helped boost humanoid races, while trying to eradicate any races with too many arms, tentacles, or who were just shaped differently. The real-world parallels with genocide, racism, and xenophobia are very clear. Fortunately all of the Earthlings in the group are teenagers who are open-minded and accepting of the weird and wild space they’ve entered. They are all horrified by the genocide of these non-humanoid races and dedicate themselves to the fight for alien autonomy and equality.
Despite the heavy themes, Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders is brimming with hope and optimism. The space battles are fast-paced and extremely fun to read. The characters are all compelling, with unique personality traits that make them stand out on the page. The story never gives into darkness and despair. Instead the Earthlings keep each other sane, and still manage to have some light-hearted fun along the way.
Here’s Hoping We Get An Adaptation of Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
Image via Tor Teen
The writing style of Victories Greater Than Death is also extremely visual. Anders goes to great lengths to describe the aliens, along with the sophisticated spaceships and diverse worlds. The story draws a lot of influence from comic books, along with other genre media. In fact it seems like this story would be ideal as a graphic novel. And the story is just ripe for adaptation on-screen. I would love to see a television show come from this story. The ensemble cast and the highly visual nature of the story would lend itself perfectly to the screen.
Victories Greater Than Death is the first book of the Universal Expansion trilogy by Charlie Jane Anders. It is out from Tor on April 13, 2021 wherever books are sold. We are definitely looking forward to seeing what will come next for Tina and her friends in future installments. And keep an eye out for our upcoming Q&A with author Charlie Jane Anders who will also be appearing on a special episode of the Comic Years podcast in June.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.