Dreams Bigger That Heartbreak by Charlie Jane AndersDreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders

Dreams Bigger That Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders “Knowledge is ugly, and that’s why we wear cute dresses and eat cake.”

As with most second books in a trilogy, things are bad, teetering on the precipice, by the end of Charlie Jane Anders’s second YA SF book Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak (2022). Our stalwart band of earthlings are not giving up, however, even in the face of injury, doubt, and a devastating loss.

In Victories Greater Than Death, Rachael, the artist, used her talent to activate an ancient weapon and stop Marrant, the military leader of the Compassion, from completing genocide. As a result, Rachael has now lost the ability to draw. Tina, raised as a human but in fact a clone of a powerful warrior named Thaoh Argentian, is at the Royal Fleet academy, where she faces resentment and disapproval (and worse) for being herself instead of the military badass everyone wants her to be. Elza has been recruited to compete for a position as a princess — a job much different from what Disney shows us.

Meanwhile, Marrant, who was vanquished, is clawing his way back into power, aided by sympathizers who agree with his desire to exterminate every race that isn’t bipedal and symmetrical. We finally meet Kankakn, the founder of Compassion, who is horrifying in her certainty, envy and arrogance. And Marrant helps activate the Bereavement, a doomsday weapon left by an ancient race called the Vayt, and no one knows how to stop it.

The stakes are high and the action exciting. Anders unfolds more of the universe she showed us in the first book, and in particular I liked learning more about the Arenii. Being a princess in this universe is not just “wearing cute dresses and eating cake,” it is a heartbreaking business.

On a personal note, when Rachael confronts the Vayt and asks a specific question about the loss of her art, their answer sent a chill down my spine.

I loved the plot and the way the story sets us up for the final book, but I want to devote some time to the characters and some social changes Anders creates here. In particular, this society observes two social customs; honoring people’s pronouns, and getting consent before touching anyone. Anyone, ever. These are not set up as showcases, they don’t create a plot point; Anders perfectly weaves these changes into the story. Generally, then, everyone functions at a higher level of respect than we currently do. Anders does not idealize these changes, nor her characters. Rachael’s boyfriend Yiwei loves her and wants to support her. He keeps assuring her that her art will come back, and reminds her what a hero she was. He sees this as being helpful. To Rachel, it’s even more pressure, an expectation that she must be a hero again. Every time he tells her that her art skills will return it triggers her fear that they never will. Tina keeps a secret from Elza, thinking it will reduce her stress — but Elza sees it as a lack of trust. Kez experiences jealousy when Damini bonds with a member of a different species. Intellectually, Kez knows that the other species views certain bonds very differently from humans — but Kez is trapped in an either/or way of thinking and can’t help withdrawing from the person Kez loves.

This makes our band of protagonists seem like real people, struggling with real relationship problems while also trying to save the universe. That’s a tall order and Anders nails it.

All this is before I even mention the wit, the inventiveness of the various worlds, and the banter. I highly recommend this one. You should definitely read Book One first.

Published in April 2022. From the international bestselling author of All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders, comes Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, the sequel to Victories Greater Than Death in the thrilling adventure Unstoppable series. They’ll do anything to be the people they were meant to be — even journey into the heart of evil. Rachael Townsend is the first artist ever to leave Earth and journey out into the galaxy — but after an encounter with an alien artifact, she can’t make art at all. Elza Monteiro is determined to be the first human to venture inside the Palace of Scented Tears and compete for the chance to become a princess — except that inside the palace, she finds the last person she ever wanted to see again. Tina Mains is studying at the Royal Space Academy with her friends, but she’s not the badass space hero everyone was expecting. Soon Rachael is journeying into a dark void, Elza is on a deadly spy mission, and Tina is facing an impossible choice that could change all her friends lives forever.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.