Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
2021’s Victories Greater That Death is the first book in Charlie Jane Anders’s new Young Adult space opera series, UNSTOPPABLE. The book is filled with smart, heroic young people, extraterrestrials, space adventures, horrifying villains, bad food and plenty of relationships, as six Terran humans get pulled up onto The Royal Fleet warship Indomitable. The Royal Fleet is smack-dab in the middle of a war with a faction that calls itself Compassion. If you’ve read Anders before, you know that name means nothing good. Within the book, a clue is in the name of one of their ships, Sweet Euthanasia.
Tina Mains is a California girl and a true Chosen One with an extraterrestrial homing beacon in her chest. When it activates, a starship will come and take her away from earth. Tina knows this because her mother told her. Tina is one of the rare YA protagonists with a clued-in and supportive mother. Her mom has told her everything; people brought her to her mother as an infant, explaining that the baby was the result of a genetic experiment, basically the clone of a war hero, with some human DNA blended in. The human DNA, and her placement on earth, was meant to hide her from Compassion, which would kill her.
Now fifteen, high-schooler Tina hangs out with her best friend Rachel, helps with demonstrations against social injustice, and confronts bullying and intolerance. She also tries a number of increasingly risky things to activate the beacon. When it does finally activate, the beacon alerts Tina that not one but two ships are coming to her location — and one wants to kill her.
From that moment on, as Rachel and Tina are whisked up onto the ship via the best space travel device ever, the orbital funnel, the action almost never stops.
The crew of the Indomitable ask Tina if they can do the procedure that will revert her to Captain Argentian, the person she was cloned from. Tina agrees, but the procedure doesn’t work completely. While having none of Argentian’s memories, Tina does have her knowledge about history, mechanics, food and various social aspects of the multi-system culture. When Rachel suggests that the beleaguered members of the Fleet recruit a few more kids from Earth to help them, four more join the starship.
The action is fast-paced, and first-person narrator Tina is engaging, with a narrative voice that is both sincere and funny. The conflict, or problem, is a serious one, and the violence, while not gory or graphic, is real. Characters die. Marrant, leader of the group of Compassion that is attacking them, has a terrifying way of killing people that not only reduces them to goo but literally poisons the memories of everyone who knew the dead person, so that now they think of them with disgust and revulsion. This is a terrifying weapon. As with most great space adventures, the immediate adversary is only the tip of the iceberg, as Tina and her friends discover some technology from an ancient race called The Shapers — technology that is even more awful than Marrant.
The six young people bring an array of skills to the story, some conventional (a hacker) and some not (a puzzle solver and a graphic artist). They come from all over Earth, and they learn to work together, and with the original crew.
Consent and respect are values of Anders, and she models them throughout Victories Greater That Death. The kids always ask, “Can I hug you?” and everyone, even the villains, introduce themselves with their pronouns — except for one community that doesn’t have them. I wasn’t sure about this, but honestly, having the bad guys do it too normalized it completely.
The action was great, and the stakes were real. Tina tries to do the right things. Sometimes, in a war, even if it’s not the right thing, the only thing to do is kill someone, and Tina struggles to resolve that ethical conflict in a realistic way. The book ends with the youths stopping a seemingly overwhelming enemy through teamwork and playing to their own skills, and leaves the group poised for the continuing adventure.
I liked this. I think teen readers will love it, especially young women. It’s actiony, dramatic, romantic and often funny. Share Victories Greater That Death with your teen, and then enjoy it yourself.