Hi everyone! I hope you’re doing well! Apologies for the lack of posts recently, I’ve been reading a lot more sci-fi than I normally do, and it’s not a genre that I read all that often, so it’s been taking me longer to get through the books, but today I’m back with a book review! This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it was a lot of fun, but it also had its shaky moments!
Title: Victories Greater Than Death
Author: Charlie Jane Anders
Genre: Sci-fi, LGBT, Young Adult
Synopsis: Outsmart Your Enemies. Outrun the Galaxy.
Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’—she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic—she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.
But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed. Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachel, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.
This book has almost everything I could want in a YA sci-fi novel – a diverse cast of characters, found family dynamics, vivid worldbuilding and a sweet sapphic romance – and it’s even compared to Star Wars and Doctor Who (although I think that it is much more like I Am Number Four and Star Trek!). As soon as I dived into the novel I was drawn in by Charlie Jane Anders’ fun and witty prose and I was excited to delve further into the sci-fi world that she has created. But, I quickly found some little issues in the book, which grew to be much larger, and sadly this book just didn’t fully click with me.
Starting with the positives, though – I really loved the diversity that we had in the book! The main character, Tina, is queer and doesn’t label her sexuality (though she does say that she is attracted to people regardless of their gender) and the love interest is a Black Brazilian sapphic trans girl! As for the side characters, we have a queer Black British guy, a Chinese guy and an Indian girl. Aside from that, there are two characters that I also read as neurodivergent, particularly Rachel who (as an autistic reader), I read as being autistic! Whether or not this was the author’s aim with the character, I really enjoyed how she was characterised! Another thing I loved about the representation in the book was the positive angle that it takes towards fat people – there is no suggestion that being fat is bad, and instead shows it in a very positive light, showing the advantages of it, and I was so unbelievably happy to see that included, even if it was only briefly mentioned! Furthermore, the characters stated their pronouns (including neopronouns) when introducing themselves which, although slightly clunky at times, was a really great addition! One tiny nitpick I have with the rep (though this may have been dealt with in the finished copy) is that Yiwei was referred to using his full name – Wang Yiwei – several times throughout the book, whereas the other characters weren’t, and to me it felt like perhaps the author didn’t fully realise that Wang is his surname and by using his full name in a really conversational manner felt super clunky.
Something else I really enjoyed was the worldbuilding! It was so obvious that Charlie Jane Anders took time to fully develop this vibrant and sprawling sci-fi universe, even down to the tiny details, and for someone who’s not a sci-fi reader, this just made the story all that more engaging! I can see why, for some readers, that the worldbuilding might be too heavy, as there are a lot of different alien races, but for me, it was definitely a plus! The book was also just fun! I’ve already mentioned that the author’s writing style was fun and witty, but it was just so gripping and really drew me into the story. At times I do think it read on the younger side of YA, but that was far from being a problem, as it offered a certain lightheartedness among all the heavier topics that were discussed.
Speaking of said heavier topics, I’m going to segue into the aspects of the book that didn’t grab me as much. The book tackles some interesting topics, such as eugenics and colonisation, which mirrored our own world at times, though I couldn’t help but feeling that they were dealt with far too quickly and not in enough depth. For example, the topic was brought up to the main character but the book never divulged how this affected the planet or people in question, and it was swept under the rug so that we could have another action scene, only to be forgotten about by the end of the chapter and maybe only briefly mentioned again near the end of the book. This happened with other aspects of the book, too, particularly regarding Tina finding out more about the hero that she was cloned from. She finds out something about her ‘past’ that upsets her, and is something that would definitely take an emotional toll on you, and by the end of the chapter she was over it.
Furthermore, the book felt simultaneously under-developed and info-dumpy! Starting with the under-developed side, we have the side characters. I really could not tell you anything more about Yiwei than that he likes to play music and has a cute wee robot that he programmed, and as for Keziah…absolutely nothing! There was meant to be this whole found family aspect between the ‘Earthlings’ and I just didn’t feel it. Tina rarely interacted with the two male characters and my favourite trope felt like it was nowhere to be seen. Then there’s the sapphic relationship…oh boy! I was really excited about the relationship, as there are so few sapphic relationships with trans characters in YA, but I was sorely let down. There was no chemistry between Tina and Elza at all, as well as absolutely no yearning. It was like halfway through the book the author had flipped a switch and Tina was all of a sudden in love with Elza (and don’t get me started on the I love you not five minutes after they got into a relationship). It was just so underwhelming and I didn’t feel anything for the characters or their relationship (this also goes for the relationship between two side characters that just came out of nowhere).
And onto the info-dumpy part of the book! When Tina boards the ship, she goes through a really simple procedure to try and have the famous space hero’s memories given ‘back’ to her, but instead just ends up with all of the information that she knew, but none of it relating to her past or her home planet. So, Tina all of a sudden has all this information about the ship, about intergalactic politics and different alien races. And she loves to flaunt it! Everything about her getting all of this information felt so unnatural and convenient to driving the plot forwards. And when Tina told the other humans about a certain thing, it was info-dump central! I quickly found myself getting the alien characters’ names muddled up and I did feel a wee bit overwhelmed with all the information we were getting about some of the people and places.
Overall, though, this was a really fun read and I think that lovers of YA sci-fi will absolutely adore this book! The book was witty and the diversity was a real highlight, and I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel to find out what happens next!