Since the release of her novella Silver in the Wind in 2019, I’ve been a fan of Emily Tesh, so her debut novel, Some Desperate Glory, was high on my anticipation list for 2023. In this science fiction thriller, contact with aliens has happened, and it ends with the destruction of Earth. Now Valkyr is one of the few humans living in Gaea Station. The remaining human refugees have formed a militarized society revolving around surviving and getting revenge on the aliens who destroyed their world. Now Kyr, the girls of her mess she has trained and grown up with, and her brother are about to graduate and be given their mission assignments. Unfortunately for Kyr, this is when everything goes wrong.
It should be noted, as far as trigger warnings are concerned, this book has many, and Tesh presents those warnings before the novel begins. This review will discuss some of those subjects. There will also be spoilers.
The truth is, Part I of the post, set on Gaea Station, is difficult to enjoy as its setting is utterly depressing. Kyr, likewise, is wholly unlikable. She is cruel, homophobic, xenophobic, glory hungry, ignorant, self-centered, closed off, selfish, obsessed with being the best, and as her closest rival, Cleo, puts it early on, a “horrible bitch” that “everyone hates.” The only value Kyr sees in herself, and others is how useful they are to the cause. Unfortunately, the cause doesn’t help. As far as Kyr knows, all that remains of humanity is military training, eugenics, and hatred, and where women’s lives are reduced to whether they’d be better as soldiers or breeding stock. The combination of the two made sticking to the book, in the beginning, challenging, but as someone who advocates for stopping a book if you don’t like it, I’m glad I stuck with it. Once Kyr has her assignment, everything begins to change. Once the setting moves on from Gaea Station, the book hits the ground running.
It’s in Part Two and Three on Chrysothemis, the human colony planet first to surrender to the Majoda, the aliens humanity lost their war to, that my opinion of Valkyr began to change. Kyr’s utter enthusiasm for the cause is a defense mechanism to ignore everything wrong about Gaea she doesn’t want to see. Emily Tesh doesn’t change Kyr to quite likable yet. Still, through her change in environment and interactions, it’s easier to sympathize with Kyr and how brainwashed she is. She can rationalize her homophobia towards fellow Gaean, Avi, a technical genius, because she sees him as weak but has to come up with new rationales when her brother comes out to her that it’s simply “sex stuff,” not what is truly important; the mission. From Avi to her reunion with her so-called traitor sister, to the nephew whose age has implications Kyr doesn’t want to think about, to the alien Yiso Kyr doesn’t want to admit is a person, let alone accept their non-binary pronouns, red flags are littered about Gaea that make it harder and harder for Kyr to ignore. Kyr is not just a zealot but a sad teenager who has shied away from the truth her entire life because it would hurt too much.
Kyr feels like a lost cause in the beginning. It felt as if she’d never entirely break out of Gaea’s brainwashing. By part three, Kyr is standing on the threshold of understanding the truth about her precious Uncle Joel and all the adults who have turned her into an extremist for the human race. In part three, there was a growing emotional tension, a desperation for her to make that final push. There is a likable character in Valkyr, but everyone’s patience with her will vary, and I can’t argue with them if it drives them away from the book. At this point, it’s heartbreaking to see Kyr being on the verge of a revelation several times only for her to retreat into the safety of the mission, one given to her brother, not her, and one that’ll result in her death. By the time Kyr finally has her breakthrough about what Gaea has done to her, her sister, Avi, her brother, and all of those other girls from her mess, it’s too late. Everything goes completely wrong, and the book drastically changes the setting.
At the halfway mark, Emily Tesh takes the book in a bold direction. The Wisdom, the artificial intelligence that leads the Majo to what they see as the greater good, plays a pivotal role in this part. The civilization created by The Wisdom is reminiscent of Iain M. Bank’s The Culture books, a mix of sentient races and technology living together. However, the Wisdom itself plays a much more significant role in Kyr’s journey in the second half of Some Desperate Glory. Kyr gets to see the other side of humanity, the side that gave the Majo a reason to destroy the Earth. She also gets to see the other side of herself, which isn’t so different from Avi or her brother Magnus. She learns what it’s like to live where her sexuality, her training, her usefulness, or what her being a woman can do for the survival of humanity.
The book often feels at a point between a Young Adult and an Adult science fiction book. It has more nuance than is often seen in a YA book. Still, it is not quite as nuanced as science fiction can be, perhaps because the main character is a teenager, and it’s mostly told from her perspective. Rather than being black and white like most YA books, it feels dark grey and light grey but not much more complex than that. Still, its climax is a satisfying conclusion that brings redemption and a new lease on life to Kyr and many of the young people of Gaea Station.
Yes, Some Desperate Glory is about the aftermath of a war humanity lost that cost them the Earth and led to the rise of a fascist terrorist cell hellbent on revenge. However, it’s also about that what indoctrination can do to a person and the lengths to which one can lie to themselves to keep the protection that indoctrination provides for them: safety, a purpose, a meaning to their life, to feel useful, to feel needed, wanted, a place to belong, a mission that is bigger than oneself. Emily Tesh’s debut novel delivers complicated characters and fascinating science fiction technology with maybe a less nuanced plot than the subject matter deserves. Still, I have no regrets about sticking with it or with Valkyr.
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Joshua was provided an advance copy of the book by Tor books.
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