Emily Tesh is a previous Astounding Award and World Fantasy Award winner for her novellas, but Some Desperate Glory marks her first novel. It’s hard to believe it from the sheer scope of this space opera, diving into difficult places around indoctrination, racism, family, and personal responsibility for collective horrors. This is a dark and occasionally difficult read but brilliantly written, a slow burn that sucks the reader in then takes them on a wild ride.
All her life, Kyr has trained to avenge the murder of planet Earth. Bred for war and raised on Gaea station with the last defiant strands of humanity, she’s preparing to face the Wisdom – the weapon that gave the enemy Majoda their victory over humanity. However, when Command sends her brother on a suicide mission and her to the Nursery to bear sons until she dies trying, Kyr decides she must take humanity’s revenge into her own hands. Accompanied by her brother’s technology-whizz friend and a lonely captive alien, Kyr escapes everything she’s ever known – and discovers a universe more complicated than she ever could have imagined.
This is one of those stories its best to go into knowing as little as possible and allowing the twists and turns to surprise and shock you. It starts slowly, introducing the reader to Kyr and her world on Gaea station – and these early passages need a little bearing with. Kyr is a strict follower, obeying rules to the letter and not questioning what she’s told. Her character is intentionally inflexible, unthinklingly callous – and consequently difficult to like. Her development throughout the story is wondrous mainly due to its believability, and the challenging early passages are needed to allow this development to flourish: but that doesn’t make them an easier read.
The book is only told from Kyr’s perspective, but her supporting cast also feel well fleshed out. Tesh clearly has a strength in creating multi-layered, complex characters who are allowed to change and grow throughout the story whilst remaining true to core values.
The plot starts slowly but develops into a fast-paced ride, reminiscent of travelling along a headphone cable someone’s just pulled out of a bag: its all going smoothly, then suddenly there are knots and tangles and nothing makes sense, but with patience everything is revealed and slots together nicely. It tackles big topics including racism, fascism, and reproductive freedom, but succeeds in keeping entertainment value and avoiding feeling like its preaching. There are multiple subplots, each of which add depth and fit seamlessly into the main narrative. For those looking for romance, that isn’t really one of them – there’s both achillean and sapphic representation, but a developing relationship would be challenging with how much else is going on.
The worldbuilding is both simple and incredibly detailed. The base idea – a war between Earth and a race of spacefaring aliens, leaving small rebel faction of humanity plotting revenge on a small space station – has been done plenty of times before, but its the intricacy of this that makes it feel fresh and unique. The psychology is explored down to the minutiae, and each society introduced has believable social norms clearly influenced by the history weaved into the storyline. It doesn’t quite have the sociology of a Becky Chambers novel, but it replaces this with a widened scope and willingness to dig down into the gritty bits that her lighter-hearted novels tend to leave well alone.
Overall, this is a triumphant debut likely to perform strongly in award season – a creative tale that’s both thought-provoking and entertaining. Highly recommended.
Published by Orbit
Hardback: 13th April 2023
Thank you to Orbit for providing an ARC. This does not affect the content of this review.