Review copy provided by the publisher. Also, the author and I are pals in part because we share an agent.
The first page says: “Some Desperate Glory contains sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist and ableist attitudes, sexual assault, violence, child abuse, radicalization as child abuse, genocide, suicidal ideation, and suicide.” Friends, Emily is not kidding about this list. She’s not doing it to shock, there is literally nothing of epater les bourgeois here. But if you are thinking, haha wow, that’s a long list, probably some of it is a bit glossed over: not really, no. I recommend this book, but not on a day you need rainbows and bunnies, because those are in short supply here. The genocide in this book is space opera genocide, except unlike many space operas with genocide, Emily never forgets that it’s still genocide. And she’s not going to let the reader forget either.
So what is it, other than the content warnings. It’s a space opera about humans traumatized by the destruction of Earth, eking out their existence and training for vengeance on the aliens who destroyed it. (Because apparently for humans destroying Earth is like hitting your little brother: you do it yourself all the time but get really mad when someone else does. Ahem. Anyway.) Valkyr was born into this tiny, militaristic culture. She has drunk in every part of it. She is going to be its perfect representative. She was literally born for this.
Or so she thinks. Until her ideas of what the people around her are doing and how they should be treated keep getting upended–not because she’s a nice person, because she is absolutely not. Kyr is a great big jerk with all the certainty of a 17-year-old who hasn’t experienced any world outside her tiny space village/barracks. But because some of the things she knows to be true are put in contradiction to each other. She meets an alien. She and her brother both run into adulthood hard and the fallout is…literally explosive.
Sometimes if you’re raised in a deeply sexist culture, there’s a part of you that thinks, deep down, that sexism is because girls are less worthy. That’s the entire message you’ve been steeped in, sometimes it’s hard to get all of it out. And one of the things Emily gives us with Kyr is a heroine whose solution to this has always been to just be good enough…and to run her into that wall, that giant unforgiving wall that says, you don’t matter, all your achievements don’t matter, because this is what they believe about women, you cannot Not Like The Other Girls your way out of sexism, it doesn’t work that way, that’s not why sexism exists. And for me that was one of the hardest parts. And also it was one of the most beautiful parts.
What else is there, there’s a lot else, there’s a galaxy-spanning computer and various aliens and people getting to say exactly what they think to the people they’ve known for years, there are fight scenes and first dates and snark in its place but only in its place. There are family members who manage to care about each other despite differences so deep as to be basically incomprehensible…until they aren’t. There are bits where people are better than you think and bits where people are worse than you think. This is not a book that leaves anything for the swim back, and I love it for that.