Promises Stronger Than Darkness

Let us recap. The Unstoppable series by Charlie Jane Anders is space opera, but it is not your father’s space opera. Iain Banks would never have called a starship, Undisputed Training Bra Disaster. Nor, after successfully blowing an enemy starship to atoms, would a group of Culture heroes engage in a lengthy debate as to whether their actions were morally justified, and who should be held responsible for this war crime. Queer YA space opera is, in some ways, a very different beast.

In others it is the same. Tina Mains and her gang of teenage misfits are on a mission to save the galaxy from an evil mechanism called The Bereavement which is in the process of eating every star, thereby ending all life.

Elza, the Brazilian Travesti who is Tina’s girlfriend, has finally achieved her ambition to become a Princess, only to see the evil Marrant depose the Queen and banish Elza from the Princess Corps. Marrant seems to become more and more like Elon Musk with every appearance. He’s horribly sulky, and doesn’t care what happens to the rest of the galaxy as long as he stays in charge of the remains, and he gets to carry out his racist pogrom of all non-humanoid people.

Oh, and Tina is dead. That is, her body has been taken over by the spirit of Thaoh Argentian, the Makvarian starship captain of whom she is a clone. Of course this is space opera, so telling you that Tina is only temporarily dead is no spoiler.

With Tina thus inconvenienced, it will fall to the introverted artist, Rachel Townsend, to provide leadership, and to help Elza over her imposter syndrome. Delightfully, Rachel creates a Tactical Ballgown for Elza, which is kind of like an Iron Man suit but pink and for a Princess.

Thanks to Marrant’s obsession with racial purity, our Earth-born heroes are going to have to spend this book leaning to become good allies to non-humanoid races. Anders does a good job of this, giving a staring role to the beetle-like Wyndgonk. There’s also a major plot point that revolves around the complexity of translation.

Eventually everything has to come to a climax. Promises Stronger than Darkness is, after all, the final volume of the Unstoppable trilogy. Anders orchestrates this magnificently. I suspect that if I were to map it all out on a gaming table the timelines would not work, but that doesn’t matter in a book. The ending also has something of the air of a Star Trek episode in which Scotty tells Kirk that they only have 5 minutes before the engines blow, but Jim and Spock spend 15 minutes of screen time fixing them. This is space opera, it is the way it should be.

Also, this being queer YA space opera, the denouement is partly dependent on an army of musical monkey robots.

The large ensemble cast is a little difficult to control. In particular I felt that Damini, the Indian ace pilot, had lapsed into a trope. But that’s a very mild complaint. I will miss this charming if dysfunctional found family. Happily, Anders has left a thread from which to build a new series. I live in hope.

book cover
Title: Promises Stronger than Darkness
By: Charlie Jane Abders
Publisher: Titan
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US UK
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