Review of Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh
Some Desperate Glory
by Emily Tesh
Are we the baddies? is one of my favourite tropes in fiction. Emily Tesh plays this trope straight to great effect in Some Desperate Glory. This is a story of deradicalization, and it’s one that in this day and age needs to be told. If we as a society are going to continue making progress on issues of social justice in an age where misinformation online abounds and assists in radicalizing our friends and family, we need to learn how to have difficult, nuanced conversations with people who have succumbed to such causes. This book explores that while also delivering action and no small amount of tears. Thank you to Tor and NetGalley for the eARC.
Kyr is a warrior dedicated to a cause. She is one of a handful of true humans—Gaians—left in a galaxy where aliens have destroyed Earth and dominated the remainder of humanity. Or at least, that’s the story she was told. As she approaches graduation into the ranks of Gaia’s elite warriors, the facade built around Kyr for her entire life begins to crumble, and she begins to question everything she knows. The resulting doubt will catapult her on a journey across space and time in search of what justice actually means.
I didn’t like Kyr at first. We aren’t supposed to—she is a product of a world that this bio-essentialist, rigidly gendered, homophobic, and racist. Tesh warns us of this up front with an author’s note, and I get it after reading the book. In order to truly show us the experience of deradicalizing and leaving a cult or hate group, Tesh has to show us where Kyr starts from: as someone who has internalized all these ideas because that is how she was raised, and even when she starts to question these ideas, often she still falls back on them. That, in my mind, is what makes her a sympathetic character—it’s the struggle against what she “knows” to be true because that was what she was told her whole life.
For me, the book’s brilliance is a slow burn indeed. The first part feels like a traditional tale of insurrection: Kyr wakes up, realizes she is one of the baddies, and takes it upon herself to fight back the only way she knows how. It’s the second part of the book, after a cataclysmic event and Tesh’s introduction of time/dimensional travel, that really causes Some Desperate Glory to take off. I love when a story that I think is one thing ends up hopping subgenres to become something else entirely—sure, it doesn’t always work, but when such a leap of faith lands so gracefully, as it does here, it is sublime.
From deradicalization we go to bigger philosophical questions of what it means to be human, to be sentient, and who should have the power to decide what course is “best” for the greater good. Though Kyr was definitely on “the wrong side” before, Tesh asks us if she is now on “the right side,” if there is a right side.
I’ve been watching a lot of The Flash for the first time alongside my rewatch of Supergirl, and I have to say, it’s making a strong case that time travel—at least, time travel to the past—is straight up unethical. No exceptions. Time travel is an act of hubris that asserts that you, as the traveller, have some kind of right to rewrite the experiences of countless other lives simply because you want to take a jaunt into the past. On the other hand, I wonder if my perspective is biased—no, scratch that, I know it’s biased, but I guess I wonder if that bias actually matters—because I experience time linearly. Maybe entities who see the entirety of time simultaneously do actually know better. I don’t know.
I just know that I like stories that make me think about this stuff while also giving me fight scenes and explosions. It’s why I like The Flash and Doctor Who, and it’s why I like Some Desperate Glory.
In addition to Kyr, there’s a truly interesting cast of characters, all of whom are flawed and fabulous. I love how, much like Kyr, most of them are hard to fully like—a lot of them are kind of assholes or rude—yet they are all so interesting. I really appreciate the way that Tesh sympathetically portrays how difficult it is to overcome prejudice—even in little ways, like how Kyr has to get used to using they/them pronouns for Yiso, etc. Without making excuses for people who are prejudiced, I also think we need to make space for the fact that it takes people time to work through prejudice and fear—another good example of this is Captain Shaw from season 3 of Star Trek: Picard. Tesh expertly depicts the complexity of the human experience, the ways in which we are all messy and contradictory, whether we are trying to do better or simply obsessed with power and revenge.
Then there’s the ending. Some Desperate Glory stands on its own as a novel, which I appreciate. I love me a good standalone science-fiction novel. Yet there is also room for sequels, and honestly the way it ends between Kyr and the Wisdom, that cute little conversation (and who doesn’t love a sentient spaceship with a sense of humour?) … gosh, I would read more. I’m just saying.
Some Desperate Glory is some of the most original, delightfully incisive science fiction that I have read in the past few years. I went into it expecting it to be good, to be a fun read—I walked out blown away by the storytelling, the characterization, and the themes. What a great experience.