People love an underdog story: A hero or scrappy gang of misfits prevailing against nearly insurmountable odds. But in Some Desperate Glory, author Emily Tesh takes this trope in a dark direction, illustrating how single-minded zealotry can spiral into overt fascism.
Some Desperate Glory follows Kyr, a girl born into an extremist human sect living on the fringes of known space. In Tesh’s universe, humanity accomplished interstellar travel and encountered the majoda, an alien confederacy ruled by an interdimensional, reality-warping artificial intelligence known as the Wisdom. Earth tore through the majoda’s military, and in response, the Wisdom had the majoda deploy a weapon that destroyed the planet. Completely broken and scattered, most of the remaining humans submitted to majoda rule.
But the people who live on Gaea Station, where Kyr was born, have dubbed themselves the saviors of humanity. Children and adults alike hone their bodies and minds in order to become the avenging angels of their destroyed planet. Joy and relaxation are luxuries, as the admirals ruling Gaea Station demand their people give everything to keep the cause alive. In their mid-teens, people are assigned to permanent roles, which can be anything from combat service, to maintenance to keep the station afloat, to bearing sons in the Nursery to keep the community supplied with soldiers. It’s as abhorrent as it is absolute, but Kyr thinks this system is righteous, a necessity of the ongoing war against the majoda.
Tesh describes Gaea Station in impressively revolting detail without losing focus on Kyr’s growth as a character. A talented and devoted warrior, Kyr finds herself at odds with her cultural programming when she is assigned to the Nursery. And after her brother leaves the station under mysterious circumstances, she defies her orders and takes off after him, a quest that thrusts her into the wider universe. She meets an alien for the first time and starts a grueling journey to peel back years of programming. As she learns more about the rest of the universe, Kyr realizes she must confront the sinister underbelly of the shiny, nationalistic Gaea Station, which is beginning to look more and more like a cult.
While heavily invested in Kyr’s personal struggle to find meaning and purpose, Some Desperate Glory is also rife with rich settings and history. The majoda are fascinatingly inhuman, composed of refreshingly distinct alien species. (Don’t worry, there aren’t any “They’re basically humans but their skin is blue” races in this story.) Tesh takes readers on a wild tour through her universe, defying any expectations they may have based on the setting and characters in surprising and unique ways.
An examination of the dangers of unchecked nationalism, Some Desperate Glory will resonate with readers looking for messy morality and antihero redemption arcs.