Not Desperate, Just Glorious: Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

Posted 30th March 2023 by Sia in Queer Lit, Reviews, Sci-Fi Reviews / 0 Comments

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Sapphic MC, achillean secondary characters, nonbinary aliens
PoV: Third-person, past-tense
Published on: 11th April 2023

From Astounding Award Winner and Crawford Award Finalist Emily Tesh

"Masterful, audacious storytelling. Relentless, unsentimental, a completely wild ride."—Tamsyn Muir

While we live, the enemy shall fear us.

Since she was born, Kyr has trained for the day she can avenge the murder of planet Earth. Raised in the bowels of Gaea Station alongside the last scraps of humanity, she readies herself to face the Wisdom, the powerful, reality-shaping weapon that gave the majoda their victory over humanity.

They are what’s left. They are what must survive. Kyr is one of the best warriors of her generation, the sword of a dead planet. When Command assigns her brother to certain death and relegates her to the nursery to bear sons until she dies trying, she knows must take humanity's revenge into her own hands.

Alongside her brother’s brilliant but seditious friend and a lonely, captive alien, Kyr escapes from everything she’s known into a universe far more complicated than she was taught and far more wondrous than she could have imagined.

A thrillingly told queer space opera about the wreckage of war, the family you find, and who you must become when every choice is stripped from you, Some Desperate Glory is award-winning author Emily Tesh’s highly anticipated debut novel.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~Kyr that is NOT how friendship works
~or mentoring
~listen to the alien sweetie
~two things will survive the apocalypse: cockroaches, and That Fucking Guy
~humans are the monsters of the universe

When I first read Tor’s sneak peek of Some Desperate Glory, I decided that this book wasn’t for me. The opening chapters introduce us to the kind of ick dystopia designed to make me rage, and it’s been a while since I enjoyed reading that kind of thing.

So I put it down and walked away.

…The thing is, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Some Desperate Glory opens with Kyr – the best soldier in her cohort – waiting for the assignment that will determine her future. In Gaea, a tiny space station, you don’t pick your own career; it’s chosen for you, and if you’re a girl, there are plenty of reasons to worry about what your assignment might be. Women are assigned to combat (the most-honoured sector) less often than men, and they’re the only ones ever assigned to Nursery, where your job is to be sexually available (to men) and constantly pregnant. Women never make it to command roles, it’s illegal to be queer, and the entire community only exists as a sort of terrorist commune, out for revenge on the aliens who destroyed Earth a generation earlier.

Can you see why I didn’t want to keep reading? It’s not that any of this is poorly written, but it felt like a dystopia designed to make me angry, and I just didn’t want to deal with it.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, because the worldbuilding – the structure of Gaea – makes no sense. It niggled at me. The story Command is telling – that people like Kyr are brainwashed with – doesn’t match up to the reality of life on their middle-of-nowhere space station. For example, a huge amount of the combat training is built around hand-to-hand fighting. But this is a sci-fi setting way off in our future – ‘battle’ means space ships firing at each other, not wrestling. Which means your hand-to-hand skills are completely irrelevant. The training simulators ought to be about piloting and running a warship, and space tactics – but they aren’t. In fact, no one learns anything about ships until they are assigned to Combat. Physical strength shouldn’t mean much in a setting like this, but instead it’s held up as one of, if not the most important quality a soldier can have. We outright see a tactical genius being mocked and dismissed, instead of recognised for his ability, because he’s a nerd rather than a jock – even though his skills are the ones that really ought to be priceless in this set-up.

What the hell is going on?

For that matter, why this whole thing of women being lesser? The justification for that is, again, that women aren’t (generally) as physically strong as men, but that shouldn’t matter here. There’s no reason Combat and leadership roles shouldn’t be split about 50/50 in this setting – and they aren’t. And if Nursery is about making sure humans don’t die out, with each pregnancy supposedly a carefully decided match of bloodlines – then why are visits to Nursery used as a motivating reward for male soldiers? Why even have sex, rather than the much less complicated method of insemination?

Why are creepy old men putting the prettiest teenagers in Nursery and then pretending they don’t know about the assignment that they signed off on?

And the thing is, none of this reads as though Tesh has messed up and made a mistake. The worldbuilding doesn’t make sense, but it feels deliberate. Tesh knows it makes no sense. It’s all on purpose, and we’re meant to, if not break it down and write pages and pages of analysis like I did, at least be left uneasy at the dissonance we can’t help but pick up on.

Basically, I needed answers. That’s what made me push through this horrible, gross cult Kyr has been raised in. Was the Earth even destroyed at all? If it was, was it actually the aliens, or was it some terrible last-stand type call made by humans? Even if it was the aliens, was it on purpose? Gaea Station is so incredibly fucked-up, the dissonance between the story Kyr was raised on and the reality around her so intense, that Tesh had me questioning everything. I can’t remember the last time a book had me this suspicious, this braced for a gotcha! moment that would upend all that had gone before.


This is really only the smallest part of Some Desperate Glory, though; Kyr’s time on Gaea Station is the shortest part of the book. But I’m hoping that showing you how obsessed I got – with just this small part of the story! – gives you some idea of how much this book just GRABS you. Some Desperate Glory is not just a book that you can’t put down; it’s also one you can’t stop thinking about, both while you’re reading and after you’ve finished it. Honestly, my biggest frustration with it was that I was reading it early – so I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it! Because this is very much a novel that you want all your friends to have read so you can debate it and analyse it and shriek over it in a group, at two in the morning, when you’re all just manic and wired and flaily enough to tackle the issues this book raises head-on.

Because there’s a lot of them. I’m not going to talk about the plot, because you really should get to enjoy every twist and turn for yourself without spoilers, but Some Desperate Glory goes hard. It’s a book that asks incredibly difficult questions without trying to offer easy answers – honestly, most of the questions are left open, for us to try and figure out on our own, which personally I think is the best approach to issues this emotional and complicated. Fundamental to Kyr’s entire existence are questions like–

When are you supposed to let go of terrible things that have been done to you? Ever? Never?

What’s the difference between justice and revenge?

Do the means justify the ends? The greatest good for the greatest number?

Is it ever time to stop fighting?

If it is, when?

If it is, how?

Tesh has, unquestionably, written a masterpiece here. And I’m still completely stunned that this is a standalone – that Tesh manages to pack so much story into a single book, and for that book to then blaze with a glory that is not desperate in the least, but that is deep and fervent and brighter than a sun. Most authors would need a trilogy to tell the same story with half as much impact, passion, and depth, and Tesh has done it without ever making the story feel rushed or cramped, distilling the story she wanted to tell to its most potent possible form.

It’s fucking excellent. Do not miss it!

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