Charlie Jane Anders is bringing readers back to space in the second book of her Unstoppable trilogy, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak. The book picks up a few months after Victories Greater Than Death, and our group of space heroes are venturing down new paths. Rachael, an artist, finds herself feeling the intense side-effect of her encounter with an alien machine. She can’t make art anymore. At all. Meanwhile, Elza is set to become the first human to compete in the princess selection program. But during her time in the Palace of Scented Tears, she encounters an unwelcome face. Tina studies at the Royal Space Academy with the rest of her friends. And while she wears the face of a hero, she struggles to fulfill the legacy others expect of her. Soon, the trio finds themselves facing impossible situations, and they don’t know what lies ahead.
Note: This review will contain mild spoilers for Unstoppable #1 but will exclude spoilers for Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak.
One of the greatest aspects that sets Dreams apart from Victories is the rotating POV chapters. This time, Anders hands the spotlight to Rachael and Elza, with interludes for Tina. There’s a lot still happening with this story, so splitting up the POVs allows Anders to open the world, both in a physical sense and through her characters. For starters, I just loved traversing new planets with these characters, especially Wentrolo, which is central to the story. Anders’ descriptions of Wentrolo are enough to make me (and any reader) wish I could live there, too. She guides readers across the galaxy, visiting planets that each have unique and intriguing qualities. She also introduces a plethora of a new alien species that help reinforce the scope of this book.
Beyond the immersive new worlds, Anders delves into the psyches of Rachael and Elza. She does a wonderful job exploring how both girls (and the others) fit into the newest chapter of their journeys. Rachael faces a challenge that seems truly insurmountable. Her encounter with the Vayt left her unable to do the one thing she excelled at, and that’s creating art. Moreover, Rachael now holds a connection with Vayt, which has its own set of pros and cons (well … mostly cons). In both regards, Anders brings readers through the lasting trauma Rachael faces, especially as she struggles to find her place with everyone else. However, Rachael remains pivotal to the story. Through her, Anders provides more answers about the Vayt and the threat that frightens even them. Readers also see the evolution of Rachael and Yiwei’s relationship, and how it expounds on everything Rachael experiences.
Like Rachael, Anders gradually unveils new information through Elza, largely how princesses and the Ardenii operate, something that was touched upon in book 1. Readers experience Elza’s curiosity along with her and get to see more about how her puzzle-oriented brain thinks. Anders also digs more into Elza’s prior life on Earth. Her history more deeply informs her guarded, cynical nature, and it’s easy to feel protective of her. Readers see how Elza’s past causes her to be empathetic towards those who have also been ostracized. But what stood out most for me with Elza is that readers see her softer side due to Tina. The buildup from book 1 pays off so, so well as Anders explores Elza and Tina’s relationship, and it’s just so lovely. While the problems facing the galaxy stir bad memories and anxiety within Elza, Anders always ensures she has a safe place to land with Tina.
The Compassion is another standout element for me, especially with such a provocative opening for Dreams. In book 1, readers learned in general the harmful nature of the Compassion and the dangerous principles one of its leaders, Marrant, abides by. In this book, readers get to learn more about Marrant’s background. Anders also continues to explore the Compassion as she uses them to illustrate the rise of a fascist regime. While readers know that every statement spouted by the Compassion should be ignored, it’s fascinating to read how their seductive rhetoric drew in supporters who simply wanted answers. And if the Compassion gave them? So be it. Anders skillfully writes a horrible but compelling group. She highlights how desperation can get the better of people, and how that in turn can quickly lead them to retaliate against their own. It’s frustrating to read but also entirely real, and Anders doesn’t hold back.
If you enjoyed Victories Greater Than Death, you will adore Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak. Anders’ charming wit and sharp humor carries over to Dreams, providing laugh-out-loud moments of levity to break up the intensity of the overall story. Despite that, not once does she forget the massive stakes she’s laid out (and whew, are they massive). She tackles the fascist parallels in a clever and thoughtful way that also feels quite grounded. Every twist and reveal feels earned. But most importantly (at least for me), the characters undergo so much growth, and Anders doesn’t compromise their established personalities. Readers, I think, will feel even more connected to the core group as they continue to search for their purpose in a starkly human way. They experience pain and hardships, love and yearning, and they remain the badass queer space heroes that readers will gladly root for.
Anders has such a vibrant imagination that she really showcases with Dreams in every facet. She maintains the excitement she brought with Victories, building on the thrilling suspense that will lead readers into the next installment. And I, for one, cannot wait to see what’s in store for book 3.