Charlie Jane Anders’ Unstoppable trilogy has officially come to close with the release of Promises Stronger Than Darkness. What started as a new romp through the universe has culminated in a tense, action-packed, and thrilling conclusion about an unlikely band of heroes who face their biggest threat yet.
Promises picks up shortly after the end of book 2, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak. The Bereavement is fully underway, meaning all life-bearing suns in the universe have less than one Earth year until they burn out completely. As if that wasn’t already stressful enough, Tina is gone, replaced by her predecessor Captain Thaoh Argentian in a last-ditch effort to protect her friends. Now, the two people closest to Tina – her best friend Rachael and her girlfriend Elza – must keep everyone together. So, with one clue in tow and the reluctant help of Captain Argentian, Rachael, Elza, and the rest of the crew set out to save the universe.
With a new, even greater challenge comes a necessity to approach it with new solutions. Due to the Bereavement, Anders’ characters find themselves a position they haven’t quite had to face yet – what they should and shouldn’t sacrifice for the greater good. In the previous books, they haven’t had as severe a moral quandary; they knew what they stood for, and they refused to waver. This time around, Anders raises questions about when it’s time to shift those beliefs, even if minimally. As such, they face different, more immediate pressures. However, the story only ever sets them at the precipice. They never really teeter over the edge. Rather, Anders focuses on the conversations around it, instead reiterating that a better solution can (almost) always be found.
On that note, Anders uses some new POVs to bring an understanding to different characters and their respective cultures. Those chapters specifically build upon the aforementioned pressure. One character in particular (if you know, you know) previously struggled with their image being twisted in the name of the “greater good.” The faith of their people – and their faith in themself – was rocked. In Promises, Anders gives them an avenue to rectify a least a small part of what went wrong. She ties this into a second character who carries just as heavy a burden for fire people. Both cases only serve to emphasize the severity of not only the Bereavement, but Marrant and the Royal Compassion’s dangerous and hateful rhetoric.
Speaking of Marrant, as with everything else in Promises, Anders ups the ante of not just his words, but also his actions. With literally everything at stake, he lays everything out in no uncertain terms. Something that stood out to me was the inclusion of the word “cleansing” as Marrant moves forward with his plans. While I won’t spoil the context, the usage speaks for itself, especially given what readers already know about Marrant from earlier in the series. It brings the sci-fi world of the story into a striking, grounding reality. Marrant is a genuinely terrifying villain, and Anders uses that to her advantage in a poignant way.
Like its predecessors, Anders brings a strong story to the table with Promises. It’s just as rich and imaginative, with a magnetic universe filled with wonder. With each book, Anders continues to showcase her prowess as an author, and especially an author in the sci-fi world. In Promises, she maintains every familiar trait from the prior Unstoppable books but builds upon the story in fresh ways.
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Ultimately, Anders’ series is an undeniable celebration. And it’s thanks to the Unstoppable crew. They have faced so many trials, tribulations, and growth, but one thing remains absolutely certain with every book in the trilogy: they are the delightfully weird, creative, and endearing characters readers have come to know and love. In Promises specifically it’s difficult for them to see the silver lining – and can you blame them? They face obstacles at virtually every turn – even up to the very end – but Anders doesn’t leave them hopeless. She instead uses their weirdness, their creativity, and everything else that makes them unique to keep the flame of hope alive. She offers up one more journey with these characters that remind all the weird, creative readers out there that they’re worthy of being heroes too.
Promises Stronger Than Darkness is available now online and in stores.