There's just one week left before the release of Promises Stronger Than Darkness, the final book in my young adult trilogy, which I've been calling "Victories, Dreams and Promises."
To help get y'all up to speed, I thought I would do a rundown of the story so far, with everything you need to know before reading the third book.
Note: There will be spoilers. You probably shouldn't read any further, unless you've read the first two books of the trilogy, or you're one of those people who doesn't care about spoilers. In the latter case, I hope I do a good enough job of summarizing these hella-complicated plots that you'll feel motivated to check out the books if you haven't already.
All images below by Ines Możdżyńska.
Tina Mains found out on her twelfth birthday that she was not an ordinary human girl as she had believed — rather, she was the clone of an epic alien hero, who died before she was born. Somewhere buried inside Tina was all the knowledge and memories of Captain Argentian. (If you want to find out how the clone of Captain Argentian was left on Earth as a baby disguised as a human, and how Tina learned about her origins, I wrote a prequel short story called "A Soul in the World," which you can read here at Uncanny Magazine.)
Tina already had a ferocious appetite for justice, even before she knew about her own origins. She was the self-appointed protector of all the kids who were bullied at her school, and she never backed down from a worthy fight. But once she knew she was destined for higher things, she spent years dreaming and fantasizing about leaving home and going on an epic adventure among the stars. She and her best friend, a shy artist named Rachael, experimented to try and activate the rescue beacon implanted in Tina, which would signal the aliens to come get her when the time was right.
When the beacon finally lit up, a rescue party from the friendly Royal Fleet came for Tina — but so did a murder team from the fascist splinter group, the Compassion. (Want to know more about the history of the galaxy, and how the royal fleet and the compassion and ended up at odds? I wrote a detailed rundown.)
But when Tina and Rachael were safely aboard. A beleaguered royal starship called the Indomitable, they tried to restore all the memories and thoughts of Captain Argentian, and the procedure failed. Tina was left with the knowledge of Captain Argentian, but none of the memories or personality.
Tina was determined to send Rachael home to Earth, where she'd be safe — but Rachael insisted on staying on the ship, so she could see every amazing thing in the universe and draw all of it. Rachael even came up with a plan to recruit more human teenagers for Earth, to help keep this bedraggled starship running. With some help, she managed to locate the smartest kids on Earth: a genius hacker named Elza Monteiro, a roboticist/musician named Wang Yiwei, a physicist named Keziah Oduya, and a brilliant pilot named Damini Anand.
Soon Tina and her new friends were swept up in a race against the evil Thondra Marrant to find an ancient piece of technology that Marrant believed would turn him into a god and further his humanoid-supremacist ideology. Along the way, Tina was forced to reckon with the dark side of heroism, when she had no choice but to kill a few Compassion soldiers. Afterward, Tina broke down in front of her friends, and she kept wrestling with whether she would be able to kill again, if there was no other choice.
Elza the Brazilian hacker seriously got on Tina's nerves where her cynicism about the Royal Fleet's attempts to protect the galaxy — until Elza and Tina began developing romantic feelings for each other.
Both the Indomitable and the Compassion ships found a piece of ancient technology wrapped around two giant stars, which Marrant managed to activate — only to discover that this device did not uplift humanoids to become gods, but instead turned them into twisted pieces of a terrible weapon. At the last moment, Rachael saved everyone, taking control of the advice using her artistic ability to hijack its graphical interface.
But Rachael paid a huge price for saving the day: she lost the ability to create art, depriving her of the one thing that gave her life meaning. To make matters worse, the introverted Rachael was hailed as the galaxy's greatest hero, which meant people kept trying to give her medals.
Plus, Rachael kept hearing the voices of the creators of that terrible weapon, an ancient species known as the Vayt, in her dreams. So the Royal Fleet became determined to use Rachael to learn more about the Vayt and their ancient weapons, even if it meant dissecting the "galaxy's greatest hero." To get back her ability to make art, Rachael sought out a mysterious art teacher named Nyitha, who seemed to have some unknown connection to Captain Argentian and Marrant.
Elza, the trans/travesti hacker from São Paulo, set her sights on becoming a princess, one of seven people who wear crowns that connect them to the Ardenii, the supercomputers at the heart of the galaxy. The princesses know everything, second only to the Queen. But even though Marrant was now a prisoner of the Royal Fleet, the Queen's advisors kept bringing him to the palace to advise them on the Vayt and the unknown threat to the galaxy that the Vayt were warning against. Elza found herself in close quarters with Marrant, who seemed to be searching for something during his visits to the palace.
One of the princesses, Princess Constellation, took an interest in Elza and started giving her private lessons. But Elza soon learned that becoming a princess was a curse: princesses saw every terrible thing that happened everywhere, with no ability to do anything about most of it. Elza also learned that princesses were spies, and she ended up going on a dangerous spy mission to the Compassion's headquarters, where she discovered that Marrant was plotting something big during his palace visits — with a princess as his accomplice.
And Tina? She showed up at the Royal Space Academy, where they were pretty disappointed to find that she'd become a pacifist and was no longer willing to use the skills of Captain Argentian to fight in a war. Tina was struggling to figure out who she really wanted to be — and then she was offered a chance to turn into the legendary Captain Argentian after all. There was just one catch: for Captain Argentian to return, Tina would need to be erased, completely.
Also at the Royal Space Academy, Damini made a new best friend named Zaeta, whose species forms deep chemical and telepathic bonds with the people that they become close to. And Wang Yiwei struggled to follow in footsteps of the Indomitable's dead captain, who trained him to become a great leader.
Keziah was studying to become an ambassador, so they could make peace instead of waging war. But the Compassion launched a fascist takeover of Irriyaia, the homeworld of Kez's friend Yatto the Monntha. And afterward, Kez found themself having to negotiate a truce with the Compassion, which created a rift between them and their new Irriyaian boyfriend, an anarchist named Ganno the Wurthhi.
And meanwhile, Yatto the Monntha was horrified to discover that the jingoistic action movies they starred in were being used as recruiting propaganda by the Compassion. Yatto felt responsible for all the atrocities that were taking place, and they were determined to take back their image from the fascists.
Rachael grappled with trying to make art after witnessing some of the worst, cruelest nightmares anyone had ever endured. And Elza kept competing for a crown, even though this meant seeing all of the suffering in the galaxy. Their quests led them into the darkest places imaginable.
Rachael's quest to get back her ability to make art led her to a pocket universe, where she finally met the Vayt, the people who tried to turn humanoids into pieces of an eldritch weapon. Rachael learned that aeons ago, the Vayt were at war with another ancient species — who launched their ultimate weapon, a star-killing swarm called the Bereavement. Tina and Damini also ended up trapped inside the Vayt's nightmare dimension, where they were only able to escape by connecting Damini with her friend Zaeta in a unbreakable psychic link.
Rachael found a way to warn everybody about the threat of the Bereavement, and how to detect it, just as the negotiations with the Compassion were falling apart.
Desperate to prove their superiority, Marrant and the Compassion launched extreme measures to neutralize the Bereavement, in spite of Rachael's warnings that doing so would only cause the star-killing swarm to accelerate.
Soon, all of our heroes found themselves on board the Compassion flagship, caught in the middle of a last-ditch battle to prevent Marrant from tampering with the Bereavement.
Princess Constellation, who'd been teaching Elza everything she needed to know to become a princess, was killed in the fighting aboard the Compassion flagship, and decided to pass her crown on to Elza. But Elza hesitated, because she wasn't sure if she was ready to take on that burden after all — and the Compassion's founder, Kankakn, stole the crown for herself. Elza was forced to fight for her title.
Meanwhile, Keziah and the others desperately worked to sabotage the Compassion's attempts to shut down the Bereavement. Elza won her crown, but Marrant's plans succeeded — causing the Bereavement to go into overdrive, as Rachael warned it would. Now, every habitable star in the galaxy has only one year left to live.
The newly crowned Princess Elza was trapped on a dying starship with all of her friends. There was no way out — except that Tina still had the device that would turn her back into Captain Argentian. Tina sacrificed herself, erasing her personality and memories completely, in the hopes that the legendary hero would know a way for everyone to survive.
The gamble paid off: Captain Argentian sprung into action and found a way out. But Tina was gone, transformed into the person she had decided she no longer wanted to be.
After Elza and Rachael made it to safety, Elza was able to use the power of her new crown to help Rachael make art once again.
But there was one final horrible knife-twist: Marrant was once again captured and taken to the palace. But all that time he'd spent searching the palace paid off, giving him access to a secret failsafe that allowed him to take control of the palace for a short time. This was long enough for Marrant to kill everyone who stands against him and install himself as the new leader of the Royal Fleet.
Now Elza, Rachael, and the others are fugitives, wanted by both the Royal Fleet and the compassion, with only one year left to save all of the worlds. And their best friend and strongest fighter, Tina, is out of the picture for good. And that's where we pick up in Promises Stronger Than Darkness!
As I mentioned, Promises Stronger Than Darkness comes out in one week, on Tuesday April 11. If the incredibly clunky plot synopsis above didn't turn you off, I hope you'll consider picking it up. It's a righteous good time, and I feel like it's definitely the most fun of the three books, with the most feels.
If you pre-order Promises from Folio Books here in SF, I will sign and personalize your copy, and I will draw a terrible doodle of a cat doing whatever job you specify. Also, Folio will make a donation to the Transgender and Intersex Justice Project, which works with vulnerable trans people in prisons, jails and elsewhere, and I will match their donation.
On Weds April 12th, I'll be reading at Club Chicxulub in Oakland, and I'll probably have a few copies of Promises to hand-sell.
On Friday the 14th at 7 PM, I'm having a book release party for Promises at Green Apple Books on the Park on 9th Ave. in SF. I'll be in conversation with the wonderful Isaac Fellman (Dead Collections). This event will be livestreamed!
The following Tuesday, April 18 at 7 PM, I will be at Little Shop of Stories in Atlanta, GA, in conversation with Aislinn Brophy. RSVP is required.
On April 23 at 11:20 AM, I'll be doing a panel at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, with Tracy Deonn, Lesley Livingston, Tahereh Mafi and Dawn M. Burkes.
And on Saturday May 6, for Free Comic Book Day, I'll be at Books With Pictures in Portland all afternoon, with Becky Cloonan. Buy one of my comics, and you might get a free copy of one of my books!
Speaking of comics, if you want to get up to speed on Escapade, the sensational character find of 2022-2023, you can start with her debut in Marvel Voices: Pride 2022, which is on Marvel Unlimited. Then there are New Mutants 31-33, which are collected in a trade paperback called New Mutants Vol. 4, which also features writing by Danny Lore, Vita Ayala and Alyssa Wong, and art by some of the best artists working today. And finally, there's the new miniseries called New Mutants: Lethal Legion — the first issue is out now, and you can still get it everywhere!