From international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders comes the action-packed next installment in the Unstoppable series, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreakthe thrilling follow-up to her YA debut, Victories Greater Than Death.

They’ll do anything to be the people they were meant to be — even journey into the heart of evil.

Rachael Townsend is the first artist ever to leave Earth and journey out into the galaxy — but after an encounter with an alien artifact, she can’t make art at all.

Elza Monteiro is determined to be the first human to venture inside the Palace of Scented Tears and compete for the chance to become a princess — except that inside the palace, she finds the last person she ever wanted to see again.

Tina Mains is studying at the Royal Space Academy with her friends, but she’s not the badass space hero everyone was expecting.

Soon Rachael is journeying into a dark void, Elza is on a deadly spy mission, and Tina is facing an impossible choice that could change all her friends lives forever.

Dreams Bigger than Heartbreak will be available on April 5th, 2022. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


4

Dreams Bigger than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders

Rachael has never seen Kez (she/her) look so powerful. Kez always used to seem twitchy, neurotic—but now she holds her head high, even with the higher gravity in the Irriyaian Quarter, and she strides forward as if she’s thrilled to be settling a family squabble. It’s part of her ambassador training: before you can make peace between worlds, you need to practice mediating neighborhood disputes.

“Every day I get to do some good for somebody,” Kez tells Rachael as they stroll through the twisty snaggly streets. “If only my father could see me now. He would be furious.”

Rachael  nods.  She’s  barely  spoken  two  words  so  far,  but  Kez  doesn’t seem to mind that she’s having one of her extreme introvert phases.

All the buildings are made of a shimmering rock that looks like quartz, and the sunlight looks a bit redder than elsewhere in Wentrolo. Almost everyone else here is Irriyaian: tall, bulky, with bony studs coming out of their bald heads and necks, and colorful tiger stripes on their skin.

She can’t resist thinking about how she’d capture all of this, if she still had that power. The best angle to show the whole sprawling scene, the direction the light should come from. Her head starts to throb again—she cannot handle any alien visions right now. She closes her eyes and tries to think about Kez’s new gig instead.

“The only bad part is when people serve up some microaggressions.” Kez sucks in air through her teeth. “Which is . . . often. They look at me and see a ‘lesser humanoid.’”

“That sucks.” Rachael can’t hear the phrase “lesser humanoid” without hearing Marrant sneer at her and her friends on the worst day of her life.

“It really does.” Kez shakes her head. “Everywhere you go, there are hierarchies within hierarchies. You and I are at the top of one heap, simply because we have two arms and legs, but we’re also at the bottom of a different heap. It’s weird, but also strangely familiar.”

“Because you were part of the upper class back home,” Rachael murmurs. “Right. Except that everyone went out of their way to make me feel unworthy, because I was a second-generation immigrant. It does your head in.”

Rachael beams up at her. “You’re going to go home and become the most important person in human history. Those jerks can suck it.”

“They can. They really can.”

Kez obsessively checks the directions on her Joiner. Left, right, around the hairpin corner, and at last they arrive at a house made out of a curved slice of polished stone, in the old style of Irriyaian architecture (according to Kez). An older Irriyaian, with gnarled head-spikes, sits on a long bench in front of a window shaped like a peacock.

Kez holds up her golden medallion and says, “Mediator-in-training Kez Oduya, here to see Renna the Nahhi. Ummm the light of reason shines where our vision fails.”

Renna the Nahhi (he/him) is the old dude on the bench, and he’s spitting mad over a floatbeast that’s belonged to his family for generations.

The floatbeast, named Vha, used to hover over Renna’s house like a big balloon made of flesh, and provide cooling shade and delicious bloodmilk. But then Vha split into three smaller floatbeasts, which happens sometimes. One of those three smaller floatbeasts went missing for ages, until at last it turned up—and it had become part of another floatbeast, belonging  to a lady called Jyiri the Nahhi. This is the kind of thing that would have led to duels and face-painting, back in the day.

“Vha would never have abandoned me, even after splitting apart,” Renna grumbles. “Jyiri the Nahhi must have used powdered floatbeast extract to lure Vha into breaking into pieces, so she could steal the most precious part of the beast: the hindquarters.”

“So Jyiri insists that your floatbeast just divided up on its own,” Kez says. “And its—uhhhh—its butt just randomly drifted over to her farm and became part of her floatbeast, before she even knew what was going on.”

“She would say that. She lies about everything. She’s been scheming to take what’s mine since we were in school.” Renna slaps his bench, his big fish eyes glaring. “I want her to return Vha’s hindquarters to me, and I want payment for my emotional suffering and distress.”

Kez listens to all of Renna’s bellyaching as if this were a vitally important controversy. But she does keep pointing out, gently, that you can’t tell where Jyiri’s floatbeast Reo ends and the piece of Vha begins.

Rachael would not have the patience for this, not in a million years. “Can I arrange a meeting between you and Jyiri?” Kez asks at the end of Renna’s tirade. “So the two of you can try to work this out in person?”

Renna sputters for a while, but finally agrees. “Allow me to do you a service in turn: when you travel back through the Irriyaian Quarter, avoid the main gate. There could be some unpleasantness that you might wish to avoid.” He flashes a toothy grimace.

Kez just shrugs and ushers Rachael out of there.

***

As they walk back down the steep slope toward the main part of the Irriyaian Quarter, Rachael whispers, “So how exactly are you going to resolve their dispute? There’s no way Renna’s getting his floatbeast butt back. Right?”

Kez nods. “Yeah, but this isn’t about a floatbeast at all. It’s about the stuff Irriyaians always obsess over: respect, status within the Nahhi nation, and control over land. Jyiri can give Renna some clippings from her snah-snah vines, and they can invite each other for dinner. And when Jyiri’s floatbeast breaks into pieces, Jyiri can give a piece to Renna. Simple enough, really.”

“You’re good at this,” Rachael says.

They’re right near the main gate, which Renna told them to avoid. Spiky reeds grow out of the top of the arch.

Rachael can hear voices coming from near the gate, like the shrieking of banshees. Plus a loud crack, over and over, that could be some kind of alien drum or actual violence.

Kez tenses up, like this is bringing back horrible memories, and steers Rachael toward one of the side entrances. They take side streets until they’re on one of the main streets, with a clear view of what’s happening back at the main gate.

Irriyaians  wearing  black  clothing  are  shouting  something—it’s  more  a roar than a slogan. A few aliens (including a couple of “lesser humanoids”) try to come through the gate, but they get grabbed and thrown on the ground by the mob. Rachael doesn’t see what happens to them after that. Rachael and Kez sneak a bit closer.

 

JoinerTalk, Kez to Group: uh, i hate to bother you all in the middle of what i am certain is something v important

JoinerTalk, Kez to Group: but you might want to come and have a look at this 

JoinerTalk, Tina to Group: i’ll be there as soon as i can

JoinerTalk, Yiwei to Group: i’m on my way right now

 

“This shouldn’t be allowed to happen here,” Kez mutters. “I thought this was a safe place. I thought—”

Then she stops. And stares.

Near the gate is a big structure that looks like a black cake topper. In front of it stands an Irriyaian, facing the mob, wearing a black jacket . . .

with a familiar red slash painted across the chest.

“They took our people,” the person with the red slash shouts, loud enough to hear over the music. “Someone pulled our friends, our co-parents, our children, into holes that appeared out of nowhere. They were stolen, screaming for their lives, and lost forever. Nobody is doing anything. We need stronger leadership. Scratch that, we need leadership.”

“What the hell,” Rachael says. “Are they      ”

“. . . recruiting people to join the Compassion?” Kez says. “Yeah. But that’s not the worst part.”

Rachael finally gets a good view of the apex of the cake topper.

A hologram shows a recording of a Irriyaian—a kid, younger than Rachael—shouldering a ginormous weapon and shouting, “For freedom! For Irriyaia!” The kid shoots at some fire-breathing monsters, and they’re torn into bloody chunks. The kid’s shoes are spattered with brightly colored blood and guts.

Rachael stares at this young action hero: ripped clothes, gritted teeth, glaring eyes. And then she realizes who it is.

Yatto the Monntha.

The gentle soul who made Rachael feel at home when she’d just left behind everything she ever knew. Who told her that there is no greater valor than to create beauty.

“This must be one of the action movies that Yatto starred in when they were young,” Kez says.

This is way more violent than Rachael expected: Yatto shoots into a swarm of fire-breathing creatures, so their bodies are all torn apart and pieces land everywhere.

Tina comes running up. “Are you okay? What’s happen—” She follows Rachael’s gaze, and her jaw falls open. “Is that       ?”

“’Fraid so,” Rachael says. “The Compassion are using Yatto as a mascot.” “They said those movies celebrated the ugly past,” Kez says, “when Irriyaia dominated the rest of the galaxy as part of the Seven-Pointed Empire.” Rachael sways on her feet. Tina helps her to lean against the nearby wall. She keeps remembering the fire in Yatto’s eyes as they fake-murdered a bunch of creatures.

Tina  whispers  in  Rachael’s  ear.  “Listen,  I  think  something  is  coming. Something really bad.” She glances at the video of young Yatto, shooting a red-hot burst out of their cannon. “I don’t think the queen gave you that box just to help you out with your problem. I think we need to solve that puzzle soon, before it’s too late. For all of us.”

Rachael pulls the red box out of her satchel and stares at it again. It’s still just a box, full of love and murder. And no answers.

Pre-order Dreams Bigger than Heartbreak—available April 5, 2022!

Social Share