Author: Jonathan L Howard
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Release Date: 8 November 2012
Reviewed by: Mark Chitty
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
The distant and unloved colony world of Russalka has no land, only the raging sea. No clear skies, only the endless storm clouds. Beneath the waves, the people live in pressurised environments and take what they need from the boundless ocean. It is a hard life, but it is theirs and they fought a war against Earth to protect it. But wars leave wounds that never quite heal, and secrets that never quite lie silent.
Katya Kuriakova doesn’t care much about ancient history like that, though. She is making her first submarine voyage as crew; the first nice, simple journey of what she expects to be a nice, simple career.
There is nothing nice and simple about the deep black waters of Russalka, however; soon she will encounter pirates and war criminals, see death and tragedy at first hand, and realise that her world’s future lies on the narrowest of knife edges. For in the crushing depths lies a sleeping monster, an abomination of unknown origin, and when it wakes, it will seek out and kill every single person on the planet.
Strange Chemistry is the new YA imprint of Angry Robot, and once the announcement of it's creation was made I kept my eye on their releases, hoping to see a sci-fi YA novel that I could pick up and read. Katya's World by Jonathan L Howard is the first sci-fi release from the imprint - and the first in book in the Russalka Chronicles - and I wanted to see just what it could offer. While not quite the space opera story I was looking for, Katya's World delivered, and made Strange Chemistry an imprint I'll be keeping my eye on in the future.
Katya's World is a story that follows our main character, Katya Kuriakova, and starts shortly after she's passed her academy exams and is qualified as a submarine navigator. She joins her Uncle Lukyan on his vessel, the Pushkin's Baby, on what should be a straightforward freight run, but just before departure the vessel is commandeered by the Federal Maritime Authority to transport one of their officers and a prisoner, Kane, to one of their bases. But not all goes as planned, and after a strange signal shows up on their equipment the Pushkin's Baby is attacked and sunk, only for the crew to be rescued by Kane's associates - pirates. From here we're taken along by events that reveal a secret from Russalka's past war with Earth, and the threat the planet now faces.
The prologue to Katya's World is essentially a history of what happened to humanity prior to the events that take place within the novel, and it's an excellent set-up. After reading it I was thoroughly intrigued to see what the novel holds, but despite the space opera feel of the introduction, I was left a little disappointed when starting the story. Russalka is a planet of water, with no land mass, and all of its inhabitants live in underwater facilities. Submarine travel is the biggest aspect of life on Russalka, and while these initially didn't appeal to me as much as I'd hoped, the writing and characters soon brought the story to life and kept me hooked, turning the pages and wanting to find out what happens next.
What make Katya's World so enjoyable - so readable - are the characters. Katya, as our protagonist, is an interesting lead and as the novel progresses I found that she developed nicely, but very recognisable to the first-time navigator that we met at the start. Kane, the anti-hero, is just a blast to read, pure and simple. I loved pretty much every scene he was in, and I found myself questioning a lot when it came to him, from what his history is, and just what his motivations are now. The supporting cast are all interesting and more than just filler, and bought together they all make the novel well worth reading.
I did have a couple of minor issues with Katya's World, but in truth they didn't affect overall thoughts on the novel. I felt that a couple of things fell into place a little too easily for our characters, with some things just that touch too convenient. It didn't detract from my enjoyment at all, and it kept the pace of the story flying along, which in turn made me blast through it whenever I could.
Katya's World may not be the interstellar space opera I hoped it would be, but boy was it a blast to read. With a story that barely stops for breath, a cast of characters that drag you back for more, and a setting that holds so much promise, Jonathan Howard has delivered an excellent start to the Russalka Chronicles. I'll be keeping my eye out for the next one...