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…