Tuesday 23 October 2012

Review: Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard

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.

Yesterday was The Book Zone's third blogoversary, and in the post I wrote to 'celebrate' I mentioned that I was going to be writing shorter reviews in the future. With this in mind, I want to sum up my feelings regarding Katya's World as succinctly as possible:

Katya's World is a great boys' own science-fiction adventure with one of the most resourceful and kick-ass female main characters since Derek Landy gave us Valkyrie Cain.

Naturally, me being me I can't just leave it at that - Jonathan L Howard probably spent months writing the book so the least I can do is try to do it some kind of justice by writing a lengthier review.

When I first started reading Katya's World I couldn't help but compare it with Kat Falls' Dark Life books, for no other reason than that they both share a sub-oceanic setting. At first the world created by Kat Falls in Dark Life was coming out on top, however it wasn't long before I was fully immersed in Howard's story and completely forgot about Dark Life. I also found myself much preferring Katya's World, with its pure science (fiction) roots as opposed to the 'young people living in the deeps gain super powers' plot elements of Dark Life.

Katya's World is set in a future where, due to population saturation on Earth, man has colonised a number of accessible planets outside the solar system. One such planet is the ocean world that became known as Russalka. Previous colonisations of other planets has demonstrated that success is more likely to be achieved if colonists are of the same ethnicity, and Russalka's case its initial new inhabitants are all from the same part of Russia. Since then, relationships with Earth first became strained and subsequently developed into an all out invasion of Russalka by Terran forces. As the book starts the war is a not-too-distant memory. The inhabitants of Russalka live their day-to-day lives as best they can, but constantly wondering if or when they will be attacked again. 

We know all of this because the author tells us in his prologue to the story, and sadly this is the only part of the whole book that grated with me. As I was reading the prologue I was wondering when I had last seen a similar info dump at the start of a YA book, and I came up blank. As the story then progressed I found myself spotting parts of the story where the back history of Russalka and its people could have been more cleverly inserted into the plot. This style of prologue is not the kind of thing that we would expect to read in an adult title these days, so it comes across as a little patronising to young people when an author feels it necessary to include one for them. I would love to hear Mr Howard's reasoning for its inclusion.

The story follows the Katya of the book's title. Katya Kuriakova is a fifteen year old who has just finished her training as a submarine navigator, and the book opens with her embarking on her d├ębut voyage as the navigator on Pushkin's Baby, her Uncle Lukyan's mini-sub. As they are about to depart with their cargo of electronic components, an officious young officer of the Federal Maritime Authority commandeers their vessel and orders them to transport him and his prisoner, the alleged pirate Havilland Kane. So begins an adventure that sees Katya tested to her limits as she comes up against pirates, insurgents, and worst of all, a terrifying legacy of the war against the Terrans that could destroy everyone on the planet.

The two stand out elements of Katya's World in my opinion were the atmosphere that Howard creates, and his array of colourful characters. When these elements are combined they make for a truly believable science fiction story that feels very real, even though it is set on a far off planet in a distant future. The characters in particular are well developed, and even those who have little more than a small supporting role to play in the proceedings come across as much more than two dimensional creature-fodder. Katya herself makes a great heroine - she is resourceful and intelligent beyond her years, but is fragile and scared when the situation merits it. Her beliefs, both political and moral, are somewhat ingrained as the result of the loss of her father and her upbringing. As such, when she finds that her world is not as black and white as she thought, she finds these beliefs tested to their limits, as she has to decide who is good and who is bad, and whether those who live in between the two can be trusted when everything hits the fan.

Katya's World is a great read for fans of science fiction and adventure stories, and will have huge appeal to both boys and girls. The story does come to a satisfying conclusion, with no ridiculous cliffhangers, but as the start of a planned trilogy there is more than enough left unresolved to have readers clamouring for the sequel. Katya's World is scheduled to be released on 13th November, and my thanks go to Amanda at Strange Chemistry for sending me a proof copy to read.


  1. I enjoyed this book too. About the Prologue - it wasn't my favourite bit but I did feel like, 'OK, so now I know where we're starting'. It didn't bother me too much. I definitely agree with you about the ending.

  2. Happy Blogiversary! Sorry to hear that you've been in the doldrums about blogging-- I think we all have slumps. There are so few blogs devoted to books for boys that I'm glad you decided to hand in there and continue to tempt me with books we can't get in the US!