Katya’s World, by Jonathan L. Howard [Russalka Chronicles #1]

  • TITLE: Katya’s World (Russalka Chronicles #1)
  • AUTHOR: Jonathan L. Howard
  • PUBLISHER: Strange Chemistry
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 8th November 2012

My big brother received this ARC from Strange Chemistry the same way I received The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke. Naturally, I yoinked it as soon as I could, since he’s busy being all “psychology-student-y” and I’d already devoured my own ARC.

Katya’s World, the first of the Russalka Chronicles by Jonathan L. Howard is YA sci-fi at its best. Alright, so there’s not exactly much good, current YA science fiction for it to compare with, but why should that matter? Katya’s World is a firm step towards what YA sci-fi should be and it delivers everything offered—and everything I’ve come to expect from Strange Chemistry.

Set on a far-flung Russian colony—I must admit, the book had me at “Russian”, since I’ve a soft spot for my Eastern European ancestry—where life is lived beneath mineral-rich oceans and existence on the surface is impossible, with no dry land in sight, Katya’s World is a submarine science fiction adventure with a grand vision and a lot of heart.

At fifteen-going-on-sixteen Katya Kuriakova has just passed her examination for her navigator’s card, which will open doors to the adult world and let her take her first post as crew on her Uncle Lukyan’s minisub, Pushkin’s Baby. She’s a bright star and when she’s not trying too hard to make herself seem older and sterner, Katya is an asset to any crew; with a sharp mind and a cool demeanour under pressure, she’s got just what it takes to survive in the harsh climate of Russalka’s deep, mysterious oceans. I loved Katya’s narrative: she reads simultaneously as a nervous teenager and a competent adult. She reads wonderfully and she’s a representation of what it’s like to be a young adult on the unforgiving world of Russalka—tough, strong-minded and committed.

When her first voyage—a routine cargo delivery—is commandeered by a pushy, jumped-up FMA officer, demanding they travel via the most direct route, which is naturally, the most dangerous, to deliver his prisoner, Katya’s world is turned upside down.

The prisoner is Havilland Kane, suspected pirate and criminal, and although he seems nothing like the monster she’s heard about, there is something about Kane that sets her on edge and makes her ask questions. Despite the protests of the crew, the arrogant FMA officer insists they travel straight through the Weft; the stretch of sea that people sensibly avoid. Without a choice, Katya sends the Baby right through it.

At first it seems as though it’ll just be a rough ride that’ll send them more off-course than the roundabout route would have, until the sensors pick up something. Closer examination suggests that it is an ore deposit and those aboard the Baby are about to be very rich. However, when they send out probes to get a closer look, it vanishes and begins a whole nightmare of secrets, lies and half-truths. Before Katya knows it, she’s been snatched from her only remaining family and her life saved by a pirate: from there she swings between interloper on an FMA vessel and prisoner on a pirate sub—and then to navigator on one carrying crew from both sides.

In the deep, dark oceans of Russalka, something has been lying in wait, something that has been waiting for its missing part. It was denied what it needed once and has lain dormant since, waiting. But when it is discovered and its secrets revealed, it will not wait as long a second time.

Down in the depths Katya must steel herself against danger and death; she must accept the word of those she’s been taught and raised to loathe, and understand that trust and treason are relative concepts when you don’t know which side you’re on. In this dark world with no sky and only the harsh seas buffeting Katya from either side, she will learn to trust only herself and her own judgement if she wants to survive.

This new enemy, with its dark purpose, will push Katya beyond her limits and she must stay focussed and true to herself if she’s to survive what comes next. But Katya is strong and capable, and if anyone understands the harsh world she lives in, it’s Katya.

The pacy tension of Howard’s narrative, coupled with the engaging characters of Katya and Kane, makes Katya’s World read like the beginning of a true science-fiction epic. With events that could change the very nature of the world and real, human characters caught in the middle, facing difficult decisions and caught between both their own natures and prejudices, Howard has presented a tightly-woven and exciting story that will effortlessly bridge the gap between YA science fiction and science fiction epic.  With its superb and nail-biting ending, I am eagerly awaiting more from Katya, Howard and the Russalka Chronicles.



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