Katya’s War, by Jonathan L. Howard [Russalka Chronicles #2)

Title: Katya’s War (Russalka Chronicles #2)
Author: Jonathan L. Howard
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: 7th November 2013 (UK)

KatyasWar-144dpiKatya’s War, by Jonathan L. Howard, is pretty much what YA science fiction should be. Unlike the excellent Zenn Scarlett (and its forthcoming sequel, Under Nameless Stars, due 2014) which is arguably YA space opera—or in the very least, space-faring sci-fi—Katya’s War is a planet-bound science fiction adventure. The story follows on from the stellar Katya’s World, which introduced Russalka, a water world planet where the greatest majority of its population exists under water. It is an inhospitable planet, but to the Russalkin, it is home.

Katya is now alone, but life must carry on as normal—as normal as possible when there is a war tearing apart your world. With the Yagizban unlikely to back down and the Federal authority pressing hard, there seems to be no solution in order. Russalka is in serious trouble.

But Katya’s part in everything is done. Hell, she might even have been the one it start the war. Sure, it might have been inevitable, but to Katya that’s largely irrelevant—plus it’s not as though she had much choice in the matter. Things happened during Katya’s World that changed her life and afterwards, there was no going back.

Now her whole world has been changed and it’s about to get a hell of a lot worse.

Following a less than peaceful trip to drop off cargo and get paid (in credits, unfortunately—no real money), wherein Katya is forced to engage her incredibly quick and brilliant submariner’s mind in order to avoid trouble and avert a crisis, Katya grows more and more frustrated and melancholy over the state of affairs on Russalka and within its fractured government.

She’s sure there must be a way for things to change…only she’s not sure what to do.

But she does know someone who has a plan that just might work.

When Katya engaged in the activity she did with known pirate, Havilland Kane, she might have helped save her world but the price was high and now the last thing she wants to do is find herself dealing with danger and death around every corner all over again.

If she thought the toughest thing she would have to face would be the Leviathan, then Katya was wrong—very, very wrong. Things are moving towards a climatic head between the Feds and the Yagizban and at the heart of the matter, despite slamming propaganda and plenty of hate being engendered towards the “Yags” it’s very clear that nothing is really what it seems at that at the heart of every war there are tangles of lies.

The reality is far darker than even Katya can imagine: there is a secret at the very heart of her world, a secret just as deadly as the Leviathan. Before she knows it she is called upon again to insert herself into the very belly of the whale, asked to do the unimaginable in the name of eventual and impossible peace. Can there ever be peace on a world torn by war for so many years? Between the Terrans and then the subsequent splintering of the world’s population into the Yagizban and those under Fed rule, all Katya has ever known is war.

By now, even Katya isn’t sure—and that’s the only reason she’s even willing to consider listening to the one person she never wanted to see again. That is, until she finds out the truth. The real truth; the whole truth.

And it’s not pretty.

Katya’s War is a really fantastic book, gripping and tense and completely different from its predecessor. Where World was action-packed and full of adventure, War is a whole different animal; it is a stealthy, infiltration-mission sort of setup that is nail-biting and thrilling.

There is a lot of darkness at the heart of Katya’s World and I’d go as far as calling some of the elements “gritty”, however it is sharp, slick and horrendously realistic. There is a hardness at the story’s core that is both brave and necessary given the setting and the events taking place. It’s a superb demonstration of how to insert this level of seriousness into a YA novel without it seeming staged or restrained. It’s shocking in its way and it all the stronger for it.

The character progression and growth from Katya is perfect. She has absorbed every event from the first book and it has left its mark; she is not the same Katya yet still maintains her sense of person. She has new responsibilities and a new life and she accepts this, whilst still being sad and melancholy, yet strong. Katya is alone but she does not stop. She has become an adult despite her age and it shows through her every cell. Katya Kuriakova has grown up—and it’s a good job, because she’s going to need every ounce of maturity she can get to survive what comes next.

Howard has pacing down to an art in this gripping and quick novel that makes me wish there was more YA science fiction that isn’t done-to-death, boring-as-ass dystopian (dystopian stuff is absolutely not my thing) repetitions of the same thing. With dystopian lit, the problem is often that the setting is the story, rather than the characters. Science fiction like this makes me really, really want more. Especially if it’s from Strange Chemistry.

Everything about Katya’s War is a success and it concluded with possibly the best finale I’ve read for a very long time. At the end of Katya’s War I was on the edge of my seat; not from the tension, as I’d clued into what was happening shortly before, but through the feel-good sense of cool that radiates through the final pages.

Katya’s War is an expertly-crafted novel that has no peer in the current YA landscape. Well-freaking-done, Howard. The book left me with an almost feral grin, teeth bared in a mixture of delight and tension, thinking: “Bring it on!”  (☆^ー^☆)


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