[Friday Flash Review] The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie

Untitled-1❧ Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
❧ Author: Emily Skrutskie
❧ Publisher: Flux
❧ Publication date: February 8th 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦

Cas has fought pirates her entire life. But can she survive living among them?

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea


the abyss surrounds us❝In A Nutshell❞


✎ Pirates! Sea monsters trained to defend against pirate attacks, bred for purpose and trained hands-on by a single person they bond with. Cas is taken captive by a pirate queen and told to raise the Reckoner pup she somehow managed to steal, or die. Cas is forced to choose between loyalty and her life.

✎ Broken social/political system across oceans and floating cities where the pirates so very obviously aren’t just The Bad Guys else why would this book have been written come on.

✎ Diverse ☒ (biracial MC, sexuality, f/f romance – not #ownvoices afaik)


❝What I loved❞

✎ The Reckoners are amazing. Everyone says “Pacific Rim” when you mention sea monsters, but I didn’t like Pacific Rim but so this was much better. The relationship between Cas and the Reckoner pup is intriguing and also pretty fun to read. This book is fun in the best sense of the word. It is exciting and I’d have happily read another hundred or so pages, so it was a little disappointing that it was so short (under 300 pages for the ppb ed).

✎ The careful way the potential romance is handled, in the possibly-problematic situation of Swift and Cas definitely not being equals on the ship and Cas, in fact, being a prisoner. It makes it fairly difficult for the two to have a clear and easy romance, but they do manage and even though a lot is held back on both sides, there’s still enough romance on the page for it to not feel entirely frustrating. The romance is hate-to-love, which can be a little “oh my god get on with it; pick one!” but the initial attraction here really shows that the eventual romance doesn’t just spring out of nowhere: what holds them back more than anything else is the odd power dynamic (captor/captive) and their own views of one another.

✎ The Reckoners. They are everything. But so is a Chinese American MC who is also queer. The cover is also so good.

✎ The fact that it’s pretty clear there’s much more to the world than the black-and-white version we see through Cas’ narrative and the suggestion that we’ll get to see more of this develop in the second part The Edge Of The Abyss.

❝What I didn’t love❞

✎ Cas’ absolute loyalty at first and her determination to take the pill and end her life instead of being taken by the pirates just… it doesn’t work for me. I’m never really a fan of the theme of people putting things like keeping what amounts to trade secrets higher than their own lives, and, whilst I get that it’s how Cas has been raised, I like people to call out BS like that internally and realise how brainwashing it is. Eh, maybe I just don’t like authority in situations like this, so the whole “if you’re captured, you must sacrifice yourself!” my first reaction is “why?” followed by “hell, no”. Maybe it comes from me being the kind of person to question absolutely everything ever, ever, ever who knows.

✎ Not really something I didn’t like, but I wish, wish, wish this book had been longer because I enjoyed it so much and wanted more.


❝If you liked this…❞

…then you might also like: Zenn Scarlet, by Christian Schoon, which is kind of similar-ish with the theme of the “monsters” and a girl who’s really good at what she does. The sequel Under Nameless Stars is not recommended as highly, however, since it honestly bored me rigid and was so much worse than the first book I didn’t even buy it after reading and reviewing the ARC. But! Zenn Scarlett can definitely be enjoyed as a standalone, so go ahead!


Ten Thousand Skies Above You, by Claudia Gray [Firebird#2]

Title: Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: 3rd November 2015
Rating: ★★.5 / ★★★ – depending on what day you catch me!

17234659Ten Thousand Skies Above You, the second of the Firebird trilogy, by Claudia Gray was a good continuation of the story and a surprisingly, complex sequel to follow after A Thousand Pieces of You. There were elements of the story I loved, and some that felt like pure filler. I keep emphasising “story”—and there’s a reason for that.

Just like A Thousand Pieces of You, I adored the story of this book; I love the revelations we’re given, I love the game-changer at the end of the book that sets up a very, very interesting possibility for the dynamic in the third book.

But, I did not love Marguerite. I feel the girl we knew from the first book is gone. Where? I’m not sure.

We find ourselves plunged back into our time-travel-but-not adventures, with Marguerite fleeing a crowd bent on accusing her family (the scientists Caine) of witchcraft. Hold up—science as magic? We must be in the dark ages or something. Oh, we are. It’s an exciting start to the book, setting a pace that… is never truly realised thereafter. We skip between exposition of what happened before she began travelling again, whilst vaguely taking tiny steps forward into the rest of the subsequent story. The book kicks off rather frantically in a reimagining of medieval Italy, where Marguerite finds herself in hot water whilst on the search for Paul (again…).

As with the first book, Marguerite is forced to do more dimension hopping. Except this time, revenge is far from her mind. This time, she’s trying to save people. Both Theo and Paul need help and, as ever, being the perfect traveller that she is, Marguerite is the only one who can do anything of use.

Unfortunately this time, Paul is little more than a plot device. The reason for Marguerite to travel. It’s a disservice to Paul, because there’s so much character there, if you scratch beneath the surface. I wanted to get to know Paul more. He’s not the most fleshed-out of characters in the first book, and I had hoped for an opportunity to see more of him here. For some reason, we’re denied this. This should have been a book of Paul and Marguerite travelling together.  But moreover, it’s a disservice to Theo, because, through Marguerite’s blinkeredness in Paul’s direction, she completely erases Theo. Never mind the fact that she is convinced that, essentially due to the behaviour of another Theo, her Theo can’t be all good.

Well, newsflash, Marguerite: nobody is all good. This, unfortunately becomes something that our once seemingly well-rounded Marguerite develops some interesting double-standards with. The second someone other than herself does one thing in one dimension, then it must immediately mean that that little fragment of darkness is lurking inside them, because they are essentially all the same people, even though the very nature of the plot and the formula makes it painfully clear that they’re not. People are made by how they live, both the sum of and more than the sum of their experiences, choices and how they have grown throughout their lives.

Except her, of course: she readily forgets the party-girl Meg from the Londonverse, and, refuses to really acknowledge the damage she did in the Russiaverse; instead, using the universe as a refuge during the story, where she literally just barges into her other self’s life (again) and remains there as she pleases (again). Sure, she realises how much she screwed up, but if she was truly sorry and realised just how violating her presence was, she would not have used the universe as if she had the right to; she would have left immediately. But she didn’t. She didn’t want to leave, so she took the right to stay. Unfortunately, Marguerite has selfish sides of herself that turn into hypocrisy through her complete disregard of them, yet her willingness to point them out in others. Such as Theo, and, through this book, others around her, too.

Furthermore, in each world she travels to, Marguerite basically commandeers the lives of Alternative Marguerite and does as she pleases, constantly trying to engineer herself closer to Paul, whether or not she is with Paul in said dimension. It’s selfish and entitled and completely erasing of what her other selves’ lives are like. It’s presumptuous and, when she lands in dimensions where she is actively seeing someone else, completely disregarding and erasing of anyone else’s feelings. Except her own, of course.

Where is my Marguerite gone? Because this isn’t the girl I loved.

And the worlds we travelled to, so varied and exciting in the first book, have become random and even pale in comparison. Where’s my world where Theo and Paul are together? Where’s my world where Marguerite is a lesbian? Where is my world where she and Josie hate one another? Where’s my world where Marguerite doesn’t get on with her increasingly-oh-so-perfect parents? Where’s my world where she has different parents; a different family; a stepparent; adoptive parents; something different? Where Marguerite is biracial; where she’s different? Where is my world where Marguerite and her immediate surroundings aren’t so straight and white and completely unrealistic?

You can’t begin to play with the accepted notion of “infinite possibilities” if you never actually think outside the box, never think outside of straight-white-middle-class. And that’s all we ever, ever see and it’s impossibly dull by this point. Here, we have this exciting plot, far-reaching and overarching—especially with the revelations in this book itself—and yet we tread the same sort of ground, again and again.

Couple this with Marguerite’s selfish erasure of other people’s feelings and her blindness to her own faults, and we have a rather unlikable protagonist in place of our determined, thoughtful and relatable Marguerite. She can so easily flee to another universe where she doesn’t belong and has no need whatsoever to go to “take time away” from an event where someone was hurt by someone she doubted had that kind of violence inside them, when in the first book she was the one hell bent on revenge on Paul.

Never mind the fact that it would be a change to meet Paul and Theo in a universe where one of them wasn’t obsessed with her. That would be good. I know the number of worlds we’ve seen isn’t that high, but that’s precisely my point: you have to make them count.

In addition, the only world in which any manner of different sexuality is mentioned is where a particular character is the bad guy and they sleep with the opposite sex, as well as the same sex (anyone will do!), as a way of hurting more people and not giving a damn. I don’t care if it was accidental: do better. When it’s the only LGBT reference, do better.

I love the plot of these books, I love the formula, the writing, the delivery… but now, I do not like Marguerite. Mostly, her selfishness, her entitled attitude is what finally turned me off towards Marguerite. The fact that she chooses to invade on another of her lives again, entirely by choice and without any fragment of necessity whatsoever, only to go and live in that Marguerite’s shoes for a while, as if staying over in a hotel built for her, even going so far as to willing interact with people in these Alternate Marguerites’ lives (such as a psychiatrist, whom she brazenly uses as a shrink for her own issues instead of just leaving Marguerite to her own life)—just, no.

Furthermore, the topic of grief comes up, however briefly in this book.  She immediately acts as though grief is something that will eventually be worked through and isn’t an excuse for rash or selfish behaviour…

Says the girl who toddled off traveling to get revenge on Paul after the assumed death of her father. Everyone else’s grief is uncomfortable and inconvenient for her. And this was a huge, huge, huge issue for me. Our society is pretty shit at dealing with grief (heck, when the only way we can get in touch, as a society, with grief, is through the catharsis of public grief over a shared figure or person, and otherwise grief is something to be shuttered away and not talked about and dealt with alone, that’s messed up) and to have this exact sentiment reflected in a book for younger/more millennial-minded people, that’s not okay with me.

Ultimately, only her feelings ever matter. And worse, only she is a valid Marguerite and only her feelings matter, above all Marguerites.

I wanted so badly to love this book as much as I’d loved A Thousand Pieces of You, which I’d really, really loved. The problem is, I do still really, really like the story. The dimensions, the travel, the newly-revealed stakes and twists and turns—I loved all of it. Just, not the main character.

If you’re someone who can put up with protagonists you can’t stand, in favour of the story you love, then you’ll get along with this sequel just fine. If, like me, Marguerite has become an entirely different person, one you don’t recognize, but you still do love the story… then you’ll manage and you will still probably, like me, read the third book. Only, it won’t be at the top of my TBR list when it does eventually land.

2-star copyMost of why this book got so low a rating and a rather meh review from me, is entirely down to Marguerite, and a few niggles here and there about things that could have been better. It’s not a terrible book—it’s not even a “meh” book. It’s a book with problems (lowercase; not the big, yicky Problems you really don’t want to find in a book!) and it is lacking in diversity (which, let’s be frank: we shouldn’t even be calling “diversity” as if it’s something special. It should just be called realism), which is something I’m going to start coming down heavily on. Overall, if we’re talking favourably about Ten Thousand Skies Above You, then this was a much-slower paced sequel to what was an exciting, thrilling first book, but a fantastic continuation of the overarching story itself. The ante is upped and things get big, and this is what will keep me reading to the end of the trilogy. But if we’re being candid, then Marguerite almost made me put this book down.

Some Fine Day, by Kat Ross

Title: Some Fine Day
Author:  Kat Ross
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: July 1st 2014

SomeFineDay-144dpiSome Fine Day, by Kat Ross is what everyone is buzzing about, calling cli-fi. Okay, I get why, only… isn’t it really just regular sci-fi/spec-fic but with a rather specific element of—at least the notion of it—a post-apocalyptic setting. So there have been no meteors, no ridiculous zombies and no aliens who’ve decided the grass is greener on Earth… Instead, we have incredibly monstrous hypercanes caused invariably by the long-term effects of global warming and climate change. It still leaves us with the world as we’ve known it for centuries, essentially uninhabitable, save for a few “survivors” and their new harsh way of life. Underground, it’s a different story, but still—the space for life underground is limited and since one definition of “apocalypse” is thus:  an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale, I’m going to go ahead and say that’s what the hypercanes caused. The world humanity exists in now is post-apocalyptic. Technically, there’s an on-going apocalypse, since the ‘canes are still there and ain’t going anywhere.

This does sort of make the book a little unique—and perhaps somewhat limiting in the scope of just what can really happen, and in what kind of time-frame. If the book’s resolution was suddenly happy with the world being righted and on the path to glory… No. That wouldn’t work, now, would it? Therefore, I entered this book with a certain expectation—or lack thereof—regarding how much would and could happen.

Before I go deeper, I want to say why I both do and don’t have an issue with “cli-fi”. Firstly: it labels the issue at hand, which so many of the Real Adults are dismissing as bullshit; the fact that this could really happen. The whole climate change denial gig… it’s not for me. And I see that labeling a book with such a term as cli-fi, especially a YA book, really screams, “hey, kids, do try this at home!” The “this” being dismissing the corporate self-serving denial crapola that tells us everything is fine and dandy and that the world had one ice age already and so clearly shit happens. Dismissal is good. But second, this book is spec-fic and by labelling it as something buzzy that tries its hand at the en vogue… Well, I feel that we’re doing Some Fine Day a disservice by trying to take it away from being what it is, like ousting something as a “spokesbook”, I guess. It’s a spec-fic book that handles climate change.

But, since people will ultimately sit up and go, “cli-fi, huh?” and start thinking about all the terrifying details and potential accuracies with which Ross’ offering is woven, maybe it’s not so bad. At the same time, it has the same elements as a YA disguised dystopia—the strict military regime, the handling of the Transition, the morality (lack thereof) issues regarding science and experimentation—and doesn’t really involve the hypercanes other than that they are a part of the world as it stands. They are the disease that killed the human race, they are the zombies that (for some weak and pale reason [I hate zombies]) chewed up the human race, they are the thing that makes the world into what it is. They are, in essence, the setting.

Which is fine, because other than to have a story focused around some supernaturally gifted or scientifically enhanced person who becomes a stormchaser in hopes of finding some hidden secret to how the ‘canes move, or some way to live in spite of them… Well. A book about massive hurricanes in themselves wouldn’t really be very interesting.

Neither was I hoping for a completely fascist and overbearing way of life below the surface—because I just. Sigh. It’s hard to say why this kind of theme annoys me, but it just does. So I harboured a few fears when entering into Some Fine Day—but honestly, massive hurricanes of doom and the lies concealed by them interested me. In the end, though, the setup didn’t annoy me, because it is a well-thought story with interesting and engaging characters who pull you into the narrative. Jansin is enjoyable to keep company with. She is sensible and smart and kicks ass. But she is also open to change and open to truth, which makes her role in this overbearing military world below the surface far less difficult to bear. Yes there are obstacles and yes there are failures, but there is no one decision that Jansin makes that casts her as anything other than calm, collected and totally in control of her own self, in spite of never having had any control whatsoever.

I had a few issues with plausibility in regards to the little textbook-like snippets at the beginning of each chapter, labelling only two choices for wealthier teens, and three for poorer ones. Jansin had the choice of military or science. Her poorer counterparts, factories, mines or…something else. But, as I declared aloud when my brother read this to me, “what about plumbers?” And what about bakers and cleaners and maids and the professional athletes mentioned in the sporting event that slows down their progress during a getaway?

It just made aspects of the world ring a little hollow.

But it’s not as though the book rang hollow, so it’s not something I’m going to harp on about.

Instead, I’m going to say how brilliant and imaginative and exciting the rest of the book was. I desperately wanted to read about a hypercane, to see Jansin need to run from one. I wanted the excitement. There was something very visceral about the constant threat, about the sudden upturning of Jansin’s regimented life. Coupled with her engaging narrative and sensible, self-preserving attitude, I found her likeable and definitely enjoyable. In a world where hurricanes ravage the surface and all human life is thought extinct, except for the Toads, and life below is very strict and unauthorised access to the surface is forbidden (oh, handy that, isn’t it?), you know that there has to be something more going on. And of course, there is.

And Janisn is going to find out everything.

What I really liked was the fact that Jansin suffered from pure wrong-time wrong-place syndrome, to the most extreme degree. She was not chosen or taken or even kidnapped because of who she is, but rather because of a where and a perceived “what”. A case of completely mistaken identity. It made for an un-staged setup for something that had as much chance of happening to Jansin as it did to the son or daughter of any other military bigwig blagging a holiday to the surface through power and means.

It made everything so much more believable—especially everything that follows. Sure enough, Jansin happened upon the surface humans (because even from the synopsis, it’s obvious they are there), but only she had the drive, determination and the kick-assness to be able to do what comes next.

And we get a less dominant male counterpart, which I loved, very much. My favourite dynamic is where the girl is in charge and the guy is the gentle one; the healer, the doctor, the priest, the whatever, whilst the girl kicks ass and takes names (very grumpy about his subsequent haircut, however—feel the need to start an imaginary petition for boys with nice hair in books. Plus, the scientists didn’t cut the girls’ hair so…yah. Hair-ist. Blah).

Some Fine Day is a great book, definitely exciting and engaging heavily with the unknown future that very well might be staring us in the face. It’s pretty scary and that’s partly what makes it so good. Maybe this sort of book should be given as required reading for oil executives and teenagers alike, just to act as the same sort of gentle reminder as Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm. There’s a lot to be said about a book brave enough to stare one of many possible futures in the face, really look at it, write about it, and then put it out there, blazing and neon, for the rest of the world to see. Ultimately Some Fine Day invites us to imagine a frightening consequence whilst simultaneously offering a very introspective view on ourselves and our unfortunately fluid humanity. A surprisingly deep and poignant book that is brave, bold and nevertheless exciting in spite of its essentially bleak world view.

Read it—and then vote Green when the ballot next comes through.

Under Nameless Stars, by Christian Schoon [Zenn Scarlett #2]

Title: Under Nameless Stars (Zenn Scarlett #2)
Author: Christian Schoon
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: 1st April 2014
Rating: ★★

Why why why doesn’t she have red hair??

It’s always disappointing to love the first book and dislike the next. I’ll say upfront that I found Under Nameless Stars a far too complicated book for its own good. By this I’m referring to the overly complex descriptions of the overly complex and overly numerous alien life forms. I’m down with aliens, totally. But when I’m faced with three, four, five paragraph long descriptions of aliens that, no matter how hard I try, I cannot envisage, again and again… It’s just too much. Too awkward and too complicated. Whatever Schoon was trying to convey, I just wasn’t getting it.

But that’s not all.

I feel it took too long for Zenn to wise up to what was going on, and the first 20% of the book was spent recapping the events of the first book to the new character involved. Quite literally: my Kindle told me so. That was just boring.

But to summarise: Zenn has left the relative safety of the Ciscan cluster after her kidnapping and although she has her issues with him and trust, Liam is with her. Together they are headed off Mars via the Helen of Troy starliner; Zenn to find her father, Liam to escape arrest. Regardless of Zenn’s insistence that he shouldn’t have anything to worry about concerning his coerced participation in the sabotage that almost destroyed the clinic Zenn calls home, he’s not so sure. They wind up on the starliner with a collection of colourful characters and find themselves closer to the very truths Zenn has been looking for the whole time. Could it be that Zenn will barely have to leave the starliner to find her father—and discover the reason behind her sympathetic link with the animals she treats? That all depends on just where the starliner ends up and how far Zenn is willing to go to save her father. Either way, the truth is far, far deeper and more involved than she might have imagined. Zenn will have to rely on new friends and newly sharpened wits in order to survive outside the cluster and to find out what really happened to her mother and why it affects her, all these years after the fact.

The truth is that Under Nameless Stars should have been epic. But it wasn’t. It was frustratingly slow and despite everything, I just couldn’t take seriously a dolphin in a mech-suit. I tried. Jules is hilarious and fabulous and— I’m sorry. I couldn’t imagine one way or another how his walksuit worked and in every situation Zenn and her friends found themselves, Jules just seemed a logistical nightmare. I couldn’t picture how he moved, how he looked (bar being, y’know, a dolphin) or how he managed to keep up and remain alongside Zenn and co. throughout everything that took place. Because a dolphin in a mecha isn’t exactly a rikkaset in a backpack. There’s definitely a difference.

I love the fact that Schoon tried to include so many colourful descriptions of aliens and other races of humanesque beings, but… I think there’s too much and it clutters the view. Like a garden with way, way too many flowers: all pretty and exciting when taken separately, but when you bung everything together, there’s just way too much colour, foliage and the scent is overwhelming. Under Nameless Stars felt a little like that. Which sucks because I wanted to love this with all my heart.

But I didn’t. Not even close.

I also grew increasingly more and more irritated by the fact that I’d pieced together most of the reason behind Zenn’s link with the animals (granted, not the why-the-why) at the end of the last book and it took Zenn having it literally spelled out to her for it to click. I didn’t buy that. Zenn is a smart cookie: she’d have been all over this if she’d just sat down and thought about everything. She’s a scientist. She keeps thinking about how science is the one thing she can believe in… and so I’m expected to believe she hasn’t wanted to sit down and think about what she knows? I just didn’t buy it. I felt it dragged things out in the most irritating of ways by dumbing her down, making her a little less savvy. That’s not the Zenn I fell in love with. That’s a different Zenn. I’m experiencing the same sort of formula in another YA book I’m reading at the moment, and it’s frustrating that I only ever see this sort of behaviour from girls.

I can maybe let it slide with the fact that Zenn’s a little freaked out to maybe think properly at the moment, what with her dad missing—but then if you bring it back to that whole “science is the way I roll” fact, it sticks a little harder. I wish I could let it slide. But I can’t. The pacing was messy, the settings confusing and parts of the book (namely the lead up to the end) read like a bad dungeon crawl. I’ve played sci-fi RPG campaigns before, and that’s not how you do a dungeon crawl—hence the “bad” part. I just couldn’t warm to it.

The first thing I did love, however, was Zenn’s awkwardness with Liam. That, I adored. That was true to Zenn’s character. It was deliciously awkward and read perfectly. There’s a hint of blossoming romance yet at the same time, there’s not. But then there is. It’s ideal and I really liked that Zenn is so clueless—for good reason!—as to how to act with someone, let alone a boy. It was exactly what I wanted. I liked how Zenn’s interactions with Liam on a relationship level were vaguely Asperger’s-y/HFA. Definitely a hit with me.

Furthermore, I liked the concept of the starliner, which was basically a cruise ship in space. Definitely original. The ball, the layout—everything. It was different and I felt it accommodated the plot perfectly. I do think Zenn’s meeting Jules was a tad too easy, too convenient, but that’s usually the sort of thing I’ll let slip if it’s not too cringe-worthy. And this wasn’t. But on the subject of Jules, what irked me more than the mech-suit was his obsession with books. Not his obsession with stories or novels—but books. He keeps talking about paperbacks when specifically the level of literary technology has developed far past mass market paperbacks and into the electronic. It’s the same with the rest of the tech. So this supposedly endearing side of Jules was met with annoyance because of lack of setting logic. It’s often the case with sci-fi that people don’t think about what you can and cannot make passing references to. It’s the little things people let slide. I’ve seen space stations with strict air control and then characters lighting up a cigarette. Yeah, right. You can’t smoke in many public places now, let alone somewhere where your air is delivered. But that’s a passing irk—and wasn’t really Jules’ fault.

I liked how the story ended, but it seemed too neat and too wrapped-up. Usually I’m a fan of clean, happy endings, but something seemed lacking overall. There was no pizzazz and I missed that from the first book. I’m guessing this is a duology, since the story is essentially wrapped up. Sure, Zenn could have more adventures, so who knows?

2-star copyOverall this book just didn’t hit the spot with me. I wasn’t buying whatever it was selling. It seemed so weak a book to follow on from Zenn Scarlett, so I’m hardly surprised that with me, it fell flat on its face. Horribly disappointed and loath to give a book a two-star review when the first was so good—but then I’m not reviewing the first, so my hands are tied.

Slow and clunky and definitely a far cry from the expert storytelling and character development of the first book. Worth reading to tie things up and complete the story arcs, but it would certainly not make the top of my reading list. Fun in places, but sluggish in others, which—for me and how I read—only added to the overall reading time. Which isn’t a good thing for me. Give it a go for completion’s sake, but do not expect a second Zenn Scarlett, because this isn’t it.

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^☆)