Wednesday, December 5, 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.

Sci-fi isn’t my favourite genre, for no other reason than perhaps the fact that I haven’t read much of it. Oh, I tried some Hamilton once, and I have some vague recollections of picking up Dune, but in terms of hard-core science fiction I have read very little.
This book was recommended to me by a friend who thought the name similarities were awesome, and now that I’ve read it… yeah, I think that this is the closest of a Philip Reeve substitute that I will ever find.
For those of you not aware of my (passionate, powerful, groundbreaking) fangirldom of Philip Reeve’s books, I will just send you to read “The Mortal Engines” (not to be confused with Cassandra Clare’s series, please), and come back to the review once you’re done.
Well, “Katya’s Worldis just like “The Mortal Engines”, except it won’t rip your guts out quite in the same way that Reeve’s book does.
So what is this about? Well, in the distant, distant future, after nearly a century of anarchy and destruction, Earth enters in contact with its colony Russalka, demanding that the status quo is maintained. Unfortunately, the Russalkin don’t feel the same way, and an independence war is waged. Ten years after a shaky stalemate, Katya Kuriakova, a prodigy in navigation, goes on her very first journey, and… well, things don’t really go exactly according to plan.

Attentive readers might already notice that “Katya’s World” is Russian-themed, if not Russian-inspired, much like Leigh Bardugo’s “Shadow and Bone”. This homage is not unintentional - the Russalkin were originally selected from the same region as to avoid interracial and intercultural conflicts as much as possible, and this is just one of the few interesting pieces of worldbuilding that Jonathan L. Howard peppers throughout the story. Culture is a running motif - old culture vs new culture, cultured vs un-cultured, and what identity really means. The novel plays with those concepts to create a clever rhethoric against racial and nationalistic hatred, which I found to be particularly pleasing.

As for our heroine, Katya, if I had to place her somewhere on the badass scale, I’d say she’s a younger, more idealistic version of Hester Shaw. Or, rather, she’s what Hester might have been, if certain event had not occurred - she’s intelligent and initiative, a natural-born tactician and survivor, but she has a certain innocence about her which more hardened YA heroines lack. And while Hester is easily my favourite (because Hester is awesome), I think I prefer Katya Kuriakova to broken birds like Katniss Everdeen. Perhaps it’s because we see Katya as she slowly sheds that childhood innocence and discovers the harsher realities of the world, so her progression as a character feels more organic and therefore - more interesting.

Ultimately, in addition to being a pretty cool sci-fi, “Katya’s World” is also a novel about growing up and responsibilities, one that isn’t afraid to take chances with its characters, or to raise the stakes until they’re sky high. Definitely recommended.
Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley.
Note: Synopsis and image courtesy of Goodreads.

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