Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjYeVirvz6I
Trade Paperback 320 pages
Review eArc courtesy of the publisher
Jonathan L. Howard’s Katya’s World tells the story of the human colony world Russalka; a world whose surface is primarily water. As such, much of the action takes place on a submarine and focuses on Katya Kuriakova, a young cadet in the navy. Evoking the juvenile novels of Robert A. Heinlein and the claustrophobic atmosphere of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, it has been suggested that Howard is starting a submarine-punk trend with Katya’s World. Be that as it may, and whatever one wishes to label the novel, Howard has given readers a fun, engaging novel that is the tip of an iceberg of a series.
Katya has just passed her academy exams and joins her Uncle Lukya, and only living relative, aboard Pushkin’s Baby the submarine which he captains. The novel opens with a relatively routine mission requiring the vessel to deliver items to one of the many underwater domes of Russalka. Of course in fiction things are rarely routine, so when Pushkin’s Baby is commandeered (military speak for being forced) to take human cargo, specifically the pirate Kane as well as his jailors, aboard to deliver him to prison Katya and Lukya’s mission suddenly becomes less than routine. When Lukya notices a potential wellspring of minerals, he pings it and the ship is soon attacked by an unknown enemy.
Howard takes that spark and runs and out of that, crafts a well-paced novel that examines freedom, the lessons of history, coming-of-age, the long-term affects of war, and life with very little land. The specific world of Russalka is well-realized and a character in and of itself. With a landless surface, the populace has adjusted to a challenging life; something in which the people of the land take great pride. As the world’s name may indicate, it was settled by people of primarily Russian decent. In Howard’s future, colony worlds of Earth were settled in similar fashion with each planet (though no others are featured in this novel) settled by one national group. Russalka is on the backside of a war with Earth, seeking independence after receiving little help from its mother world. Earth wanted to bring the colony worlds back under its control so Russalka fought back. This ‘war’ is backstory to the novel and helps to inform the characters, particularly Kane and the other adult characters and is delivered in the prologue to the novel.
Katya is a smart young girl whose sense of loss and detachment is cloud that covers her character, but pleasingly, this element of her character is just one fraction. From her interactions with her uncle to the even more engaging discussions she has with Kane, Katya is bright young girl. She’s headstrong but Howard smartly keeps her on the positive side of too plucky. Her smarts are evident in her actions and it becomes clear her promotion at the beginning of the novel is justified.
In the character of Kane, Howard’s given readers a very solid anti-villain. Initially, when it is revealed he’s a pirate, jumping to conclusion is a natural thing for our protagonist. As more layers of Kane’s past is revealed, he becomes more likeable if not for all of his actions then for how complex and flawed he is. At times, I found resonance between his character and the pirate Kennit from Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders trilogy. Both men exude an air of honor and class despite finding themselves on the wrong side of their world’s law.
My only issue with the novel is how Howard added more layers of complexity and tension as the novel progressed. These elements felt slightly tacked on rather than an organic extension of the plot up to those additional layers.
In the end, Howard has crafted an engaging, entertaining and thought-provoking novel. Though quite different in accoutrements from the other Strange Chemistry title I read (Blackwood), the same sense of wonder and overall flavor is present – quality story focused on youthful characters in a fantastically plausible setting. Another winner for the imprint.
© 2012 Rob H. Bedford