Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Review: Katya's World - 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.

I’m not a boat guy. When I read books where large portions of the narrative happen aboard a ship on the ocean, I get bored really, really quickly. The same goes for submarines. Close quarters space, a rather narrow viewfinder through which to see any worldbuilding, and most often a claustrophobic narrative.

So Jonathan L. Howard had his work cut out for him, when I began to read his book... which is basically a sci-fi submarine book.

Thankfully, the book is a fast-paced and entertaining read. Clocking in at just over 300 pages, the slim volume is quick and easy to devour. The prose is workable without being overwrought, and the narrative flows from chapter to chapter with relative ease. So Howard took a setting I normally dislike and made a story I wanted to read. For that I'm totally grateful. Is it a perfect book? No, it's got some flaws, but nothing that he didn't overcome with the story he told me.

But let’s go a little deeper and see what worked and what didn’t.

The characters work. Katya and Kane I think especially pop right off the page with a style that shows us that Howard is a veteran of character work. I cared about MOST of the main characters, if not exactly all of them. There are a few characters here and there that, while not cardboard cut-outs, do seem only a bit more than window dressing. This is not a huge flaw, as it can happen in book of a smaller size when the main characters swing above their weight. Especially interesting here is the blessed lack of a love story. Too many YA titles feel the strange need to shoehorn in a romance to a story which doesn’t need one, or more often than not they cobble a story AROUND a staple romance. Both tropes are tired and annoy me. Howard avoids this altogether in KATYA’S WORLD, and that was a decidedly refreshing thing to see. It's good to see authors out there who know that a YA book needn’t be dependent upon a love story, nor does it require one just for the sake of having it. Katya does have personal relationships though which vary in degrees. From her initial jovial nature with her Uncle Lukyan, to her attempted adult speech around the Russalka military, down to the guarded openness with which she treats someone like Kane. She’s a great, strong protagonist who doesn’t fall back on any stereotypes to get ahead. She simply uses her wits, and it shows from page to page. Again, this was a refreshing protagonist and I found myself easily getting along beside Katya's nature. She's very likeable.

The story itself is great...if not overly complex. The world of Russalka is endlessly interesting, but I never felt like we got too much of a look out the window (if I can use that analogy). It felt like we sat in a room and had a lot of things described to us, but whenever we got into a position for a good solid peek out the window, the author would draw the curtain and we'd all say "Awww, man!". It only happened a few times, but it was noticeable. But that definitely speaks of Russalka being fascinating enough that I wanted more description, and more looks out the window. The non-complexity of the story is actually part of what allows it to rocket along at such a good clip, and for that Howard should be proud. He could have overdone the tale and added lots of twists and turns, but he doesn’t get ahead of himself too much, so the tale is allowed to be organic with an ebb and flow that doesn't ever feel forced. I will note that there ARE a few infodumps, and a few of those ARE a tad repetitive, but it never took me out of the story so I let those slide for the most part, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention them.

The end result here is a very solid sci-fi outing with a pace that is hard to match, realized characters that are fun to engage with stand up to be counted, and the whole is a pretty thrilling little story. The dialogue suffers a bit here and there with some clunkiness that sometimes doesn’t ring true, and there is a decided lack of humour which I felt might have lightened the often bleak atmosphere, but that's simply personal preference and I can't imagine it'd be easy to make jokes in a place as forbidding as Russalka.

This is a wonderful intro for young folk looking to whet their whistle with some dystopian sci-fi, and if this is the first book in a series then I can wholly hope that the second volume delivers the same goods. While I wasn’t blown away by the book, which I am certain has more to do with my dislike of submarine tales than anything else; I was totally engrossed in it from beginning to end. It’s definitely a hard book to put down once you’ve started it, and seeing as how I started this on a cottage weekend, it kept me busy in the morning as I gazed out over the lake. Put KATYA'S WORLD on your reading list Sci-Fi fans, it's a great tale!

The book is out in November 13th 2012 from Angry Robot's YA imprint Strange Chemistry. You can pre-order it HERE.

1 comment:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...