By Jonathan L. Howard
Genre (s): YA/Sci-Fi/Speculative
QUILTBAG Main Character: No
QUILTBAG Minor Character: No
Main Character of Color: No
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: Katya’s planet of Russalka is one of water. The inhabitants live mostly in underwater settlements, using undersea crafts to go from settlement to settlement. Years ago, a brutal war between Russalka, a former colony planet, and Earth left Katya with only her uncle as her only family. Now old enough to have her pilot’s license, Katya and her uncle are ready to head out on her first cargo run as official members of the crew. Before they can leave, however, their ship is commandeered by the leading authorities to transport a wanted criminal to the worst prison on Russalka. Not just any criminal, either, but the most wanted pirate on the planet: Havilland Kane. Annoyed but with no other choice, the voyage sets out only to meet disaster. Something is lurking in the roiling, treacherous seas of Russalka, something that Kane alone knows the secrets of. If Katya doesn’t act quickly, it could mean the end of everything.
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
When I was a child, no more than ten, my mother took me to the Treasures of the Tsar exhibit that had come to town. I remember looking at nesting dolls and stunning gowns while my mother and an audio tour told me the story of Tsarist Russia. I have, since then, been a teeny tiny bit obsessed with that time period, including researching people who claimed to be various members of the royal family after the revolution. Was Anastasia my favorite animated princess film? Yes, despite its unnecessary villainization of Rasputin whose only crime was being too sexy for god to let die. Did I pick up Katya’s World because it was sci-fi with Russian folklore influence? Oh, you KNOW I did.
Katya’s World is unlike any other YA speculative fiction I think I’ve ever read. It isn’t just the world building, which is phenomenal, or the fact that there is no romance in it (which is such a relief particularly when Katya is decades younger than almost every other character in the book), or that the plot is so tight and surprising. But what absolutely makes this book unique is how much it both feels exactly like a YA book and nothing like a YA book.
Katya’s World doesn’t have romance. Katya isn’t chosen, she is, in a lot of ways, merely unlucky. Sure, she’s a kind of prodigy when it comes to piloting a minisub, but otherwise she is ordinary. So much of this book is about ordinary people and what war and hate and love can force them to do. This book is tense from almost the first page. The ebb and flow of the novel leaves little breathing room, and any breathing room left usually amplifies the existing tension either through reflection or conversation. The result is a pace and plot that feels more like traditional adult sci-fi than YA.
On the other hand, this book has so many aspects of what make a great YA novel: a young woman who is outthinking some of the adults; a smart, handsome, complicated antihero pirate; even on-brand YA dialogue.
I can already hear some readers here going, “Oh, so it’s New Adult.” And no, no it isn’t. New Adult (a genre name I take issue with but that’s another post) tends to be heavily romantic and usually sexual. As I’ve already mentioned, there is no romance to be found here. Katya’s World manages to transcend genres to be its own unique story. It drags the reader into its dark depths to show what creatures lurk not just below the surface of the water, but the surface of the people who inhabit the book.
Jonathan L. Howard is quickly moving up the ranks as one of my go-to authors, and this book really helps cement that sentiment. I admit it may be hard to find yourself a copy because, as much as it breaks my heart to say, this book is now out-of-print. But if you can get it from your local library or a used book store, it is well worth the read. Once you begin, you won’t be able to look away.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love Katya’s World? Leave a comment telling me if you think you could survive on an undersea planet. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.