Katya’s World is published by Strange Chemistry, the teen imprint of Angry Robots – which is shaping up as the must-read list for young adult fantasy/scifi/supernatural. They have already released Gwenda Bond’s spooky supernatural Blackwood, Kim Curran’s time-bending Shift, the teen-witch Poltergeeks by Sean Cummings and the perilous pirate adventure The Assasin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke. All of them are blinders; exciting, edge of your seat, care about the characters stories. And now, with Katya’s World, we have another brilliant novel that both teenagers and those slightly older (ahem) can enjoy. Oh, Strange Chemistry, you are spoiling us!
Katya’s World is set on the distant planet of Russalka, named by its new inhabitants from Earth. The colony hail from Russia and are inspired by the sea-covered planet to name it after a faintly remembered mermaid creature from their mythology. Only time will tell whether invoking the name of a creature that lured men to their deaths will end well. Russalka is a hostile environment, all turbulent and boisterous seas. The pioneers create cities for themselves under the water, in seabed caves, and floating platforms to monitor the new world. Their mission is to exploit the precious minerals below the seabed for the benefit of mankind. This they continue to do even when communications with earth abruptly cease. The silence is shattered as the earthlings return to force Russalka to submit once more to their authority; a bitter war ensues only to end as suddenly as it started. And this is where Katya’s story begins – in a world left wounded, isolated and proud, as Jonathan Howard tells us in the short punchy prologue. The scene is set with no messing about; it’s a great opening.
Katya has just finished her training to become a navigator aboard her uncle’s submarine. She is still young for such a position of responsibility, but circumstances mean growing up fast. Her first voyage does not go as planned; during the preparations to depart, ferrying cargo, the sub is commandeered by a FMA officer. The FMA have become the de facto police/military authority since the war, so saying no is not an option. This officer is a right jobsworth, too unsure of his position to be able to use his authority effectively. He is escorting a prisoner, and insists on Katya plotting a direct course despite this being the least efficient way of travelling through the depths of the ocean. Of course, his way leads to disaster but does give us a very exciting story to read.
The prisoner is the most-wanted pirate, Havilland Kane, who has more secrets than a very secretive secret-keeper. He is charming, intelligent, respectful and all those other dangerous qualities so hated by authoritarian nitwits. Katya is torn between trusting or reviling him, and this tension is felt all the way through the book. From the moment the submarine is thrown into trouble trying to cross the Weft the action is unrelenting. Katya is battered physically and emotionally, but she is resilient and resourceful. I loved her. She’s a quick and lateral thinker, fortunately. The story twists and turns; every time I thought I knew the full extent of plot a new layer was revealed. It’s cleverly done, and had me hooked. Did I mention I loved it? Well, I did, very much indeed. It does have a ‘proper’ ending, I mean it stands as complete story in it’s own right, but the door is left open for another story. I hope there is, because Katya is a definite hero and I wouldn’t mind finding out what she gets up next.