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Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard
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8912135,585 (3.92)2



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I had to keep reminding myself, as I read Katya's World, that without Wesley Crusher, who annoyed millions with his over-the-top precocity and tendency to save the occasionally weirdly bumbling asses of the crew of the Enterprise-D, we would not have the 24k slab of awesome that is Wil Wheaton today. Which is to say that sometimes, it's worth putting up with an improbably gifted young protagonist being the one to think of all the solutions to all the problems in order to enjoy the rest of a show's or novel's offerings.*

And what offerings there are! Like a stormy human-colonized water world, in which everybody lives in underwater cities, travels by submarine, and struggles to exploit the amazing mineral resources on the ocean floor and in the ocean water. Like a colony of entirely Russian descent (the powers-that-were in the waves of human colonization having concluded that removing the possibility of ethnic tensions was a very good idea) who eschew intoxicants and other Russian folkways because the environment is too hostile and drunkenness can easily lead to death.

Like a war fought under the waves, not among said Russian-descended colonists, but against invaders -- from Earth! A war that warped the culture of Katya's world forever, ten years before the events of this novel unfold, and is still warping it.

And, most importantly and excitingly, like a giant mysterious something haunting the deep, destroying subs and interfering with transport and commerce, which Big Benthic Baddie starts having a direct and frightening effect on Katya's own fifteen-year-old life as she starts her career as a submarine navigator! Said BBB and its secrets providing a marvelously creepy and menacing undertone to the whole novel. Yowza.

All this and a fascinatingly enigmatic hero-villain amalgam who totally steals the book even before we find out what he's really up to. Except that might not be what he's really really up to. Except that it might be after all. See?

So on the whole, I agree with my dear EssJay, who loved the Snape out of this book and hopes to see more works, maybe even for grown-ups, set in this fascinating world. Howard handles the science and the sociology very well, as well as the tension of sub-oceanic combat, sub-hunting, seek-and-destroy missions, discussions on the nature of synthetic vs. artificial intelligence**, so I know that, for instance, some prequel work on the war that preceded this story, or how Earth went from a colonizing powerhouse to something mysteriously crippled and desperate, would make for good reading for any age group.

And really? Katya's Wesley Crusher-ism isn't that annoying. If you could tolerate Sheriff Carter's always being the one to come up with the brilliant off-beat solution that all the scientists in Eureka couldn't, Katya won't bother you at all. But if you caught yourself rolling your eyes at Carter sometimes, well, they'll roll a bit more for this. But don't let that stop you. This is a neat book!

*And really, I want to forgive said annoying precocity and ass-saving as maybe one of the necessary trappings of young adult fiction, which I have but rarely read, even back when I was a young adult, but is that the case? At any rate, I probably wouldn't have noticed/been bothered by it so much had this been a first person narrative, in which case I could take it as a slightly unreliable narrator maybe inflating her importance to the course of events a bit, instead of the third person omniscient that I got. A pity.

**And, as Essjay so gleefully pointed out, even this heady stuff is made lucid for young readers but is never presented in a condescending info-dump, in narration or dialogue, which is always appreciated! ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
This is the type of book that flips everything that you think you know on its' head. In fact it does it more than once. This makes for a very exciting read. You would never know it by the opening scenes. I almost gave up on the book once, but persevered, and I am oh so glad that I did. The very beginning pages are kind of slow - so in that way it is kind of like a roller coaster; going up a hill, until it gets to the top. Once it gets there, there is no looking back.

Katya is an apprentice submarine navigator on a world colonized by Earth. She is on her first voyage after getting her license with her Uncle as Captain of the submarine on a world that is almost all water. To say that the voyage turns out to be more than she bargained for is an understatement. I won't give the plot away, as the twists and turns are too fundamental to the story, and nothing is what it seems when you first begin the book, so I won't give any details and spoil the experience for future readers. Needless to say, the book kept my attention riveted from after the initial scenes, and I was completely mesmerized by worldbuilding of the author as well as his fruitful imagination in creating such incredible characters and imagery. I was literally blown away and keep thinking about the book weeks after I have finished it.

This is a definite must read for all science fiction and fantasy fans - but also people interested in political intrigue will be interested in this book as well. It is extremely well written, with excellent characterization, advanced plotting, good pacing (with the exception of the first chapter set up) and a really nice ending. Overall, you don't find books this well done that often, and no matter what genre you like, if you like warfare, submarines, political intrigue, technology, space, human drama or just a good thumping read then this book is for you. ( )
  Molecular | Feb 21, 2014 |
I actually enjoyed this book quite a bit, despite my criticisms. It was a quick and compelling read, and I liked the protagonist (although she tended towards the too perfect--a few flaws would make her a lot easier to relate to). What it was lacking, for me, was a lot more sense of place and culture. The colony was descended exclusively from Russian settlers, but we don't see any of that in anything but the names; the book explains that the people don't relate to their Earth ancestors anymore, but they weren't so many generations removed from Earth that every trace of any traditions would have been erased. As well, the entire planet is underwater, and thus almost the entirety of the action takes place underwater; but outside of the very beginning of the novel I rarely got a real sense of that. A little more richness would have gone a long way. ( )
  rrainer | Apr 30, 2013 |
This review first appeared on The Book Zone(For Boys) blog

I want to sum up my feelings regarding Katya's World as succinctly as possible:

Katya's World is a great boys' own science-fiction adventure with one of the most resourceful and kick-ass female main characters since Derek Landy gave us Valkyrie Cain.

Naturally, me being me I can't just leave it at that - Jonathan L Howard probably spent months writing the book so the least I can do is try to do it some kind of justice by writing a lengthier review.

When I first started reading Katya's World I couldn't help but compare it with Kat Falls' Dark Life books, for no other reason than that they both share a sub-oceanic setting. At first the world created by Kat Falls in Dark Life was coming out on top, however it wasn't long before I was fully immersed in Howard's story and completely forgot about Dark Life. I also found myself much preferring Katya's World, with its pure science (fiction) roots as opposed to the 'young people living in the deeps gain super powers' plot elements of Dark Life.

Katya's World is set in a future where, due to population saturation on Earth, man has colonised a number of accessible planets outside the solar system. One such planet is the ocean world that became known as Russalka. Previous colonisations of other planets has demonstrated that success is more likely to be achieved if colonists are of the same ethnicity, and Russalka's case its initial new inhabitants are all from the same part of Russia. Since then, relationships with Earth first became strained and subsequently developed into an all out invasion of Russalka by Terran forces. As the book starts the war is a not-too-distant memory. The inhabitants of Russalka live their day-to-day lives as best they can, but constantly wondering if or when they will be attacked again.

We know all of this because the author tells us in his prologue to the story, and sadly this is the only part of the whole book that grated with me. As I was reading the prologue I was wondering when I had last seen a similar info dump at the start of a YA book, and I came up blank. As the story then progressed I found myself spotting parts of the story where the back history of Russalka and its people could have been more cleverly inserted into the plot. This style of prologue is not the kind of thing that we would expect to read in an adult title these days, so it comes across as a little patronising to young people when an author feels it necessary to include one for them. I would love to hear Mr Howard's reasoning for its inclusion.

The story follows the Katya of the book's title. Katya Kuriakova is a fifteen year old who has just finished her training as a submarine navigator, and the book opens with her embarking on her début voyage as the navigator on Pushkin's Baby, her Uncle Lukyan's mini-sub. As they are about to depart with their cargo of electronic components, an officious young officer of the Federal Maritime Authority commandeers their vessel and orders them to transport him and his prisoner, the alleged pirate Havilland Kane. So begins an adventure that sees Katya tested to her limits as she comes up against pirates, insurgents, and worst of all, a terrifying legacy of the war against the Terrans that could destroy everyone on the planet.

The two stand out elements of Katya's World in my opinion were the atmosphere that Howard creates, and his array of colourful characters. When these elements are combined they make for a truly believable science fiction story that feels very real, even though it is set on a far off planet in a distant future. The characters in particular are well developed, and even those who have little more than a small supporting role to play in the proceedings come across as much more than two dimensional creature-fodder. Katya herself makes a great heroine - she is resourceful and intelligent beyond her years, but is fragile and scared when the situation merits it. Her beliefs, both political and moral, are somewhat ingrained as the result of the loss of her father and her upbringing. As such, when she finds that her world is not as black and white as she thought, she finds these beliefs tested to their limits, as she has to decide who is good and who is bad, and whether those who live in between the two can be trusted when everything hits the fan.

Katya's World is a great read for fans of science fiction and adventure stories, and will have huge appeal to both boys and girls. The story does come to a satisfying conclusion, with no ridiculous cliffhangers, but as the start of a planned trilogy there is more than enough left unresolved to have readers clamouring for the sequel. ( )
  book_zone | Apr 1, 2013 |
I just don't understand... That is exactly how I felt about most of this novel. It started off really interesting and I was immediately hooked, but the action - and my attention- just kind of fizzled out. It attempted to build back up and there was a climax-esque finale, but by that point I didn't really care that much. I had a difficult time following the backstories and history of Russalka, the planet that this novel takes place on. I couldn't get a grasp for the rules of the world, and therefore found myself in a suspended state of confusion.

This novel take place way into the future, when planet Earth has colonized other distant planets. But after a war and years with no communication from Earth, Russalka believes that it have gained its independence. However, the threat of war looms over them, and they must be prepared for the next strike. It soon becomes evident that the threat is already there.

It sounds interesting, right? That's what I thought too. I wanted so badly to like this book, and maybe I would have if I just got it more. The planet is supposed to be completely covered in water. Like no land at all. I got this concept abstractly, as most of the novel takes place within ships, but there are also times in the novel where it seems as if they were on land, in dry air. But then there were times when they get off their ships... and where are they now? How are they breathing? What? In addition, the characters are decedents of Russian ancestry, and while I understood the need to have realistic names, I found it hard to follow who was who. Not only did they have names like Lukyan, Tasya, Petrov, Takarov, and Suhkalev, but they have nicknames and are sometimes called by their last names and sometimes called by their first names - all of which are somewhat difficult to pronounce. I had trouble remembering who was who and the role that they played.

The action starts off pretty quickly, and there is a lot of action towards the end, but the middle was kind of flat. There was a lot of planning and thinking, which is important, but definitely slow. Also, there were aspects of a character's prior life that were alluded to and all of a sudden it would become a big deal. Like some small detail led the characters from point A to point Z... The reader (and by that, I mean me... perhaps I was the only one?) misses all the steps in between. I was confused at how such a realization was made so quickly. I didn't know enough about the world to fully grasp the implication of creation things.

So all in all, it was mostly confusion that kept me from connecting with this one. ( )
  ilikethesebooks | Mar 30, 2013 |
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The distant and unloved colony world of Russalka has no land, only the raging sea under endless storm clouds. Beneath the waves, the people live in pressurized 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.… (more)

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