Katya’s World is Russalka, a Russian-settled colony still reeling from a pyrrhic conflict with Mother Earth. Russalka has no land masses, and part of the novel’s fun derives from the relative novelty of incorporating the claustrophobia and blindfoldedness of Das Boot or The Hunt for Red October-style submarine hide-and-seek games into a far-future/alien planet setting.
Precocious Katya, who would even be old enough to drive a car in much of 21st century Earth, is on her first voyage as a full-fledged navigator when her sub encounters something no one on Russalka is prepared for. From there it’s a non-stop ride, with battles, captures, escapes, and plot-twists a-plenty. The general theme of an unreasonably young person drawn into both armed conflict and dawning sociopolitical consciousness draws on a long tradition including works like Treasure Island and Johnny Tremaine as well as Scott Westerfeld’s more recent and science-fictional Leviathan series; Katya’s World is a worthy addition.
A few quibbles: character development is a little thin throughout, and Katya, despite flashes of realistic emotional immaturity, is generally so smart and collected that she strained my credulity a bit. I didn’t find Howard’s world-building entirely satisfactory; although it’s set many generations in the future, and some of the tech is nearly-magical, a lot of it has scarcely evolved from what we have today. I also question opening the novel with such an atypical and exposition-heavy first chapter (although that’s certainly a venerable SF tradition).
But mostly I was turning pages too breathlessly to nitpick. I give Angry Robot’s new YA-imprint Strange Chemistry big ups for defying the conventional publishing wisdom that boys won’t read books with female leads and that girls won’t read action-oriented sci-fi books. And although Katya’s World is a solid, stand-alone novel — no last chapter cliffhangers here — I’d be happy to read more from Howard set in this intriguing milieu.
needs more demons no.