Russalka is a watery planet, its colonists living in sealed, watertight cities carved into the ocean’s mountains. The seas are interrupted only by uninhabited poles and manmade platforms from which vessels can launch for other colonies as well as Earth itself. Or at least they did. When we arrive on Russalka, the planet is recovering from years of war with its Earth masters who, having decimated the population and its infrastructure, have again disappeared. The colonists, descended from Russian settlers, have no knowledge of what is going on on Earth, they have no means to travel off the planet, at least yet, and they can only presume that at some time Earth’s military might with its zero tolerance for independent colonies will return. For now, the communities make do with travelling the vast oceans, not all of which are entirely safe.
Our 15-year-old heroine, Katya Kuriakova, is about to begin her first day’s work as an adult. She is submarine navigator on her Uncle Lukyan’s vessel, Pushkin’s Baby. But a routine trip transporting goods is disrupted when an officer of the feared Federal Maritime Authority (the FMA), Suhkalev, commandeers the submarine to transport an infamous pirate, Havilland Kane, into custody. When the submarine is diverted through the Weft, an area of ocean which all captains are wise to avoid, it’s only a matter of time before the mysteries of the deep stir themselves and come after the vessel. Katya gives the horror a name – the Leviathon.
From then on, the adventure explodes into battles with pirates, attacks by unknown vessels, infiltrating spies, the discovery of secret settlements and all out war between different groups. Katya fights to keep her head above the surface but she is no mere victim in events. She interferes whenever she can, making herself indispensable while learning hidden truths about the past conflict with Earth and its legacy for the planet. Nobody is quite what they seem, including the charismatic but dangerous Kane and his partner Tasya the Chertovka, the She-Devil. Who to trust? You can almost taste the danger Katya is in.
Katya’s World is an adventure story through and through. A YA novel, it provides great appeal through its characters. Katya is a fine creation – feisty and independent while vulnerable enough to not be perceived as a threat by the adult antagonists. Arguably, her age is a stumbling block for the novel, making her involvement in every element of its adventure unlikely and unrealistic. Nevertheless, she is an enjoyable character, as are Kane and Tasya. The submarines themselves also have a personality about them. There is a true nautical feel to the narrative. The worldbuilding is good enough for the reader to feel immersed in its underwater realms. The Leviathon itself is also a big highlight.
My one complaint would be that the action is rather relentless. This may not be a drawback to most readers but I would have appreciated more time to draw a breath and explore a little more of the ocean world. I would have liked to know more about the colonists and the different environments as well as given more clues to whatever else might be out there, lurking in the deep. The pirates are good but I would have liked more of the unexpected. Especially as you get a real sense that it could be out there.
But Katya’s World will not stand alone. I hear there is more to come and so I am really looking forward to seeing how the story (and Katya) develops. Howard raises all sorts of intriguing questions about Russalka and its motherplanet. The potential is enormous and very exciting. I can’t get enough of YA science fiction and Katya’s World offers something very original and well done to the genre.