Katya’s World was the first YA SF I had read in a long time (the last being City of Ember which I am not even sure counts fully as YA and not as middle grade) and I quite simply loved it. Now I’m picky when it comes to SF versus how I am with fantasy and so I read far less of it (my only other recent venture in the genre being The Expanse Series). But Howard’s series, set on a planet covered by water and taking place underwater appealed to me. It was also the first Strange Chemistry title I read.
And I loved it.
So I was very excited when Katya’s War came out and once I actually got round to reading it (damn you depression for the time it took me to get this!), I wondered why I hadn’t done so sooner. Katya’s War is everything Katya’s World was but ten times better. There is more action, more mystery, more character development, and the book stops on the most amazing cliffhanger, one that made me want to scream for the sequel to already be out!
Katya’s War picks up not long after when Katya’s World ended, with Katya now captain of her own tiny ship and trying to resume a semblance of a normal life as war rages on around her. She has nightmares of everything on Russalka being destroyed and wishes more than anything that things could go back to the way they were before. Or that at least she didn’t know everything she did. So of course, when Havilland Kane walks back into her life, escorted by the Cherkova, Katya is even angrier. Let alone when he asks her to commit treason and risk herself.
Kane doesn’t give Katya much of a chance to say no as he takes her on a little underwater tour of the truth, facing her with horrors she would never have imagined possible. And when face to face with the truth of it all, Katya realises that the only thing she has left to do is to follow Kane in a crazy mission that could very well cost her life.
Howard does a brilliant job of his character development in this second instalment of the series, as Katya grows up faster than she would have liked to, faced with harsh truths that are almost unacceptable to her. But Katya is a strong character, and although she carries her own self-doubts and fear, she is capable to face up to the situation and not let it destroy her. Kane remains much of his old self, part mysterious, part truth-bringer, mixed with a lot of sadness, more even than anyone can imagine. For the secrets he revealed in Katya’s World are nothing compared to those he still holds inside. We also get to see a very different side of Tasya, softer and gentler, hidden beneath the veneer of the Cherkova.
All in all, the characterisation is excellent. Howard isn’t afraid of showing characters that are flawed, or a darker shade of grey. He makes no difference in between his male and female characters and they are all three dimensional, with their own agendas. And, no matter what their past, what they have done or secrets they hold, I find each and every one of them likeable. Howard manages to turn the darkest of past into something that doesn’t vilify a character, but instead builds them to the person they are now.
The pace and world building is just as excellent, with Howard managing to dump a lot of information on the reader about the world (and its past, through Kane) without ever boring or droning on. He drops enough hints here and there to let us know that something big is coming, that a revelation is about to happen, and then does so slowly, letting us work parts out through Katya as Kane slowly sets up the scene.
The mystery as to the nature of the treason is kept very well until the very end of the book, despite Katya knowing exactly what she is doing. Focussed as she is, she spares no idle thoughts towards the ins and outs of it and allows Howard to keep us hanging until the very last line of the book. The very last line that creates the most awesome-yet-frustrating cliffhanger that I have ever read. But then Howard knows how to end most chapters in a way that makes you jump to the next page even if it’s 3am and you have promised yourself to stop after this chapter because you really need to get some sleep.
Katya’s War is even more awesome than Katya’s World was and was one of those books I just couldn’t put down. As soon as the second chapter I was hooked, enthralled, and intrigued by the set up. I loved seeing Kane and Tasya again as well as Katya and the trio definitely took me on one hell of a ride through the Russalkan Sea. The pace just did not ever let up, giving the reader just long enough to catch his breath every now and again before picking up speed again.
Definitely one of my favourite books this year.