Great sci-fi YA set on a colony world without land
Katya takes centre stage in this, the first of the Russalka Chronicles. A talented and intelligent young navigator, she makes a resourceful protagonist who is easy to like and root for. The narrative is in the third person, past tense, and the presence of a narrator is felt in a prologue which contextualises the story by providing a potted history of Russalka. I wasn't sure about the book at this point, as it was somewhat dry reading and a bit of an infodump, but it was definitely worth continuing.
Russalka itself is a fascinating setting and I liked how the environment is credited with creating the Russalkans' character. It made sense to me that a lot of the mythology and naming etc was broadly Russian-based, as the people's pragmatism and pride in their heritage had quite a Russian feel and tone. The story takes place a long time after Earth's colonisation and subsequent war with the colonists, and Katya and some of the other Russalkans express strongly negative attitudes to the Terrans (those from Earth), as they are known in the book.
The plot begins with Katya's first voyage as a qualified navigator, and rapidly things start to go wrong. The bulk of the novel has a real quest feel, although it doesn't have one obvious quest from start to finish, more problem after problem to deal with. Jonathan L Howard certainly doesn't shy away from testing his characters! Katya's resourcefulness and integrity are well and truly put to the test and she emerges stronger and more impressive time and time again.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this. I wouldn't be surprised if it serves to get more girls reading sci-fi, with such a great female protagonist (although a few more secondary female characters wouldn't have gone amiss...).
From the Back Cover:The distant and unloved colony world of Russalka has no land, only the raging sea. No clear skies, only the endless storm clouds. Beneath the waves, the people live in pressurised 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.
Katya Kuriakova doesn’t care much about ancient history like that, though. She is making her first submarine voyage as crew; the first nice, simple journey of what she expects to be a nice, simple career.
There is nothing nice and simple about the deep black waters of Russalka, however; soon she will encounter pirates and war criminals, see death and tragedy at first hand, and realise that her world’s future lies on the narrowest of knife edges. For in the crushing depths lies a sleeping monster, an abomination of unknown origin, and when it wakes, it will seek out and kill every single person on the planet.