A fun sci-fi romp perfect for younger teens and those who like their sci-fi on the cosy side!
Book: Kitra by Gideon Marcus
Publication date: 23rd March 2020
Ownership: Ebook sent free of charge by Journey Press. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Death of parent prior to story.
Stranded in space: no fuel, no way home…and no one coming to help.
Nineteen-year-old Kitra Yilmaz dreams of traveling the galaxy like her Ambassador mother. But soaring in her glider is the closest she can get to touching the stars–until she stakes her inheritance on a salvage Navy spaceship.
On its shakedown cruise, Kitra’s ship plunges into hyperspace, stranding Kitra and her crew light years away. Tensions rise between Kitra and her shipmates: the handsome programmer, Fareedh; Marta, biologist and Kitra’s ex-girlfriend; Peter, the panicking engineer, and the oddball alien navigator, Pinky.
Now, running low on air and food, it’ll take all of them working together to get back home.
I’m always going on about my love of small-stakes fantasy, the kind of thing where the protagonists aren’t trying to change the world or deal with international politics and war, but have their own problems that are just as engaging because of the setting – well, I didn’t know I needed that in sci-fi as well! Kitra is not a universe-sweeping book: it’s the story of a young woman and her crew on their first-ever flight in their new spaceship. It’s not a big, bombastic epic, but a sweet story full of character work and mild peril, making it perfect if you’re after a cosy spacefaring read.
Kitra, our young captain, is a compelling lead – a feisty young woman determined to achieve her goals, struggling a little to move beyond her mother’s image, and just as concerned with her friends as she is with her ship. The story is told in first person, and her voice is instantly likeable. So too are her crew, from her no-nonsense ex-girlfriend Marta and Marta’s worry-wart new boyfriend Peter, to Kitra’s cool new crush Fareedh, to cheerful blob-like alien Pinky; it’s easy to get a handle on the history and tensions between them all, and they’re a really enjoyable group to spend time with. Diversity is central, but treated casually, which is my favourite thing in worldbuilding in any genre – Kitra’s romantic issues are only a problem inasmuch as dating any of your crew is a problem, not anything to do with her being bi, and a large portion of the cast are POC.
This really feels like cozy sci-fi, in large part because of the tight-knit crew and the good character work, but also because any danger the crew is in isn’t part of something bigger. That sounds really vague, but the major problem with their first flight, as it says in the blurb, is that something goes wrong with their ship during a hyperspace jump, and they end up somewhere unknown. At the risk of minor spoilers, there’s no bad guy behind this; another novel, particularly post-Hunger Games YA, might have had there be some twisty, dark plot to uncover, but this is just humans vs space in the most classic of ways, which makes it an exciting adventure, but one which leaves space for the characters to work things out themselves, rather than being constantly on the run for the sake of the plot. There’s enough action to satisfy, but I really liked the ease with which I could fall into the story without needing to remember dozens of things. It would absolutely be suitable from young teens up, but also works for older readers.
I had just a tiny complaint that made the presentation feel a tiny bit less than professional, but not with the story itself. While I always enjoy getting a glimpse of character art, there are pencil illustrations after every third chapter that I didn’t think added much to the book as a whole. I’d love to see more illustrated YA (pictures don’t have an age limit!), but I think it would be better to have the illustrations more naturally interspersed, as you’d see in a middle grade book, so they feel like part of the story rather than being such a jarring break. When the first one came up I was really startled, as there was no indication from the general style of the book! Also, while the style is a matter of personal taste, I would have preferred them to be digitised; they’re soft pencil drawings and you can see they sit in a square where they’ve been scanned in and inserted, plus they’re all signed by the artist, whereas in a traditionally-published book I would expect the lineart to sit right on the page, with a transparent background, so that it forms a seamless part of the storytelling. It just didn’t quite work for me; but as I say, this small issue has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, which is great.
It’s really enjoyable to see a story like this that is so well-suited to that under-served younger-teen age bracket, while still being good for a more classic YA readership in the mood for something light. Plus, it’s reminded me to stay on the look out for more small-stakes sci fi, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Sirena, which came out a couple of months ago. Four out of five cats!