Book Review: Kana the Stray

The fate of a world that is not her home rests upon the shoulders of Kana Kobayashi, the last human.

Kana the Stray by CC Luckey is a fantasy and science fiction novel following Kana Kobayashi as she tries to navigate her way through a world dominated by talking animals known as the Kingdom in order to find her way home. On her journey she transforms from a snarky, aimless young woman who’s given up hope to an inspirational leader with everything to lose from the dwellers of the mysterious Badlands—but will she bring on her own downfall?

Kana Kobayashi is a nobody. A vagabond, homeless, unwanted, living on the streets of Chicago with the cold of winter afoot. Fleeing a suffocating and emotionally abusive family, she takes her chances and follows the only route left open to her: taking experimental drugs for a pharmaceutical company for food money.

When she goes for her next dose, the whole world changes. Literally. Now in a world where animals talk and humans are extinct, she must discover where humanity went wrong, and how to get back to her own world—and if she even wants to.

CC Luckey’s Kana the Stray is like Brian Jacques meets Isaac Asimov, in a novel where animals show more humanity than humans… and that’s not always a good thing.

When you mix fantasy and science fiction, there’s this wobbly existence where booksellers, agents, and publishers just don’t know where to put you. That’s because people love to be able to categorize, label, and otherwise put things in boxes. We have container stores after all—we do love our boxes.

That makes the finer points of ‘audience’ for Kana the Stray a little difficult. It has significant elements of sword and sorcery, complete with epic battles, betrayals, and royalty. And yet there is also a very important science fiction element to the story as well (which I will not spoil, so you’ll get nothing more out of me!) You can make an argument for speculative fiction of course, but even that label goes in and out of use.

Personally I love when the fantasy and science fiction elements become so intertwined they’re like a finely knitted sweater. You can see the patterns, but unless you look really close, the individual stitches run together. That’s how well Kana works. Suffice to say, no elements of the story (fantasy, science fiction or otherwise), stand out as unnatural or as not well integrated.

What I Liked
I think what struck me first and foremost about Kana is that the prose was flawless. Detailed, but unhindered. Emotional, but not dawdling. The pacing was spot on throughout the book, setting the tension and giving me chances to breathe before heart-thumping action scenes. It was at a level that I don’t usually see even in a lot of traditionally published books, let alone indie books (Not to say that indie books are inherently lesser, only that indie authors don’t often have the funds to hire multiple editors for each of their books to really polish the prose.)

I also loved how much the characters grew throughout the story. If I’m honest, I struggled with Kana as a character in the beginning. I disliked her personality, so if on your initial read you have the same reaction as me take heart. Luckey has a knack for showing character growth, not just of her main character but of much of the main cast (which is quite the ensemble of personalities in and of itself.) I loved how Kana grew into her role as an ambassador, how she still kept her snark and distrust of authority while also acquiescing to the needs of her role when it really mattered. Most importantly, I loved how she learned how to form bonds and relationships with others, having not experienced a healthy family life or any real friendships as an adult.

One of the other enjoyable qualities of this book is more about the experience itself. I’m someone with chronic pain who suffers with constant physical issues that make even the seemingly low-stress activity of reading difficult at times. Yet, this book had me so engrossed that I ignored all of my normal physical warning signs and read myself near into a flare up because I didn’t register the pain through my excitement.

For me that is a hallmark of a good fiction book: one that can let you forget your lot on Earth just for a little while, and become invested in the lives or the characters in the story, so much so that all your worries and stressors fall away into nothing.

Although Kana certainly had stressors of her own. Part of what made this book so engrossing is that when it hit its stride, it was incredibly exciting. It is an action-packed sci-fi with the added mystery of how Kana ends up in the Kingdoms in the first place. The twists and turns had me guessing, while the battles, the betrayals, different forces coming in and out of play and the emotional growth of the main characters all happen in fluid motions, a well-oiled machine of a book that honestly caught me by surprise.

I thought I had an idea of what Kana the Stray would be like, what it would be about; and while the book I thought I was going to have read would have been good, it would have been done before. Kana is original, strange, and unapologetic.

Trigger Warnings
Graphic Violence

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