Book Review # 36: The Catalyst by Helena Coggan

Monday, 27 April 2015
Please note that before you read this review that I am reviewing this publication for Hodder & Stoughton. I received an advanced readers copy of this title in exchange for an honest review. In no way is my opinion influenced by the fact that I received this free of charge. Now on with the review!

Product details:
Title: The Catalyst
Author: Helena Coggan
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Format: Hardback
Length: 448 pages
Published: February 19th 2015
Rating: ☆☆☆
Review Copy from Publisher
Purchase: Book Depository / Waterstones
Rose Elmsworth has a secret. For eighteen years, the world has been divided into the magically Gifted and the non-magical Ashkind, but Rose's identity is far more dangerous. At fifteen, she has earned herself a place alongside her father in the Department, a brutal law-enforcement organisation run by the Gifted to control the Ashkind.

But now an old enemy is threatening to start a catastrophic war, and Rose faces a challenging test of her loyalties. How much does she really know about her father's past? How far is the Department willing to go to keep the peace? And, if the time comes, will Rose choose to protect her secret, or the people she loves?

Ooh this was a very mixed feelings kind of book! Before I even go into the review I just need to acknowledge that this author is 15. She was 13 when she finished the first draft of The Catalyst and while in the review I am not going to be comparing her work to her age, I just find this to be overly impressive. At 13 I was probably still riding around on my scooter and skateboard, not writing a 400+ page novel. It's extremely impressive to say the least. So The Catalyst is an interesting mix of dystopian and fantasy genres, something that I have to admit I was curious about. Individually those genres work really well, but together? I hadn't really seen it done before, but the way the story was developed from the original concept seemed to blend nicely, but what did I think of it overall?

In this book we're introduced to a world where after a science experiment gone haywire, angels punished mankind and descended upon them - merging with the souls of man and giving certain people gifts. Eighteen years later after the war (of course there had to be a war) mankind is governed by the department. Society is split up into groups of ability, the Gifted who have magic and the Ashkind who have had magic removed. You also have others such as the Angels, the Hybrids and the Demons. For me it was nice to see the vast array of society but I didn't feel that they were developed enough to warrant all of the focus. It made it quite difficult to follow at times. It was a unique idea that I thought worked well, I just saw so much potential with it and unfortunately it lacked in this quality.

So we follow the main character Rose and her very complicated journey. The plot is difficult because it flits around quite a bit through different perspectives. Rose and her father work for the Department and it's all centred around a murder and who committed it. The plot kicks off from there as Rose finds herself in line with the murderer, joining the department to unveil terrorist plans and all while trying to keep her secret - the fact that she is a hybrid. Hybrids from how they were described kind of reminded me of werewolves -they change every few weeks or if they're threatened. However I feel like I would have liked a bit more background to the hybrids and the same with the demons, because the entire of the way through the story we're told that Rose and her father are keeping this big secret but we never really find out just how bad they are or even why they are dangerous until near the end of the novel, when in fact we needed the information earlier on in the story for it to make complete sense. I don't want to talk about the plot in too much depth because in reality it's quite difficult to try and describe. There is a lot going on in this book, so much so that sometimes I did feel a bit lost. Some of the story arc's that were taking place in the background seemed a bit un-necessary and I found the ending completely insufficient. Don't get me wrong, I was excited at the concept of spying on the enemy but there were just too many parties in play and when it came to the 'final battle scenes' I didn't really have an idea what was happening. It just felt a tad rushed. I think I would have enjoyed this so much more if it was just one force against the other, but when you have a triad of people it's just difficult to try and understand. A shame really.

So plot wise it did fall slightly flat but it was the writing of this novel that really impressed me. The style in which it was written was elegant, exquisite and really well developed. There were a few moments in which I questioned some of the regularity of the writing - especially in a character's tone of voice. A lot of the beginning of the novel consisted of the word 'bastard' but then it seemed to trail off. I didn't overly mind this however because I felt that it's constant use in the beginning was slightly unnecessary and felt at times it was just used as a filler instead of some of the other elegant word choices that Helena Coggan is clearly capable of using as she demonstrates this multiple times as the novel progresses. I think I would have just liked a bit of consistency on this front.

In terms of the characters I felt that the main protagonist Rose was extremely well developed, as I mentioned earlier I would have liked to have seen more on the controlling of the hybrid side of her but this was a mediocre change. She was a well constructed character, having the perfect balance between being sassy, feisty and having that softer more reclined side. David was equally as balanced in his character but unfortunately I couldn't feel much of an emotional connection to him. He was well structured but he fell kind of flat in the depth department. However I think my favourite character had to be Loren, his character was extremely well fleshed out and his backstory actually seemed believable. This is often something I find difficult to praise in fantasy novels because it's usually the element that is missing, but Coggan hit the nail on the head with his character, I felt the correct amount of angst and love for him as the story developed. On the other hand I have to say that some of Rose's friends felt completely unnecessary to me. They just seemed to 'be there' and didn't really add any uniqueness to the plot. I think it would have worked out just as well if perhaps some of those characters weren't there. I'm looking at you Nate!

Overall this was a very complicated novel to try and get in to but once I had succumbed to what it had to offer, that was it. I was trapped. I loved the uniqueness of the world and the idea behind what the angels brought - I would have liked to have seen perhaps a bit more on the development of some of the other groups. I felt we knew the Department and the Regency well but not the Gospel enough for them to play a vital role in the end of the story. I award The Catalyst a 3 out of 5 star rating and I will be intrigued to see what Helena Coggan writes next because I will quite likely be picking that up and delving once again into her enchanting writing.

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