Catalyst (Insignia #3) by S.J. Kincaid
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Released: November 6th 2014
My Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
Tom Raines and his friends return to the Pentagonal Spire for a new year, eager to continue their training for the elite Intrasolar Forces. But they soon discover troubling changes. Strict new regulations, suspicious agents in positions of power, and the revelation that the Spire is under military control. The trainees are now cadets. What begins as an irritating adjustment soon reveals a dangerous shift in reality. Those in control are aligned with corporate sponsors who have ruthless agendas. And when the military academy begins welcoming new cadets with suspicious neural processors, they reveal the first step in a plan with horrifying worldwide ramifications. Tom is desperate to stop it, even if that means keeping secrets from his closest allies, and it seems he is not alone: the other Ghost in the Machine also begins fighting against the Corporations, but with methods even Tom finds shocking. And when the enemy comes for Tom, how much can he endure in the battle to save himself? (from Goodreads)
Note: mild spoilers for Catalyst and the entire series.
I really enjoyed Catalyst. It's probably my favourite book in the series. The previous books, while not exactly light-hearted, kind of gave me the sense that everyone would make it out of the danger somehow. Catalyst, however, was a lot darker, and I didn't expect that. Some of what happened really shocked me, and I ended up liking the book a lot more for it.
Tom went through a lot in Catalyst. I have always liked Tom - his great sense of humour, his recklessness and disregard for rules, his loyalty to his friends. He was a bit of an idiot at times but it was in an endearing sort of way and you couldn't help but root for him. He had such a hard life and all he wanted was a chance to prove that he wasn't worthless. We got to find out more about his past in this book too, which was definitely interesting, especially in regard to Tom's relationship with his dad, which had always been a bit rocky. But nothing that Tom had suffered in his past in any of the previous books was as bad as what he suffered in this book, even in book two when he got severe frostbite and lost all of his fingers. This was much worse. I don't want to give away too many spoilers, but Tom was imprisoned for part of this book, and tortured - in an unconventional way. And for me, it was the worst kind of imprisonment/torture. It wasn't gory or violent. It was worse. It was just so horrible. The isolation, the lies - it was almost scary to read about, yet in a morbid way it was fascinating because it showed Tom in a situation that we had never seen him in before, or ever expected to see him in. I honestly didn't know if he would make it through this time. It showed great strength of character that he managed to do what he did in the end, and I think it would be impossible not to respect him for that, despite what Tom himself thought about the situation.
Tom's friends were all back in this book, and honestly, I loved them all. Vik was his partner in crime, always up for a joke or prank, always having Tom's back. I really liked how their friendship was subtly explored, especially towards the end. Tom didn't have to explain things to Vik for him to understand, and Vik didn't need to ask questions to know how Tom was feeling. And even though he and Wyatt knew there was something different about Tom from the start, they never pushed him to tell. Wyatt - she was one of my favourite characters (besides Tom). I have to admit I sort of wanted her and Tom to end up together (not that I didn't like Yuri or Yaolan!) but I knew there was probably no chance (damn that one part that gave me false hope!). But even though I didn't get my way, I was perfectly happy with how things ended, because Wyatt was finally happy. She had been so unsure of herself throughout the last two books (and seriously, how dense was Tom for not noticing this, he literally needed someone to spell it out for him), but she finally knew what she wanted and I really liked how her character developed. She was able to feel confident about her relationship with Yuri (who was delighted, and that's what I liked about Yuri, he was a good and loyal guy who really cared about his friends). She was instrumental in a lot of things that happened and she and Yaolan probably saved Tom more times than he could even remember. Yaolan - she was definitely an interesting character. Her connection with Tom and her same ability to interface was explored more in this book, but I do wish we had maybe got to know a little bit more about her personally. She was awesome though and managed to do so many amazing things single-handedly (even saving the world).
Blackburn - now there's another thing I didn't expect. I really grew to like him in this book. I never thought much of him before but I don't know. Something happened. I got why he hated Vengerov so much - the man was just ruthless and needed to be stopped. And he seemed to care more, especially about Tom. One of my favourite scenes in the whole book involved Tom and Blackburn, and despite all the awful things the man had done, I couldn't help but like him. I wish we could have seen more of him, but I can't complain.
Plot-wise - this book was so action packed. It never stopped, there honestly wasn't a boring second. I finished it at like, 6 o'clock in the morning, no lie. Luckily it was the weekend! And so much happened that I didn't expect! The ending was brilliant and while some things didn't feel entirely believable, I was impressed for the most part. Most of the science-y bits didn't seem completely ridiculous or far-fetched, which unfortunately happens in a lot of books, and most things were wrapped up (though I did have a few questions, such as [spoiler, highlight to read] did Tom get his original memories back? [end of spoiler]). The best part, though, was the change you could see in the Tom through his actions in this book. He had come so far since book one and it was evident in the way he did things. It was also interesting to see some old faces return in this book and how they played a part in everything that happened.
Overall, I really liked Catalyst and I highly recommend this series for those who haven't started it yet. Great last book, and I'm sad to see Tom go. Looking forward to whatever SJ Kincaid writes next.