Catalyst by SJ Kincaid | Book Review

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Catalyst by SJ Kincaid | Book ReviewCatalyst by S. J. Kincaid
Series: Insignia #3
Also by this author: The Diabolic, The Nemesis
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-10-28
Genres: Action & Adventure, Science & Technology, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

S. J. Kincaid has created a fascinating dystopian world for Insignia, her futuristic science-fiction adventure series perfect for fans of Ender's Game. Earth is in the middle of WWIII, battling to determine which governments and corporations will control the resources of the solar system.Teen Tom Raines grew up with nothing, some days without even a roof over his head. Then his exceptional gaming skills earned him a spot in the Intrasolar Forces, the country's elite military training program, and his life completely changed. Now, in Catalyst, the explosive series conclusion, dangerous changes have come to the Pentagonal Spire, where Tom and his friends train. When a mysterious figure starts fighting against the evil corporations' horrifying plans, but with methods Tom finds shocking, he must decide which side he's on.With slim odds of success, is it even worth the fight?

Catalyst by SJ Kincaid is a deliciously dark conclusion to the Insignia trilogy. I read Catalyst in a fever pitch — it’s a long book, clocking in at over 400 pages, yet it only took me a few days to speed through. I had the worst time putting it down and the worst sort of anxiety for main character Tom. I will tell you that this book goes to some very horrifying places, but in the end the payoff is worth those nerve wracking moments. I think that if you have not already read Insignia or Vortex, you should probably stop reading this review because I am going to spoilers you without even caring. That’s right, spoilers for previous books in the series, don’t care. Guys, I was so nervous to start Catalyst because I did not entirely love Vortex and found Tom to be a bit much for me, but I knew I had to get through Catalyst because Allison was chomping at the bit for it and I met SJ Kincaid at a party and she was perfectly nice and so I felt even more motivated to read her book. THANK GOODNESS because I loved Catalyst the most out of the three books in the series.

Life for the cadets at the Pentagonal Spire has totally changed since the last time Tom was there. General Marsh is no longer in charge. Instead, the civilian feel of the academy has changed and now the school is in total military mode. There are all these new rules to follow, including a hierarchy that’s in place and rules like no fraternization except on certain days. Of course, Tom does not take this seriously at first and bursts out laughing at the changes, finding himself stuck with what’s called penalty hours. Still, he is reunited with Vik, Wyatt and Yuri, so he’s okay until he discovers a terrible secret involving new neural processors. To complicate matters further, there’s another ghost in the machine engaging in large acts of rebellion against the different corporate oligarchies. Oh yes and Tom is navigating his relationship with Medusa from the previous books and of course, there’s also Joseph Vengerov who essentially is there to fuck things up if you know what I mean.

Okay so you guys all know how I am like that Tom Raines is such a little shit? Well, he still is, only I am finally realizing that his tenacity is a strength. There’s a whole reason why he is such a pain in the ass teenage boy throughout the series and honestly, I am looking back at my initial character assessment with new eyes. Catalyst sees Tom undergoing intense trauma and torture. We see Tom completely fragile and broken. We see just how far his fighting spirit goes. We see that he has weaknesses. We see that he learns from his previous mistakes, for once. We see that the attitude that often gets him into trouble is actually an asset. Tom is like a manifestation of free will, or at least that’s what his character represents to me and it was just so cool to finally see the endgame for his character and how he grows throughout the Insignia series.

I am always a fan of a revolution. There’s just so much that goes on with SJ Kincaid’s plotting and world building. As you all know from previous books, the world is run by corporate oligarchs and at the top of the food chain is Joseph Vengerov of the Obsidian Corp. Vengerov has a neural processor in his head and is a total sociopath. He will try for power at any length with no regard to human cost. I bring up Vengerov because one of the developments in this world is the development of Austere grade processors which are different from the Vigilant processors that the cadets have. We see Vengerov go to a total extreme when it comes to control. Yet, with absolute power and control, there’s still resistance in the form of a ghost in the machine which takes on several forms and meanings in Catalyst. I won’t say more because that bit is a delicious treat and one that I loved unwrapping as I read the pages. I also just have to say that given the influence of corporate interests on politics and such today, I thought this was an extreme parallel of what could happen when you give corporate interests too much power. I just loved making that connection in the world building to today’s modern world.

One thing that I loved about Catalyst was that I was totally proven right about Lieutenant Blackburn. In my previous reviews, I think I admonished Tom Raines like he can read my blog and my reviews to pipe the fuck down and listen to Blackburn and OMG I WAS RIGHT. Sorry but IN YOUR FACE I WAS RIGHT. I know I am being so annoying right now, but it just feels good to have this major instinct proved correct. Blackburn plays a HUGE role in Catalyst and I loved him. That’s all. Also, I loved Vik and Wyatt and Yuri and while we don’t see them as much, they play great central supporting roles and you can’t help but really care about them and what they do for Tom. Also, Vik totally provides desperately needed comic relief. I have all the love for Tom’s chosen group of friends, is all. AND HIS DAD NEIL! Who also is super important.

I will say that Catalyst is the book in SJ Kincaid’s trilogy where the romance between Tom and Medusa/Yaolan comes to fruition. It is not without difficulty, but the two really challenge each other and it’s actually not a terrible romance. I do like that it is not the focal point of the series, but a side consideration. And I liked how it was resolved.

Catalyst by SJ Kincaid is the perfect end to the series. It is a dark book but there’s hope and ultimate triumph. I really liked how this book challenged my previous assumptions about the first two books in the trilogy and especially my assumptions about Tom. I would say that Catalyst made reading this whole series worth my time.

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. SO with you on everything you said (minus the Blackburn thing, cause I didn’t call it, oops). I loved this ending and how dark the author made it. Fabulous review.

  2. I can not wait to read this one! My boyfriend has actually read this series with me and loves it just as much as I do and he doesn’t like to read. I’m so glad you enjoyed it April!

  3. Fabulous review, I loved it. I love this series, and i don’t know how many times i have read it, but its great. While it’s true that in certain parts of the books the story develope in a rather slow way, the resolution was great. I loved the way the relationship between Medusa/Yaolan and Tom developed during the series. The way that he didn’t care about the way that she looked, and the way that she forgave him.