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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

In a thrilling debut by sixteen-year-old Helena Coggan, a girl with a terrible secret is tested to her limits as her fractured world teeters on the brink of war. Eighteen years ago, a dimensional break ripped open the sky, drawing humans into an ancient conflict. Otherworldly souls rained down and fused with those of people, dividing the population into the green-eyed, magical Gifted and the dark-eyed, nonmagical Ashkind. A devastating war followed, and the Gifted have managed a fragile peace ever since, largely through a brutal law enforcement organization known as the Department. Fifteen-year-old Rose’s father, David, has a leading role in the Department. Rose and David are Gifted, but they are also something else — something terrible. Their lives depend on keeping it secret. But when a mysterious murder threatens to tear Rose’s world apart, forcing long-buried secrets into the open, her loyalties are put to the test. How much does Rose really know about her father’s past? How far…

The Catalyst

by Helena Coggan

Overall Book Review:

A fantastic, if a bit flawed, debut novel by teen author Helena Coggan. The Catalyst has fellowship fantasy, a dose of dystopian, mystery, and suspenseful action for a YA read that will attract a wide age range.

Told in third person, readers are introduced to London after the Vielbreak, in which Angels, Demons, Gifted (those with magic), and Ashkind (non-gifted), struggle to coexist. Teenage protagonist Rose Elmsworth, falls in-between–gifted but also something terrifying–a secret Rose and her father, David, would die to protect.

A cool premise of creating magic in an ordinary world, while giving YA readers a welcome relief from the whole vampire, werewolf craze of yesteryears. Helena Coggan sets the bar high with a curious concept and a striking first few chapters. While the author got the ball rolling, it hit some snags along the way.

I trust when I’m reading a book that the author knows what they are talking about; it’s their world and their characters, but distrust starts to breed when characters are quick to act in a manner that miscarries the author’s description of them in a previous verse. It is confusing and thwarts a connection with said character. This can also be said for scenes in which conflicting descriptions were given.

Rose is a fierce teen and this can be seen in her protection of her family. The scenes in which Rose fights and deals with adult-like situations are the author’s finer work. In contrast, circumstances in which she faces interaction with teens her own age (especially of the opposite sex) feel forced and a bit pretentious.

Readers who are hooked on the action story-line will likely be more forgiving with the misrepresentation and useless additional characters, as well as the rough fluctuation of scenes. Still, this debut author’s work is nothing to scoff at, as it is creative and doubtlessly will gain recognition within the YA sphere.

With an ending that’s open-ended, fans of The Catalyst will have to wait for its sequel, The Reaction, for resolution.

Interested in novels about shape-shifting? Check out Alma Alexander’s Random.

 If the angels and demons concept tickled your fancy then you may want to try reading Divah, by Susannah Appelaum, which approaches the paranormal theme with a somewhat comic style.

Review of an Advance Reader’s Copy

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Candlewick Press

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language:  26 religious exclamations; 34 mild obscenities; 30 derogatory names, 1 scatological word. 

Violence/Gore:  Extended scene (about ½ page) violent destruction of property from storm, items blowing up; people begin to fall dead, unknown cause; items catch fire and explode; character hits someone; city burns; several mentions of war that caused destruction and casualties; mention of scar on teenager from being shot; discussion of murder; implication that law enforcement officer uses brutal means to capture his/her suspect; mention of individuals past indiscretion of fighting and drinking; comment on breaking and entering; extended scene (about ¼ page) murderer suspected of having magical powers; report of past incident of violence with gun (2x) injury upon gunshot victim; extended scene (about ¼ page) discussion of how murder victim was killed; individual described as violent; mention of previous fight; extended scene (about 1 page) secondhand report of individual described as a highly lethal killer; teen questions parent about a killing; threat issued; joke about hitting someone; character kicks wall; extended scene (about ½ page) characters stand over autopsied corpse and discuss their possible murder; mention of individual who wants a character dead; comment on character who had to do bad things as a soldier in war; extended scene bloody somewhat descriptive (about 2 pages) memory of past violence, individual intendeds to harm another individual, exchange of gunfire resulting in death and injury; extended scene (about 2 pages) characters use magic to push each other down, blood mentioned; mention of past violence where teen shoots to kill; extended scene (about 1 page) character sees another character putting up a fight as he/she is held against their will; adult restrains themselves against hitting a rude teenager; teen voices that their parent thinks a certain character should be shot; description of how weapon can inflict injury; weapon is pointed at character (2x); character desires to kill another character; character threatens another character; implication that character is a murderer; building explodes, possibility of people inside; extended somewhat creepy scene (about 1 page) character transforms into something sinister; mention of students in combat training using magic; character ordered to fight in combat class; discussion of violence; extended scene (about ¼ page) character tells of an attack on him/her in which a loved one was shot and another was kidnapped; threat of murder; character admits to murder; character asks another character to commit violent acts; talk of violent behavior; character implies they wish to harm another character; character hints at having committed violent acts; extended scene (about 2 pages) characters exchange a list of violent threats against one another as individuals and as a group; threat made as a joke; semi-joking threat; character slaps another character; character implies violent actions will be taken against them if they are captured; implication violent actions will be taken; extended scene (about 6 pages) character tells of past violent incidents, hurting and killing; joke about killing someone; character is presumed dead, possible suicide; mention of injuries incurred during combat class (2x); students use magic during combat class (2x); extended scene (about 2 pages) characters use magic and physical fighting in combat class, mention of blood and injuries; continued mention of character’s pain from injury, blood mentioned; teen is ordered to kill another character; character is described as badly beaten; character tackles another character, holds a gun to their head threatening (few times)to kill/hurt them; character calculates other character’s injuries from apparent beating; character threatens another character while holding a gun; character shoots at another character; character threatens to kill another character; joke about killing someone; character’s criminal record is stated, murder included; character grabs a gun, in what looks like an attempt to shoot another character; character jokes about killing another character (2x); character kicks another character, pressing a gun to their head; character is shot at and injured; character uses magic to rumble buildings, they begin to collapse; injury mentioned; extended scene (about 1 page) building blow up, characters are hurt being forcibly taken against their will; news report of people dying in bomb; character is threatened; exchange of threats; mention of suicide; characters discuss previous bombing; extended scene (about 3 pages) discussion of past war with violent actions including killing; character found dead, implication of murder; somewhat gory description of murder victim; joke about killing someone; extended scene (about 4 pages) discussion involving violent murder; remark of residual blood from murder victim’s body; mention of previous bombed out building; plan of attack ma include bombing (2x); teen pushes adult down, pointing gun to their head; character hits another character; plan of attack is referred to as a suicide mission (5x); extended scene (about 3 pages) discussion of plan of attack, bombing and shooting; bombs go off; discussion of past attack; exchange of threats; character is handles roughly, blood mentioned; character threatens another character with gun to head; mention of wound; character seems to callously shoot 3 individuals dead; extended scene (about 3 pages) discussion of violence, killings, and bombings; extended scene (about 4 pages) talk of past and future violence, report of deaths; report of gunshot injury; remark of past violent acts by character; implication of murder; report of deaths; character uses magic to knock another character down, then proceeds to kick them; talk of violence and impending attack; mention of an attack on a building; characters watch city burn, hearing gunshots in the distance; somewhat gory scene, character is shot several times; report of soldiers killing; implication that characters were attacked; somewhat gory, character kills another character; repeat mention of murder(s) (about 16x).

Sex/Nudity:  Character is revealed to be a homosexual (2x); mention of girlfriend being dumped; unmarried adult female pregnant; parent teases their teenage child about the opposite sex; character is said to have a crush; mention of unwed mother; teen takes their friend’s (a member of the opposite sex) hand for moral support; male teen asks female teen out on date; teen is said to be attracted to another teen; non-romantic hug; hormones mentioned; character places a hand on other character’s shoulder; teens briefly kiss; character assumes someone must have redressed him/her, meaning they would have been seen naked by that individual.

Mature Subject Matter:

War, murder, prejudice, civil dispute, cult, governmental injustice.

Alcohol / Drug Use:

Mention of individuals past indiscretion of fighting and drinking; champagne is served at party; teen remembers past incident of drinking alcohol with their friend; use of hallucinogenic drug in military capacity.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

I appreciate books of all genres, but my main squeeze is fiction. Depending on my mood it could be romance or suspense; lately I’ve been courting fantasy. When I don’t have my nose in a book, I am locating tasty paleo recipes, writing in-coherent poetry, and crafting with paper.