Leading a team specialized in putting magical objects — often cursed, always troublesome — back where they belong, Arwen Arnoult is tasked with taking back a particularly troublesome mask from a vaguely defined ancient civilization in Rise of the Catalyst.
This may sound like a dime-in-a-dozen adventure story, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Victorianesque world Honor Raconteur’s characters inhabit might not be well defined, but it is full of magical and mystical wonders and a wide cast of characters you get to know better as the book progresses.
It’s the kind of adventure you want to keep reading. You can’t help but wonder what mishap lays around the next bend, and you can’t help but root for the team as they travel through all sorts of terrains and encounters to accomplish their goal. I especially liked how the powers of the mages weren’t completely revealed from the get-go, but that you discover bit by bit just what they can do.
As someone who suffers from a visual disability myself, Arwen is the kind of hero I never knew I needed — and I’m sure I’m not the only reader who will feel this way. She’s part of a world that isn’t kind to people who are different, be they disabled, bi-racial or simply women. But Arwen refuses to sit down and accept society’s rules and regulations. She challenges them openly and manages to surround herself with like-minded people.
This, too, may sound like a cliché, but Raconteur manages to convey that there are kind, good people everywhere, who are willing to stand up against the assholes, in a way that feels organic, not forced. All the while the story thunders on.
Another strong suit is that while the story takes place in a time that lacks the same sensibilities as ours, the author balances matters of racism and native land ownership in ways that are both true to the past and respectful to contemporary social expressions. Something that seldom works out in novels in similar settings.
Rise of the Catalyst is a rollercoaster adventure story that definitely deserves a place among the classics of the genre. I look forward to seeing what trouble Arwen and her crew get up to next time!