Narrated by Greg Tremblay
Caz has been telling me for a while now how amazing Rachel Grant books are and she’s also been talking up Greg Tremblay’s narration. So, I was excited to get the chance to review Catalyst, which features both of them. And Caz was completely right.
Catalyst is the second in Ms. Grant’s Flashpoint series set mainly in East Africa but it’s not necessary to have listened to Tinderbox, the first book, beforehand. It stands alone well. There are some minor spoilers for the previous book but not enough that it will be a barrier to me listening to it as soon as I carve out the time.
Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford is stationed with his team of Green Berets at Camp Citron in Djibouti. He is surprised to encounter Gabriella Prime at the camp’s bar one evening. He’d last seen her 10 years before when she was the public face of Prime Energy, a company which was pushing a decidedly environmentally unfriendly oil pipeline through Native American territory. Bastian is a member of the Kalahwamish tribe and grew up on a Reservation. His mother is the Tribal Chairwoman and he was very involved in the protest of the pipeline. He has nothing but contempt for “Princess Prime”.
However, Gabriella Prime is no more. She is now Brie Stewart (having taken her mother’s maiden name) and she has cut all ties with Prime Energy and her family, as they have with her. A former drug addict, she got clean and now she’s giving back, working for USAID in South Sudan at a refugee camp/aid station. She’s ashamed of the corruption her family engage in and is doing her small part to make up in some way for their bad actions and her own, before she knew better.
Bastian and Brie have an argument which doesn’t stop their mutual attraction rising and they share a passionate kiss before he walks away. How could he ever be with Princess Prime? His mother would disown him! In a book where there were very few jarring notes, that first kiss seemed rushed and not all that well set up. However, it did demonstrate the passion the couple share, simmering just below the surface.
A month passes and there is an attack on the aid station where Brie works. She escapes and the other aid workers are taken captive. For a female aid worker, rape is an inevitable result of capture so the guys covered for her to give her a chance to get away. The Green Beret team goes into retrieve the aid workers and Bastian personally leads the team looking for Brie.
Brie had been in Djibouti the month before giving intel to Savannah James, the CIA operative stationed at Camp Citron. Brie had become aware of a slave market hidden away in the swamp, apparently not controlled by either of the warring factions in the South Sudanese civil war. Children as young as eight were being sold into slavery. The market also sells stolen artefacts and any number of other contraband items.
The story deals with some heavy topics indeed: slavery, genocide, rape, war, famine – so it will not be a book for everyone. But I did not find it too graphic or in any way torture porn. The topics are handled sensitively and had the ring of authenticity about them. In fact, the entire book felt that way.
Bastian’s Native American heritage is an important part of him but he was not a stereotype. The story addresses some of the more common myths about Native American people and notes that they are in fact myths. I’d just finished reading a very interesting thread about the difference between representation and tokenism in fiction so I was alive to some of the issues which might arise. I’m no expert but FWIW, the representation here felt well-researched and sensitively handled.
Brie’s and Bastian’s journey takes them from a slave market to a small village in South Sudan, to Morocco as they discover a plot which is both personal and “professional” and take down the bad guys.
I liked the way there was plenty of time for Bastian and Brie to get to know one another and bond. Even though most of the book takes place in about three to four weeks and their courtship was done in a pressure-cooker environment, there was also some time and space for me to be happy their feelings were real and to believe in their romance and eventual HEA.
The suspense was scarily realistic and borrowed from real events to bring extra authenticity to the plot. The setting was unusual for me but also, merely in terms of romantic suspense plotting, gave an environment where things like cell phones and a lot of other technology wasn’t going to work so it made the “cabin romance” part of the book feel entirely believable. Of course, there are many other excellent things about the setting too. I left the book feeling a lot more knowledgeable about South Sudan – I did a little Googling as well because the book sparked my interest. I’m ashamed to say that I previously didn’t really know much about the country at all. (Who says romance novels aren’t educational?)
The book was wonderful, tightly plotted with excellent characters and a good balance of romance and suspense. I’m sure I would have liked it in print. But it was an absolute treat to listen to it. Greg Tremblay, who also narrates under the name Greg Boudreaux (it’s not a secret, it’s in his Twitter bio), is amazing. He is one of a very few male narrators who can perform a believable female character voice. I was able to sink into the story right from the start.
Mr. Tremblay gave Bastian a slight accent which spoke of his Native American heritage. He also had the opportunity to voice characters from Latinx, Sudanese and Spanish backgrounds. At no time did I feel the portrayals slipped into caricature.
The emotion in Mr. Tremblay’s voice was pitch perfect, as was his pacing and tone. I’ll be seeking out more of his work because he’s just that good. I put him right up there with Nicholas Boulton, Shane East and Alex Wyndham on my scale of awesome male narrators.
I know I’m listening to a great book when I am actively finding ways I can listen more – sometimes that includes doing extra exercise or housework – and Catalyst was one of those books. I just loved it. The narration made the book a more immersive experience and is a great example of romantic suspense on audio done right.
This is another book in the #AudibleRomance package. Subscribers can listen to it without spending a credit. (It’s totally worth a credit but why say no to a bargain?)
AUTHOR: Rachel Grant
NARRATED BY: Greg Tremblay
GENRE: Romantic Suspense
STEAM FACTOR: 5
REVIEWER: KaetrinBuy Catalyst by Rachel Grant on Amazon