New cannon setting: The first part of the book is set during the clone wars, part 2 onward leads up to the Rogue One movie. There is no direct interaction (as far as I could tell) with other novels set in this time period; Lords of the Sith, A New Dawn).
Primary characters: Smuggler and pilot Has Obitt, scientist Galen Erso, his wife Lyra, and young daughter Jyn, and the ambitious Orson Krennic - the man responsible for weaponising the Death Star
My brief plot summary: Prequel to Rogue One, sets the foundations for the Death Star.
My Thoughts: Catalyst Reads well as a standalone - this is one of those Star Wars books readers could enjoy simply to get a taste of what's to come in Rogue One without worrying about the baggage of the new cannon. That said, some familiarity with the characters and earlier movies will improve the reader experience (The Clone Wars features prominently in discussion throughout the earlier stages while Tarkin (A New Hope) is a key figure.
While it lacks the same level of adventure and action as some of the other new cannon books, Catalyst does provide an important look at the early development of the Death Star's eventual world destroying weapon and the nuances that go into getting the Empire established. Remember, most of the people across the galaxy know not of Palpatine's evil ways.
Author James Luceno also wrote another of the Star Wars new cannon novels in Tarkin; this is evident in Catalyst with the character featuring prominently. I loved the way Luceno played Krennic and Tarkin off one another, the dynamic was tense to say least.
As far as the other characters go, there is a little bit of Han Solo to Has; a tried and tested formula that is proven to work, so why not adopt here? Luckily, the typecast suits Has and his character develops into its own, rather than becoming a Han-like clone. The Eros' fit the Rebel mold perfectly while the bit players (Saw most notably) add a little something.
Catalyst doesn't bring much new to the franchise but it does serve its purpose in wetting the appetite for Rogue One. A must read for Star Wars fans but not essential to the casual observer.
3 / 5 stars.