Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Title: Insignia
Series: Insignia #1
Author: S.J. Kincaid
Published: July 10, 2012 by Katherine Tegan Books (HarperCollins)
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: "Insignia expertly combines humor with a disarming and highly realistic view of the future. The characters are real, funny, and memorable. You won't be able to put this book down."—Veronica Roth, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Divergent and Insurgent

The earth is in the middle of WWIII in Insignia, the first entry in S. J. Kincaid's fast-paced sci-fi adventure trilogy perfect for fans of Ender's Game.

The planet's natural resources are almost gone, and war is being fought to control the assets of the solar system. The enemy is winning. The salvation may be Tom Raines. Tom doesn't seem like a hero. He's a short fourteen-year-old with bad skin. But he has the virtual-reality gaming skills that make him a phenom behind the controls of the battle drones.

As a new member of the Intrasolar Forces, Tom's life completely changes. Suddenly, he's someone important. He has new opportunities, friends, and a shot at having a girlfriend. But there's a price to pay. . . .

Insignia is another one of those books that I did really enjoy but I'm not entirely sure why. My first pass at this review really reflected those feelings. I didn't know what to say. But then getting my thoughts together it all seemed to make sense. Insignia is an action-packed adventure with a creative futuristic world, and despite some really unlikable characters the sinister antagonists redeemed some of the poor qualities of the protagonists making the story all the more interesting.

Except replace magic with technology or space
Without a doubt, however, I loved the world of this book. It's definitely a "Hard SciFi" kind of read with a crazy futuristic world. There was out of this world technology including computers embedded in the characters minds and a virtual reality landscape that was creative and engaging. I had heard it referred to "Hogwarts in Space" and yes, it did have those elements. I'm always a sucker for coming of age stories set in boarding schools, especially if there is a creative twist on the setting and that is exactly what Insignia did. I mean it's a military boarding school for teenagers who are learning to fight virtual wars in space. Plus there was this interesting future that the author created. It wasn't the "earth is destroyed so we have to live in space" kind of future, it was like the Cold War in space, or a virtual reality game. Actually kind it was kind of both. I know that all sounds confusing but it made perfect sense when reading the book.

Plus Insignia did have some of the most unique characters but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. I don't normally mind unlikable characters but this book was a return to something that used to happen to me all the time, where I liked the book despite not really liking the characters. And that includes the main character, Tom Raines. He's was an odd combination of a reluctant hero and a more traditional hero. He's got all the willingness and drive to be a hero but not much of the skill. Sure he's resourceful, quick-thinking, and creative but for when he's at his best when he surrounds himself with people who are better than him. Despite the fact that there were some great strong female characters, there were also a lot of characters had serious "dudebro status" (if you know what I mean). They were often misogynistic know-it-alls without many redeeming qualities.

These rather unlikable characters also led to some even more unlikable antagonists in this book. Yes, I meant to put an s on the end of that. There is more than one extremely sinister force trying to keep our hero down. It's one of the few things Tom has going for him, he's the lesser of more than two evils. First there is the Russo-Chinese alliance, the foreign power that he and his countryman are battling. Then there are some forces at the school including an extremely vindictive student and a teacher who is doing some less than savory things to Tom. And finally, a shady company that is taking advantage of society and trying to use Tom for their own personal gain. Seriously, there is so much conflict in this book. Sometimes these many sinister forces are all working against Tom and sometimes there are working against one another. It all makes things extremely confusing, and this may come as a surprise, but that's one of the best things about this book.

All these conflicts made for a really interesting plot that was not only chock full of thrilling action and adventure but was strangely very character-driven. The conflict made for some really interesting internal and external struggles for Tom. He doesn't know who to trust because honestly everyone is pretty bad. He is forced to make some really tough decisions throughout this book and it leads to a really unique character arc. And that arc was expertly embedded in the plot of this book. His decisions lead to a conclusion that is both logical and unsettling. And it was all tied not only to Tom's coming-of-age story but also his role as a tool for the Cold War style battles.

I would say, however, that Insignia is not for everyone, it will probably appeal to a very specific audience. For one thing it definitely seems to be geared more towards teenage boys. Unlike a lot of other young adult novels, there is a shippable romance in Insignia but it takes a backseat to more humorous and heroic moments. But for me, I found that refreshing. I didn't miss the love triangle or the pining at all, despite the fact that I did want the ship to sail. And despite the fact that I would shake my head at the less than open-minded attitudes from a lot of the characters I did also laugh, a lot, and there does seem to be a lot of room for growth. This is the first book in a series and I'm interested to see how things continue.

I give Insignia by S.J. Kincaid an 8 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. If you are a fan of Science Fiction or books like Ender's Game and Ready Player One then check this book out. Despite some rather unlikable characters Insignia has a fascinating futuristic world and some engaging conflict with some truly sinister antagonists.

Have you read Insignia? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and of course, HAPPY READING!

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