Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Vortex by S.J. Kincaid

Title: Vortex
Series: Insignia #2
Author: S.J. Kincaid
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: The impossible was just the beginning. Now in their second year as superhuman government weapons-in-training at the Pentagonal Spire, Tom Raines and his friends are mid-level cadets in the elite combat corps known as the Intrasolar Forces. But as training intensifies and a moment arrives that could make or break his entire career, Tom’s loyalties are again put to the test. 

Encouraged to betray his ideals and friendships for the sake of his country, Tom is convinced there must be another way. And the more aware he becomes of the corruption surrounding him, the more determined he becomes to fight it, even if he sabotages his own future in the process. 

Drawn into a power struggle more dramatic than he has ever faced before, Tom stays a hyperintelligent step ahead of everyone, like the exceptional gamer he is—or so he believes. But when he learns that he and his friends have unwittingly made the most grievous error imaginable, Tom must find a way to outwit an enemy so nefarious that victory seems hopeless. Will his idealism and bravado cost him everything—and everyone that matters to him? 

 Filled with action and intelligence, camaraderie and humor, the second book in S.J. Kincaid’s futuristic World War III Insignia trilogy continues to explore fascinating and timely questions about power, politics, technology, loyalty, and friendship

Vortex reminded me why exactly I usually don't like the first book in a trilogy. That sounds like a weird thing to say when you're discussing the second book in a series, but despite a lot of the same issues that  had with Insignia returning in Vortex, I liked it much more. It still had a great futuristic world and unlikable characters that led to all kinds of different conflicts but here the plot was much more exciting.

One of my favorite things about this series is the world that S.J. Kincaid has created. She has taken two of my favorite things and put them together in something that is interesting and exciting, boarding schools and space. The "Hogwarts in Space" comparison continues in this book as our characters learn about how to be "intersolar combatants" and how to use all kinds of crazy technology. But then again, they are technology. But what I realized about this book is that S.J. Kincaid masterfully shows this world to you instead of telling you about. She doesn't insult your intelligence by explaining every detail about writing code, fighting in a robotic suit, or the virtual reality they use to play games and fight actual wars. It's like you are in on the secret. And the great thing too is that despite these being really complex things you can still perfectly visualize them. But it's your imagination that is able to fill in the details, not the authors. And that kind of world-building combined with an interesting futuristic world is what I liked most about Vortex.

But what I liked the least in Vortex was the characters. They are just not my personal favorite types of characters. I mentioned in my review of Insignia that I felt like most of these characters had serious "dudebro status" and that was definitely the case again here. And I know that the attempt is to be humorous and joking but for me it didn't work. And I have a pretty lowbrow sense of humor, I mean I laugh when people say "duty." But here it just made the characters unlikable and at times incredibly frustrating. Like most YA novels there is an element of a coming-of-age story. The characters are figuring out who they are and who they want to be. But in this series it feels like those two things are completely at odds. With the main character, Tom Raines,in particular there was a bit of a redemptive arc but then he went and did something to completely alienate him to me. And while Kincaid did a good job of explaining exactly why he did that (something that usually makes me respect a character for their tough decisions) I found myself frustrated with him again.

But once again the antagonists in this series really redeemed things a lot. They are seriously sinister. It seems like everyone is against this guy. Sure he has his group of friends backing him up but there are all kinds of students and teachers at the school fighting him at every chance they get. There are also all kinds of outside forces that he has to work against. From the Russo-Chinese alliance to a host of multi-national corporations whose power he seems to threaten. But it's sort of this weird thing where Tom is up against these conflicts that are clearly diabolical and at the same time he seems to be alienating these forces in a way that it kind of makes sense that they would treat him that way. That isn't to say that he deserves, but he isn't making it any easier. A weird thing happens in this book for me. I want the heroes to succeed but not because I like them. I want them to succeed because of what they represent and what would happen for others if they did. I have almost no empathy for them as individuals but I have a lot of empathy for their plight.

And despite another book with slower pacing, the plot in Vortex was much more exciting for me. The book had tons of thrilling action scenes and even a few shocking twists. Meanwhile the general plot of the series is really taking shape and become intricate and complex. It felt much more high stakes and more cohesive. Despite the fact that I enjoy the numerous antagonists and conflicts in the book it does tend to make things muddled and confusing at times. And while Vortex did have it's moments, I think it did a much better job at setting up how all of this can and will conclude. Vortex had much more of the dystopia feel than the previous book. It seemed to be much more a critique on society and included a desire to tear down the status quo to benefit those who have been taken advantage of. And because of this fact and the more thrilling plot, I am pretty excited to see how this all ends.

I give Vortex by S.J. Kincaid an 8.5 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. This book is not for everyone. It will probably most appeal to a very specific audience of teenage boys who love reading Science Fiction. Or maybe Science Fiction fans in general. If you are looking for a book with a creative and futuristic world and don't mind unlikable characters than check this book out.

Have you read Vortex? What did you think? Have you ever read a book where you didn't like the characters but you still wanted them to succeed? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

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