Saturday, April 4, 2015

Book Review: Insignia by S. J. Kincaid

Thomas Raines has no prospects. Alone on the road with his father, a gambler down on his luck, Tom doesn't even make it to a VR room for his online schooling regularly. There is one thing he's good at, though, and that's VR games, which he's been using lately to scam people to help make ends meet. But when one of the games he's in gets hacked, Tom finds himself challenged to a game by the new girl in school. Only it's not a game. It's a test. Without realizing it, Tom has just passed an entrance exam to be trained at the Pentagonal Spire and possibly become a Combatant, trained to control ships fighting World War III in outer space, where no one will really get hurt.

Suddenly, Tom has too many prospects and a computer in his brain. He lives at school. But the nature of the student body, all having nanoprocessers in their heads, makes them susceptible to viruses. Competition is tough in the school, and now, there's a leak in the system. Someone has put out classified information: the names of the Combatants themselves. Is there even going to be a future for Tom?

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from
More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.
Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible–a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War III. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted–friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters–but what will it cost him?

This is a not-too-far futuristic piece that really points some fingers at the present. Most notably, the culture of Earth has become entirely corporate, with businesses being the real power behind just about everything. Even nationalism takes a backseat to corporate power. The whole of WWIII, being fought out in space, is over resources for companies. The main corporations have gone so far as to have managed patents on food and water, almost making them into subscription services. Kincaid has done an excellent job making this corporate-controlled future seem real, and I'm dead serious when I say it's a little scary. It's an underlying issue to just about everything in Tom's life although it isn't the true driving force to the events. That is a skillful painting of setting and world, and I have to admire Kincaid's prowess in making it.

I cannot get over how well-crafted Insignia is. I hate that I didn't know about this book a long time ago (like back in 2012 when it was published). Kincaid has a wonderfully rich writing style that doesn't overdo anything. Descriptions are clear and short, dialogue is snappy and consistent from character to character, and the pacing is spot-on. Honestly, though, what strikes me as most admirable is the sense of self these characters have. Identities are developed for everyone Tom comes across and for Tom himself. These kids are teenagers, and Kincaid's grasp of being a teenager is quite real. Tom and his friends have running jokes that evolve thorughout the book, keeping things funny and fresh. Their interactions with one another, other peers, and the authority figures in their world are so real to life I'm shocked it's fiction.

And I have to say, "Frequent Noisome Farts" and "Tiny Spicy Vikram" are quite possibly two of my favorite things about this book. Read (or listen to) it to find out why.

My Thoughts
I was enthralled by this book very early on, and I only grew more and more intrigued and sucked in as it went on. Kincaid has managed to take a bunch of different colored thread and weave them into the friendship bracelet to end all friendship bracelets. The clarity of character, the wonderful pacing, the variety of conflict between Tom and the life around him... it just all comes together wonderfully. I cannot wait to get my hands on the other two books of this trilogy and continue with these characters' lives.

Insignia is a book I would have loved as a teenager had I read it at that age. Now, as an adult, I have a deep appreciation for what Kincaid has created. All in all, I just plain out think this is a great read.

Would I Recommend This Book? Absolutely! This book is a work of art, and I would go so far as to say I highly recommend it. The humor, the intricacy of plot, and the characters are all an amazing draw. I give Insignia a Noisome (yeah, had to reference that again) 5 of 5 stars.
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