Saturday, May 2, 2015

Double Book Review: Vortex and Catalyst by S. J. Kincaid


Tom Raines is just starting his second year as a student of the Intrasolar Forces, and his promotion to Middle is opening doors. Now he's getting to explore more of the Pentagonal Spire, learn about weapons, and generally find out more secrets about the World War III. But the fighting in space isn't the real war. Now that the Combatants' identities have been exposed to the media, it's become more dangerous to be part of the IF.

It's time for Tom to begin looking for a corporate sponsor to back his path toward becoming a Combatant himself. There's just one problem. Tom doesn't agree with any of the corporations' ethics or possession of power. These are the people that subjugated his father, that made Tom's pre-IF life a daily struggle to make ends meet. These people have the world crushed beneath their shoes, and it isn't enough for them.

So where's the real war? Where should Tom really be fighting?

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

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?

My Thoughts
The characters I came to love from Insignia returned in all their glory, staying true to the people they were in the first book, growth included. Tom has evolved, but he shows he's still the boy from the very beginning of this series in the first scene. Vik hasn't changed, Wyatt is still as awkward as ever, and the whole cast is just plain amazing.

I do have to say, though, that Vortex has fallen into that same little pit a lot of second-books-of-trilogies fall into, at least in my opinion. Vortex felt a little slow and uneventful, especially compared to the awesomeness of its predecessor. I know that there was plenty that happened in this book, but parts of it felt like it was dragging, which left me a bit disinterested even while I knew I enjoyed these characters. The last fifth or so really picked up, though, and I was left satisfied with the ending. It definitely paves the way well for book 3, Catalyst, which I cannot wait to get into.

Vortex started strongly, I will say that. The newness of Tom and his friends being Middles rather than Plebes is refreshing, but I think my own personal sense of wonderment of Tom's world wore off toward the middle of the book, and it seemed like I wasn't able to find a thick thread of plot to cling to. The threads of conflict are there, but it took me a bit longer to find the real cable of problems in this book than it did for the first one. But when Kincaid brought us to a climax, she did so wonderfully, wrapping things up for this book while still leaving a need to get closure for book 3.

Would I Recommend This Book? Oh, yes! While I personally felt dragged along by the plot, the characters make up for any lag I felt while listening. They're a driving force themselves, and there are some great interpersonal issues here. It was the bigger picture I couldn't quite sink into, but the ending primed me for that to explode in Catalyst. I give Vortex a frostbitten 4 of 5 stars.



Tom Raines had started something serious. When he hacked the advertisement skyboards to project the message that the world oligarchs are being watched, he was really making a threat to overthrow the entire world's society. It was only that, though, a threat, something to unsettle the corporate entities that rule Earth. Now, though, someone has taken his rebellious persona, The Ghost in the Machine, and is killing CEOs under that name. Worse, back at school, cadets are entering the program with new neural processors that are even more intricate and controlling than Tom's own. These new processors can easily be installed in every person on Earth, without them knowing. Suddenly, what the false Ghost in the Machine is doing makes more sense. This threat has to be ended before the entire population is under the mind control of Corporate Earth. How is Tom supposed to find out who he can trust?

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

Tom Raines and his friends are eager to return to the Pentagonal Spire to continue training for the elite Intrasolar Forces, but they soon discover troubling changes: strict new regulations and the revelation that the Spire is under new military control. What begins as an irritating adjustment soon reveals a dangerous shift in reality. Those now in control are aligned with corporate sponsors and their ruthless agendas. And when the military academy begins welcoming new cadets with suspicious neural processors, the first step in a plan with horrifying worldwide ramifications, Tom is desperate to stop it, even if that means keeping secrets from his closest allies.

Then a mysterious figure, the other ghost in the machine, begins fighting against the corporations, but with methods even Tom finds shocking. And when the enemy comes for Tom, how much can Tom endure in the battle to save himself? He must decide if he can still fight when the odds of success seem to be sliding from his grip.

My Thoughts

Catalyst is a fitting closure to the Insignia Trilogy. Everything set up in the first two books, Insignia and Vortex, comes to a head in this book, and Kincaid reveals her hand one card at a time to unfold the master plot that harkens all the way back to book one. It's a masterful accomplishment, and the whole of this book was satisfying to me. Seeing the final growth of Tom, Vikram, Yuri, Wyatt, and the other characters is spectacular. There are still wonderful throwbacks to the beginning of Insignia, in the continued evolution of the gang's inside jokes. Even those jokes, as before, play important roles in the narrative. Kincaid has really demonstrated a deep understanding of character, plot, and storytelling in this final chapter of the trilogy.

I feel like every promise Kincaid made in the beginning has been fulfilled. There aren't any loose ends left untied for me, even ones that were left in book one that I thought were no longer important to the setting and characters. No, Kincaid has thought of everything, and it left me with a feeling of complete gratification. This is a fully complete series, a work done to perfection. Bravo!

Would I Recommend This Book? Very much so! There is so much going on in this novel that it's a read that flies by. I would have thought it would get confusing, but I never lost track of what was going on. There's a serious valley in action, but the emotion of that section is ramped so high that it doesn't drag like similar situations in other novels have. Kincaid has pulled off something wonderful with this novel. I give Catalyst an austere 5 of 5 stars!

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