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I Belong

Review: Insignia by S. J. Kincaid

Title: Insignia

Author: S. J. Kincaid

Genre: YA Science Fiction

Series: Insignia Trilogy (Book 1)

Publication Date: July 10, 2012

Format: Hardcover, 444 Pages

ISBN-10: 0062092995 (Harper Teen)

ISBN-13: 978-0062092991 (Harper Teen)

Reviewed by: Emmy


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?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

Quick & Dirty: Anyone who loved Ender’s Game will sink into Insignia — its political intrigue and sci-fi are brilliantly balanced to build a suspenseful, high-stakes book.

Opening Sentence: New town, new casino—same old plan.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review

I was super worried when I first picked up Insignia that it wouldn’t live up to expectations — the synopsis rang like Ender’s Game, which is one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time. My trepidation was totally unwarranted — Kincaid does a great job of building a futuristic world that’s both believable and not a dystopia. It’s filled with corporate greed and corruption — easily believable in America — as well as intense technological advances. The moment Tom stepped into a VR simulator; I knew this book was going to be exactly what my geek-side wanted to read.

Tom lives in casinos and VR parlors, hustling adults for room money. His father’s a washed up poker player and always has them on the move. He’s a loner by default and on the fast-track to becoming a nobody like his dad. Until the day his simulation is hijacked and he’s playing a war game he didn’t sign on to. Impressed by his skills, the Pentagon offers Tom a place in their virtual-reality war as a warrior for America. Despite everything his anti-establishment father’s raised him on; Tom will do anything to be important. After a signature on the dotted line, he’s on his way to training.

At the Spire, Tom has friends. He may only be a plebe, but he’s a good fighter. But if he ever wants to make it into Camelot Company and fight in the war, he’s got to smooze up to the right people — and we quickly learn Tom’s not the smoozing type. He’s savage in his games, awkward in reality, and funny in conversation. So funny there were times I found myself crying with laughter in public.  He’s not the smartest character by any means, but he has a good intuition that keeps him from being stupid and a head for strategy. Most of all, he is believably 14 years old.

There’s a huge cast of characters in this novel, but Kincaid makes it easy to keep them all straight. Building unique characters is hard — making them memorable is harder. She pulls it off flawlessly. Even the characters I hated, I loved to hate. Everyone was their own person, no one fell too deeply into a cliché.  They grow through the story, especially as the plot thickens around the Spire and Combatants. My favorite part about the plot was how reliant it was on the characters. If you put in another hero, none of it would have happened. It’s only because Tom is such a ferocious smartass that we’re able to see beneath the sheen of shiny tech and parent-free living into the corporate war machine.

Despite being a trilogy, Insignia’s plot arc is so strong that it could (if necessary) stand on its own. (I’m really glad there are sequels.)  Kincaid’s created a world any geek will fall in love with. I’ve barely scratched the surface of Insignia — Tom has family problems and a future that’s not going to be easy. Definitely going to be fighting for an early copy of the next book!

Notable Scene:

“You want my fealty, I’ll swear it. Without kneeling and kissing your hand. Sir.”

“This ritual fosters team cohesion.”

“I just don’t want to bow, okay? It feels un-American to me. Sorry.”

Elliot sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry you don’t understand the value of working with others. But if you really don’t want to play along like everyone else, I suppose I can give you a role in the sim other than Gawain.”

Tom’s hopes soared. Maybe Elliot would assign him to play a Saxon barbarian. He’d love that.

Elliot raised his hand skyward, modifying the sim.

Tom’s body shifted into Guinevere’s.

Insignia Trilogy:

 1. Insignia

FTC Advisory: Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins provided me with a copy of Insignia. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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