Insignia – S.J.Kincaid

Insignia; S.J. Kincaid; Hot Key Books; Publication Date – 2nd August, 2012

Book summary(From Hot Key Key Books Catalogue): Tom’s life changes dramatically when his virtual-reality prowess is discovered in a future world where war is fought by robots.  Equipped with a new computer chip in his brain it looks like Tom might actually become somebody…but what happens when you start to question the rules? The first part of an electrifying new sci-fi trilogy by debut author S.J.Kincaid.

Literature for Lads Review:
As a librarian and book blogger I read a lot of books. Many of the books I read are good, some of them great. Sometimes they are disappointing. And then occasionally I read something which is exceptional. Something that is so good that it consumes me and everything that I do.  Where previously I couldn’t find time to squeeze in one more chapter, I can. A book so enjoyable, engaging and exciting that reaching the end of the book will only end in disappointment as the adventure will be over, and I will be left with nothing to fill the void the book has left. ‘Insignia’ is one of these books…

When I first picked up this book I will admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. ‘Insignia’ is set in a high tech future where multinational companies control everything, even the world’s food and water. Each company is aligned to either the Indo-America or Russia-Chinese alliance and the world is at war.  World War Three however is not happening on earth but rather in space with computerised machines, controlled by humans back on earth, fighting each other for control of the solar system’s natural resources.

During the first couple of chapters we are introduced to Tom Raines, the books main character, whilst at the same time it is explained to us how the world has once more become engaged in global conflict.  Tom is a gamer who supports himself and his gambling addicted father by hustling players in Virtual Reality (VR) parlours.  When Tom is approached by the Indo-America alliance and offered a place at the Pentagonal Spire the home of the Indo-American Military Academy, and where the next generation of Virtual Reality Soldiers are trained, ‘Insignia’ bursts into life.

On arrival at the Spire Tom is fitted with a neural processor, a computer chip implanted into the brain.  This is our first taste of some of the futuristic technology that Kincaid explores in the book.  It’s a fascinating idea and Kincaid executes it brilliantly.  The constant stream of information flowing into Tom’s brain after the device is implanted is eerily similar to the information overload theory Patrick Ness explores in ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go.’

The Pentagonal Spire also has a sense of familiarity to it, it being reminiscent in many ways of a certain school for wizardry.  Full of futuristic technology, common rooms for each ‘division’, teachers with hidden histories and an engaging set of characters the Spire and what goes on there is one of the books greatest strengths.  Kincaid writes in a way that will make teenagers feel they are in the Spire, sitting alongside Tom and his gang of friends, Vik, Wyatt and Yuri. This gang of four are engaging, funny and you will love following them on their journey through their first year at the Spire.

Much of the originality in Kincaid’s book is in her use of video games and the concept of gaming.  Students at the Academy train for battles using Virtual Reality (VR) software.  The scenes in the book where students are hooked up to the VR software create some of the most exciting parts of the novel, taking the character, and the reader, out of the Academy’s classroom and into (virtual) battle. Of course at some point our Academy recruits must put their training to use in the field, engaging in battles with fellow gamers high up in the echelons of space, fighting not only for their own pride, but for their country.

There is so much to enjoy in this book.  Although full of futuristic technology there is a real sense of realism throughout the book. The book is full of humour and has a great cast of characters who you will not only believe in but want to be friends with.  But maybe most importantly Kincaid does not shy away from the issues hitting the headlines and making an impact on the lives of teenagers today. Corporate greed, corruption, the impact technology has on the world, the ever diminishing natural resources on earth and the power of democracy are all prominent themes in this book.

The skill that Kincaid has is that she takes these themes and uses them to form the backdrop for a thrill-a-minute adventure that is full of originality and is far from predictable. ‘Insignia’ is one of the best debut novels I’ve read and I suggest you start counting the days until you can immerse yourself in the world of Pentagonal Spire. You won’t be disappointed.

Marks out of 10: 9(and a half)

For more information on S.J. Kincaid and the Insignia books visit her websitehere

The website includes a very cool playlist to accompany the book!

Has this review whetted your appetite for the book?  Does it sound like the kind of book you would read? What do you think about the concept of gaming being included in a novel?

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