Insignia by S. J. Kincaid
Published: 26 July 2012 (Hot Key Books)
Buy the paperback: Amazon|BookDepository
Buy the e-book: Kindle
Source: Borrowed from library
Plot Summary (from Goodreads):
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 Three. 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 book had been glaring at me from the library shelves for a while and I knew it wouldn't be long before I caved and checked it out! Insignia follows Tom as he finds himself recruited to Washington to take place in the military training academy, where recruits prepare to become combatants fighting in World War Three.
There were so many things I liked about Insignia! Firstly it's male POV which I always love, and Tom himself is an extremely likable character. Early on we see his existence isn't all that great. His dad is addicted to gambling and ends up neglecting Tom and leaving him with a very disrupted childhood, for example he misses a lot of school. But despite everything he has to put up with, Tom has this great ability at playing virtual reality games. I could see from the beginning that he had this great potential and he didn't let me down.
The world the book takes place in is fascinating as well. The virtual reality environments play a huge part. Not only does Tom play virtual reality games but once he gets to the Pentagonal Spire where his classes take place, we see the lessons involve those virtual reality simulations. And I'll be honest, they were so cool. I loved seeing Tom transported to all these different environments and the author has used to to create some brilliant settings which were wonderfully described, for example when Tom and his classmates take on characters from the King Arthur legend in their virtual reality setting to stage a battle.
One of my favourite characters from Insignia was most definitely Tom's roommate Vik. He's absolutely hilarious, and the way the two boys bounce off each other really made me laugh. Their friendship kind of reminded me of Harry and Ron from Harry Potter. They have that great sense of humour between them where they can take the mick out of each other but at the same time they really help one another out. The other students they hang around with were pretty cool, too. I thought Wyatt was a great addition to the group as well because she's not your typical girl, and she's pretty damn smart. I loved that.
There's lots of technology and cool stuff in Insignia but despite the heavy terminology I was always able to keep up. It helped that I found it all really interesting! Each of the kids at the Pentagonal Spire are given a neural transmitter which is inserted into their brains, giving them technology inside their heads. It meant they got cool little information displays in the corner of their eye that gave them information about a person they'd just met etc. You don't have to understand all the nitty gritty of what's being explained because most of it is glossed over and explained in general terms. It liked that the kids had these lessons where they had to use their brains and then got to come up with computer viruses to use on each other. It definitely made me want to read more sci-fi!
I think fans of post apocalyptic and dystopian fiction will adore Insignia. There's this whole war going on, a controlling regime Tom gets wrapped up in and plenty of suspicious characters high up in the government. It's also a very political novel, with both the government and these big corporations who sponsor the combatants trying to gain this control over people like Tom. There were also a whole load of shady characters, and trying to work out who exactly Tom could trust was really interesting.
There's so much to love about Insignia, from the incredible characters and the fantastic humour, to the fascinating world the book takes place in. I loved all the futuristic technology and virtual reality. It really stood out from other novels I'd read and the writing was incredible. I can't wait to read more about these characters and find out what adventures they get up to in the next book. I can't recommend Insignia highly enough!
What to read next: Vortex by S. J. Kincaid, the next book in the Insignia trilogy or Allied by S. J. Kincaid, an Insignia novella
Books like this: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Spy School by Stuart Gibbs