Published: July 4th 2013 by Hot Key Books
Format: Paperback, 432 pages
Genres: Science Fiction
Goodreads ● The Book Depository ● Booktopia ● Bookworld
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?
Although high in action and drama, Vortex failed to deliver as far as the main protagonist went. I liked some aspects of the novel, such as the plot and the scientific background, but Tom the teenaged delinquent and his equally vapid friends soon left me grumbling and grinding my teeth.
The qualities that I liked in Tom Raines in the previous book threatened to ruin things for me in Vortex: his insufferable arrogance and inability to see any consequences of his actions was funny at first, and then quickly became irritating. Tom basically self-sabotages himself throughout the book – he needs absolutely no help from anyone else alienating the very people who hold his future in their greedy little hands, who can kill him with barely a thought. I understand he needs to stand up to their tyranny, and even admire him for it – but there’s a line between antagonising people, knowing what you are doing, and antagonising people just because you can’t lack the brain cells to think. And Tom strays too often into the latter category. His rebellious nature isn’t amusing, and I hated how he couldn’t ever see a big picture – his myopic view of the future and his place in it sparked anger in me. It also surprised and confused me that Tom didn’t see anything wrong with mutiny, like, he really couldn’t comprehend that he needs to work within the military chains of command.
For Tom Raines, nothing comes before his pride, and throughout Vortex, he not only abuses and mocks those who are higher above him in the military hierarchy, he becomes dangerously close to losing his friends. Mind you, his friends aren’t much better – Vik devolved from fun-loving dude to dangerous side-kick in this book, and as Blackburn points out, his failure to try to stop Tom from ruining his whole future is concerning in someone masquerading as a best friend. I still liked Wyatt and Yuri (especially Yuri) in this book, and enjoyed the re-emergence of favourites like Elliot and even Heather. Of the supporting cast, however, it is Blackburn that whom I love the most – the long-suffering commander who tries so hard to give these kids the best chance of surviving, who Tom unfairly wants to paint as a villain every time he can. My mother’s a school teacher, and I’ve always despised students like Tom Raines who can’t see an authority figures’ attempts at helping them for what they are.
However, all my complaints about Vortex so far can be explained by the fact that Tom and his friends are fifteen-year-olds who have been thrust into a position of power that few adults ever have to handle. A lot of the things that the gang get up to can be laid at the feet of teenaged arrogance and that feeling of invincibility every kid has.
One of the things I liked is that the narrative teaches these kids, especially Tom, just how fragile his position is within the US Intrasolar Forces, and how tenuous his hold on life is: the big trillionaires of his world own him, and can choose to terminate him, his friends and their training school without any repercussions whatsoever. In this book, Tom learns that he can’t spend his life raging at people above him on the totem pole – it’s only going to harm him in the long run. Another lesson Tom learns (and finally!) is that sometimes, those older and more experienced than him can provide him with good advice, and that maybe he should stop rebelling against them quite so much.
In terms of action, Vortex certainly delivers! There are very few dull moments – from simulated battles and training situations to pranks and dares between his friends, there’s a lot going on throughout the book. Of course, looming in the background is the space war going on between the two international alliances, and the space combatants who fight in them. We get a look into the big companies that have stakes in the war and pay for the US Intrasolar Forces trainees, and how the world functions on a large-scale. It’s scary how much control these trillionaires have. I also enjoyed the science that Kincaid puts into this novel – it feels realistic enough. I liked the maglev train (but it was a bit too fast, it didn’t seem feasible), and when Tom and his friends went into space (sort-of).
One of the things I wish had been handled better is the romance. There’s not a lot of it in the book – which I liked personally – but what there was seems odd. Medusa never called Tom out on his mistreatment of her – she kept coming back for more abuse (admittedly Tom never seeks to hurt her feelings, he just does so every single time they meet). I really don’t understand what Medusa sees in Tom (aside from his unique powers), because she doesn’t really know him that well, but he’s already betrayed and insulted and abused her so much! It’s perplexing, to say the least.
I think Vortex is a step down from the awesome that was Insignia – for someone who’s “hyper-intelligent”, Tom can’t see the most obvious traps and consequences and owes a lot of his petty victories to his friends. There are some great moments in the book, however, and I ended up enjoying it well enough. But I’m not sure if I’m invested in the series anymore – if Tom continues on the path he’s on then he’ll be a boring, frustrating protagonist indeed.