- Date published: 10th July 2012
- Publisher: Five Mile Press (Hot Key Books)
- Format: Paperback, 446 pages
- Series: Insignia, Book 1
- ISBN 13: 9781471400001 ISBN 10: 147140000X
- Categories: YA Science Fiction
- Goodreads / The Book Depository / Booktopia (AU)
- Source: provided by the publisher for review
- Challenge: 2012 Debut Author Challenge
Fourteen-year-old Tom Raines looks set to go the same way as his listless, gambling addict of a father, with no hope for the future – until one day everything changes.
Tom is recruited by the State to become a Combatant: one of an elite group of teen soldiers, chosen for their unique virtual reality skills, to fight World War III in space!
But is Tom’s future really as safe as the army claims? Are there spies and corruption in their number? And what happens when you question the rules?
I read the blurb for this book and was immediately interested, especially with that shiny foil cover (which I actually ruined while reading it because I was so into the story I had to take it with me everywhere I went!), but the idea of teens fighting a war caused issues for me and I was scared the book would just be about the ultimate dream of every teenaged boy – to spend all day playing video games! However, I was pleasantly surprised at the plethora of issues Kincaid has managed to explore in her 400+ page novel.
Tom Raines is a short, acne plagued boy with a passion and skill for VR video games. His life seems to be going nowhere fast, until he is recruited to become a Combatant and use his gaming skills in WW3. A few days and a brain implant later, Tom is introduced to a whole new world. He grows several inches and his acne disappears, and can now download and processes information overnight. Awesome right? For a lot of the book Tom is idealistic and stubborn to a fault, arrogant and thinks himself untouchable, which is understandable in a fourteen year old who is told he holds the future of his country in his hands. He is funny and likeable, and I admire his unfaltering loyalty to his friends. Tom grows a lot throughout the story, learning to show humility and see the bigger picture and his role in it, and I really enjoyed being in his head space.
Kincaid explores a handful of weighty issues through out the book, including some basic tenants of human nature. In a world where wars are fought in space, through space craft controlled from Earth by the Combatants, there are no longer any casualties. Throughout the story, however, there is an underlying fear that humans will not be able to resist their natures and resort to killing one another once again. The chip in Tom’s brain introduces the idea of ownership of human beings – the military treats the Combatants as property, and the book questions where the line between human and machine becomes blurred. The implant also makes it really easy for Tom and his fellows to learn things – they just download it and process overnight. Thus they quickly forget how to think for themselves and are easily controlled with malware and viruses.
One of the greatest strengths of this book are the supporting cast. Tom’s new friends are an interesting and decidedly nerdy bunch – math and science geniuses who are chosen to become part of a new generation of soldiers. Insignia is one of the few books I have read with major characters being people of colour, with diverse and un-stereotypical backgrounds. I love the wonderful camaraderie that have, especially Tom and his roommate Vik who are hilarious and get into all sorts of trouble as the Doctors of Doom. My favourite supporting character is Wyatt, the socially awkward and incredibly smart programmer, who is initially stand-off-ish but when she opened up I could really connect with her.
An exhilarating read, Insignia is a superb example of great story-telling and is perfect for an audience of 12+ years. Older readers will also enjoy it because its the exploration of some hard-hitting issues that are emerging in our world right now. Definitely the perfect book for gamers and science fiction fans everywhere.