Insignia – S.J. Kincaid

There is never a dull moment in this futuristic virtual war game thriller.  Corporations rule the world and fight over rights to natural resources on Earth and the solar system.  The corporations argue there is no loss of life in conflict dispute because warships are unmanned since they are controlled virtually with teenagers as the controller/combatant.  Teens are used because of their flexible brains and Tom is the newest recruit.  His mother left him with his father years ago and they have drifted from casino to casino.  While his father gets drunk and rants against the corporations and military, Tom spends his lonely existence in virtual gaming parlors, rarely attending his virtual school.  Tom’s gaming expertise catches the attention of the military (as in The Last Starfighter movie) and he is eager to leave this drifter life and become someone important.  He learns there is a huge catch – a neural processor will be implanted into his brain that could pave the way for others to program him.  Tom is rather impulsive and has little to lose by leaving his life behind, so why not let the military dig into his brain.

He gains friends for the first time in his life, and enemies as well, when he starts battle school.  Tom, Vik, Wyatt, and Yuri are in the same division and are intensely loyal to each other.  They are all well-developed characters who have a dash of charm and humor to soften their rough edges.  Socially awkward Wyatt, befriended by Tom, is the true hero.  I love the way her character develops. Tom is unique because he is brash yet is also a brilliant strategist constantly honing his skills.  He is a fearless fighter on the battlefield, but is compassionate in the real world.   Another amazing thing about Tom – he can take a beating physically and mentally and still keep his sense of humor and good nature.  Then again . . . he is awfully good at revenge.  I especially enjoyed all of the virtual world scenarios and the battles with Medusa.  Looks like there will be a sequel to come and I hope Medusa, the unbeatable enemy warrior, is heavily featured.  She is an intriguing character and I want to see more.  Insignia is expertly written with a detailed plot, entertaining characters, and delivered at a non-stop pace.  Insignia should be a huge hit that belongs on all of the best of lists.  Libraries will need several copies to satisfy reader demand.  Highly recommend.

Galley review   Publication 7.10.12

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