Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

I’ve been looking forward to posting about this one. I was agonising whether I should go back and do a picturebook post again today and go up in age order again but nope, too impatient!

Publisher: Hot Key Books
ISBN: 9781471400001
Published: 2/8/2012
Image above used with the permission of Hot Key Books – thank you!
Sometime in the not too distant future, war has been declared across the Earth. This being the future though, battles are no longer fought on or over land, but in space, and the Big Black is carved up between the two sides, each made up not of countries, but of huge mega-corporations tussling for the biggest profits. The battles are no longer fought by soldiers, but by drones, operated on Earth by specially trained soldiers and supported and paid for by these huge corporations.
Tom is a gamer. His father is a not-especially-successful professional gambler and with his mum off with her new, slimy partner, Tom is the sole breadwinner for he and his dad. He plays on his image as a geeky little nobody and tempts the gaming cheats into playing him, where he proceeds to wipe the floor with them. Then one day he’s offered the opportunity of a lifetime. To join the military and become one of their expert soldiers that control the drones. To control a real, live video game.  Naturally he accepts, but what’s this about a computer chip in his brain…?
Words cannot say how much I LOVE this new series. I actually took the proof with me on holiday, thinking I could just leave it behind to save on luggage on the way back. Nope, it had to come home with me and it is NOT being lent out! It reminds me very much of Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series in terms of it’s following one teenage boy and his friends at a training camp, but it’s got dozens of other threads tied into it. For example, the chips in the teens’ heads enhance their brain power phenomenally, but the chips still belong to the military. So, we have the moral question is it better to be mentally enhanced but belong to someone else, or would you want to stick with what you’ve got and not owe anyone anything? Do you choose to be able to understand any language, just download your lesson into your head and think at phenomenal speeds, or do you prefer to not be beholden to another man and think what and how you like? Questions like this play a big part in this book and makes it hard to give a synopsis that does the book justice without giving too much away– there’s too much packed in.
Technophobes or non-gamers, no fear – for a book that links in to a lot of technical wizardry (again, computer chips in their brains! Like plugging yourself into the Internet through an iPad!), it’s very easy to follow still. I’m no computer genius, but even I could follow and be absorbed in the sections where the teens were learning how to manipulate their chip’s programming and stage attacks on their colleagues. Yes, you did read right – manipulating their colleagues brain chips. Seriously, I cannot tell if that’s just plain tactical genius or utterly horrific, which I’m guessing is exactly what the author wants you to think.
My especial favourite though is the detail to characters. What drives them, what interests them, what sets them apart from other teens and also the other recruits. Alongside Tom’s friends, there are at least three I’m thorughly intrigued by – there’s a reason the recruits are separated out into different skills groups after all and it’s fascinating to see how they play out and how they use their skills compared to others.  It raises the interesting side question too of military tactics, something I never really thought about before. All those great military heroes you learn about, how do they all measure up against one another? I mean, who’s skills ultimately make them the better leader; Machiavelli’s, or Alexander the Great’s? Is thinking power better than brute force, or vice versa, or neither at all? The History geek in me has been tying itself in knots arguing with itself.
Tom himself is a character that you should dislike. He’s a professional gamer and as a result of always wanting to win, he is really ruthless. I mean, absolutely ruthless. He will do anything to win. And yet he is a character that has a broad streak of honour right through him. Some of the actions his mum’s partner takes against him really made me squirm. Those sections of the book made me frown so hard I had grooves in my face for a good twenty minutes afterwards. But I think the real reason that slimy, malicious character had such an effect on me was because of how moral Tom can be, the two were polar opposites.Despite Tom being ruthless enough to put his morals aside if he thinks the situation calls for it, he’s honourable enough that it balances out the less pleasant aspects of his character and it’s that contrast that really makes you want to be on his side, backing him up when his mum’s partner comes for him. And that’s fascinating for me in a book, to find a character who’s not a Mary Sue or a Marty Stu but is a mix of unpleasant characteristics as well as more favourable ones.
Give me long enough and I will rabbit on about this book for ages (in fact I have done – sorry to everyone I’ve cornered recently and flailed at over this book) but I really don’t want to say much more without giving away huge chunks of plot.
I guess the best way I can summarise the whole shebang is to say it’s a book full of questions. What makes a person a winner? Who’s the better man, the man with better morals, or the one who wins? What makes a person a great leader? Are your morals more important than your potential? If you’re a fan of Muchamore, read it. If you’re a fan of Ally Carter, read it. Doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, READ IT. This has been picked up already by 20th Century Fox to be made into a film and I really can’t say I’m surprised.

What do you think?

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