Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Insignia hardcover and Vortex advanced reading copy
InsigniaInsignia by S.J. Kincaid
Series: Insignia #1
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books on July 10, 2012
Genre: Action, Adventure, Dystopian, Gaming, Science Fiction, Technology, Virtual Reality
Pages: 444
Source: Purchased
Buy on AmazonBook Details
Rating: ★★★★★

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?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid's futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

This book! OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD! I need to sleep with it under my pillow so no one steals it! And then put it in a vault during the day! Because it is amazing and I love it and—


Before I picked it up, I knew I was going to love Insignia. I’m a huge video game nerd so that aspect appealed to me, plus the science fiction and dystopian elements… hello awesome! And luckily, Insignia did not disappoint!

Insignia is technological in the same way that Harry Potter is magical. Fantasy lovers see Harry Potter as the epic magical world that they always wish existed. Gamers and tech geeks will view Insignia as an amazing world with technological advancements that we hope will one day be possible. Imagine a future where gaming feels real, with virtual realities embedded in our lives, with machines that can be implanted in our brains to enhance our memories, processing powers, and even change the way we perceive the world. Plus, imagine math class being only 20 minutes long and you being able to download the concepts into your brain (hello, Matrix)! Insignia shows us the amazing possibilities in the world of technology, but also warns us of the dangers of going too far.

I just adored the world that S.J. Kincaid created and I love how the book was set up in a school-type environment. The recruits at the military compound “Spire” have dormitories, classes, and cliques, but then there are the “not quite so normal” things like virtual simulations and exercises. Kincaid found the perfect balance between relatable normal teenager stuff (friendship, love interest, school), and things we can only fantasize about (incredible technology). That’s what made the story so intriguing and captivating. I could imagine our world being like that.

Tom is such an awesome and very likable character because he’s a fairly regular guy. He’s kind of in his awkward teenage years so he has the acne thing going on, and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life. He doesn’t have a structured upbringing and all he has in his life are games (and his conspiracy theorist and gambling addict father). But he’s really skilled at games. I love how Tom is kind of cocky about his abilities in the way that he knows when he’s going to win a match, but that cockiness doesn’t spill over into the normal social aspects of his life. He’s not annoyingly arrogant and he’s not the kind of guy who thinks he’s better than everyone else. He just knows that he’s great at games and he can tell when his skills are better than someone else’s.

Plus, Tom is just so relatable. He’s a very real character. We can feel Tom’s ambitions, his doubts, and his insecurities, and know immediately how real and raw they are.

But it’s not just Tom — all the characters in Insignia are amazing, unique, and have their own colourful personalities. I wanted to be friends with them all! Tom and Vik in particular are so hilarious together! They’re such guys and I Z0MG LOVE the way they rip each other apart and fantasize about hot girls and plan absurd vengeance attacks that only guys would think of! And Wyatt! Ohmygod Wyatt! I totally want to have an epic programming standoff with Wyatt—I mean Man Hands—I mean Evil Wench—I mean—


There was a lot more programming in this book than I expected, and I absolutely loved it! I wouldn’t call myself a programmer, but I have taken several programming classes and I am a web designer (which isn’t programming, but it’s similar!). I really enjoyed reading about the hacking, firewalls, viruses, and so on!

Another thing I loved about this book was the “online” romance. I could totally relate to this because I met my boyfriend online! Tom connects with a woman who goes by the name “Medusa.” They spend hours engaged in a virtual reality together where they play games and fight each other. It starts out as a personal challenge to Tom. He wants to prove himself against the most skilled combatant. But soon, we see the beginnings of a romance start to unravel. There’s very subtle flirting and playful banter that had me giggling with delight and cheering for more.

I was a little worried about the ending, since those are so often messed up.. but Kincaid spun it beautifully! I kind of didn’t see it coming but it was so perfect. At the end, I was afraid that Tom was suddenly going to be amazing and overtake Medusa. If that had happened, I would have been disappointed because it’s just so unlikely. He fought her hundreds and hundreds of times and lost each time. It would have been too perfect if he suddenly won because of sheer skill. But instead, Kincaid kind of surprised me! She managed to find the perfect balance. Tom did show some skill, but nothing out of the ordinary. In the end, he won because he was a bit cruel to Medusa and struck her emotional weak spot. He showed us that he really can fight dirty when he has to. But I love how it wasn’t done in a cruel way. He wasn’t vicious because he loved it — he was vicious because he had to be, and we saw how much he regretted it. But it still all worked out and ended on a very positive note. I don’t think the ending could have been more perfect!

This book has become one of my all time favourites. Insignia lit up all the passions and dreams in my life and left me in a state of wonder. I’m still kind of dazed after reading it. Like I have no idea how much time has passed because I was so in the zone. I vaguely recall my parents coming in and speaking to me, but I didn’t even stop reading as I waved them away. Now excuse me while I hop over to the gamer community I frequent and rave about this book!



S.J. Kincaid signing Insignia

Kincaid signing Insignia

Signed copy of Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Signed copy of Insignia

The Verdict


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  1. Holy Freaking AWESOME! I loooove your post chick!!!! I adore this review so much, the next thing I’m going to do when I’m done commenting here is buying the book! And now, I nearly passed on this one! Good thing it’s also available as audiobook and this is what I’m going to do!

    Btw… I don’t know if you know – but we run this Male Review Feature and this post would totally count – just saying!

    Thanks for this awesometastic Review°!

    DannyBookworm recently posted: Defiance by C.J. Redwine – Review
    1. Thank you Danny!!! 😀 I’m SO glad you’re going to buy the book! It’s absolutely amazing and easily one of my all time favourites now! And I can’t wait to see what you think!! I really hope you love it as much as I do.

      Ohh I saw the Male Review Feature at the beginning of July but then I totally forgot about it! *scurries off to link up*

    1. I’m so glad you like it Henrietta! 😀 I really hope you get a chance to read Insignia because it’s THAT awesome!

  2. Seems like a good one. Traditional Fantasy is more my everyday interest, but this SciFi sounds very good. Your excitement abt it has me dying to read it. What you wrote about the characters and the quirky friendships made me want to start it right now (and yes, I’m a guy, so all the “guy stuff” appeals to me – I’m currently in the middle of plotting 3separate absurd vengeance attacks with my friends, as of this post. Ha!).

    As always, great review. You have a knack for internalizing a book and then giving us the best parts to think about and get excited for. Thanks.

    1. Haha you should totally check it out! As a guy, you’ll probably love it! I always love diving into the quirky minds of teenage guys because it’s all so foreign to me as a girl, but still so awesome!

      It’s hilarious.. this one part, Tom and Vik are trying to communicate using just their minds and the computer link inside them.. but the communication is based 100% on thoughts so all his jumbled fantasies come out instead of the actual conversation. So it’s something like “How to steak boobs function?” Because of course a guy wouldn’t be able to get steak and boobs out of his head *giggles*

      Anyway it’s totally awesome! I hope you’ll check it out. 🙂

  3. well, I guess that seals the deal! I’ve heard SO many good things about this book, now add onto that your gushing review, and I guess this is one that I’m going to have to buy. I’m trying to restrain my kindle one-click addiction to get this in a tangible copy so that I can share it with those around me, but I might not make it.

    Thanks for the great review!

    1. Yaaay! I’m so super glad that you’re going to buy this book! I can’t wait until you read it so I can see what you think. 🙂 I really hope you adore it as much as I do!

    1. I am so, so glad that you love this book too!!! 😀 I can’t wait to get my hands on Vortex!

    1. Yaaay! 😀 I love my signed copy! I snuggle it at night. I am kind of bummed that I met her *before* I actually read the book (since it was on release day). If I had met her afterwards, I would have been much for fan girly!

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