Insignia is a Young Adult novel. I’m not sure I’m qualified to chunk it into a genre but it is set in futuristic America (more or less) where various world governments have formed political alliances based on economic monopolies supporting them. The different alliances are at war with each other but in a new way. Battling starships in space remotely. Seems pretty cool. Control of the ships is based on a neural implant that allows the combatants to sort of mind-meld with the computers.
Due to biological reasons, teenagers are the best candidates for these neural processors. Only the best and brightest are chosen. They are scooped up by the military, sent off to training, and download their homework directly into their brains. Yea, I wish.
The main character, Tom, is the homeless son of a gambling deadbeat dad. Tom illegally makes enough money to put himself and his father in a hotel room by making bets on various virtual reality games. He’s very good at the games and catches the military’s attention. They recruit him and he starts training.
In his tactics class, Tom he notices that the enemy has a particular combatant that just can’t be beat. Her call sign is Medusa and Tom becomes obsessed. He watches footage of all her battles over and over again. When Tom starts meeting Medusa in virtual reality games, he hardly thinks about it being treason. After all, he’s just trying to beat her; he’s not sharing confidential secrets. But when an information leak occurs, Tom must prove to himself and his superiors that his meetings with Medusa were not to blame.
Here’s my opinion: for a good portion of this novel, I had an entirely Ender’s Game feel for the book. It could be because I read that recently and it just blew me away. Ender’s Game was one of those books that when I closed it after the last page, I knew. I knew it would be hanging over my head, affecting my opinion of every book I ever read after it. Very few books have done that to me. (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, Ender’s Game)
While Insignia was not one of them, I did really like it. And it did share some things with Ender’s Game. They both have a kids-fight-space-wars premise. Both characters are abnormally good at what they do and have been deemed “vicious.”
By around the middle of the book, I found this comparison less weighty. I really enjoyed the book and will probably buy the next in the series. The author knows how to pull you in; the dialogue seems both realistic and appropriate for the ages of the characters.
As far as moral appropriateness, there is some minor toilet humor. I don’t recall any foul language. A few innuendos that are probably acceptable for most teens and preteens. The one example of this I can think of: when Tom first gets put into a simulation as a female character, his friend Wyatt (female) has to tell him not to explore his new boobs in front of her. Otherwise, a pretty clean read.