I decided to re-read Insignia before starting on the second and third books. I'm glad I did--it turns out I'd forgotten a lot more about the story than I remembered. My first review from a couple of years ago still stands. I'll just add a few additional thoughts.
The science fiction is heavy on the fiction, low on the science. I didn't mind, the story was fun enough that I didn't care about the plausibility of the future science. I know some of you reading my reviews get all bent out of shape over stuff like that, so this warning is for you. But really, it's not a big deal at all.
The dialogue and banter was as impressive as I remembered it. I think convincing dialogue is so hard to write. Here it's smooth, effortless, and often laugh-out-loud funny.
Much of the humor is around what comes out of the minds and mouths of 15-year-old boys. No bad language, but plenty of awkward boy/girls interaction and couple of well placed fart jokes.
I was surprised at the amount of violence I'd forgotten about. Nothing horrible, it all takes place inside of virtual reality simulations. No one actually dies in the book. But, since it's a VR, everyone's a little more willing to hack people up. Nothing that prevents me from recommending the book, but it's there.
I still loved the story--maybe even more the second time--and I'm anxious to get going on the next one. I'll be recommending to my kids who are at least 13.
So, in the end, it turns out that Insignia is a pretty cool book. It totally reminds me of Harry Potter--but with teens attending a futuristic military school in a science fiction setting instead of a castle to learn magic in a fantasy setting.
The story is about Tom--the boy who has the special "it" the military is looking for, but who is raised by his deadbeat dad and will never have the opportunity to make anything of himself. His gaming skills are so good that he attracts the attention off the military, and he's recruited off to military school to fight in WWIII....but in war of the future, no one dies because the wars are fought in space over galactic real estate using space ships flown remotely by--yup, you guessed it--teenagers in military school.
Of course, there's MUCH more to the story than that, but I liked the surprises and unexpected bits--so I'll leave them foe you to discover. I'll just say that Tom gets much more than he bargained for when he joins military school. The writing shines during the dialogue between Tom and his new friends--their banter is laugh-out-loud funny.
In the end the story wrapped up nicely, and there is plenty of material for several more books....which I'll be keeping my eye out for.
Perfectly clean and suitable for all readers who are looking for some good fun science fiction!