Vortex, book 2 in the Insignia Trilogy, is a lot of fun.
There is still a definite "Harry Potter meets science fiction" thing going on, but now there is also a bit of "let's use the powers we've been given to overthrow this oppressive government like they did in The Hunger Games and Divergent" showing up. In other words, the story arc comes straight from the YA Dystopian text book--which I have no problem with at all. It works wonderfully and makes for an engaging and entertaining story. Of course, the series isn't a complete replica...there are plenty of twists, turns, and unexpecteds.
For all the templated sameness, pleasant surprises abound. I love that the characters act like real teenagers. They can't see how the results of their actions will negatively impact their future, they are immature, they are awkward in their relationships, and they make a lot of really, really bad choices. Actually, it almost went too far; the first half of this book nearly broke me. Tom Raines, the star of the show, was an idiot and completely unlikable. Luckily he worked through his issues and redeemed himself in a big way as the direction the story was going became clear. The dialogue--really the writing in general--is another win. The banter between the players is sharp and quick and often laugh-out-loud funny.
There's a short 50-ish page book called "Allies" the author put out there that should be read between Insignia and Vortex. Not required if you're not into dropping a couple bucks for the story, but I found that it did give some helpful context to certain events as well as give some enduring insight to Wyatt--who is one of the best characters in the story.
Like the first book, teenage boy humor rules the day, but the fart jokes and boob mentions are dialed way back as the story takes a turn for the serious. There is also a very subtle, don't-read-too-fast-or-you'll-miss-it revelation that one periphery character is gay. There is a brief, indirect acknowledgement, zero commentary, and no return to the topic. There is no bad language and no sex. The violence is lighthearted and takes place within virtual reality simulations.
I found Vortex to be exciting, clean, and worthy of a recommendation to my friends and my kids who are at least 13. Looking forward to book three!