Series Review: Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Series Review: Insignia by S.J. KincaidInsignia by S. J. Kincaid
Series: Insignia #1
Published by Katherine Tegen on July 10, 2012
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 446
Format: Hardcover
Source: Gifted
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The earth is in the middle of WWIII in Insignia, the first entry in S. J. Kincaid's fast-paced sci-fi adventure trilogy perfect for fans of Ender's Game.

The planet's natural resources are almost gone, and war is being fought to control the assets of the solar system. The enemy is winning. The salvation may be Tom Raines. Tom doesn't seem like a hero. He's a short fourteen-year-old with bad skin. But he has the virtual-reality gaming skills that make him a phenom behind the controls of the battle drones.

As a new member of the Intrasolar Forces, Tom's life completely changes. Suddenly, he's someone important. He has new opportunities, friends, and a shot at having a girlfriend. But there's a price to pay. . . .

For once, the comparison marketing really hits the nail on the head. Insignia is Ender’s Game, only with a diverse cast and not written by a sexist asshat. So basically, it’s awesome and full of action and tons of fun.

Unlike Ender, Tom’s not an incredible genius. He has a gift for strategy borne of a childhood obsessively playing video games combines with a natural killer instinct. Because of these skills, he’s selected for the government’s training program for teen soldiers, aka the teens who operate the war machines that fight World War III in space without loss of life.

Tom could be for some a frustrating hero. He’s not the brightest and interpersonally he can be quite the idiot, since he didn’t get a ton of socialization growing up. The growing ship is super cute because Wyatt is into him and he cannot tell at all, like the bonehead he is. It’s cool that, even though they’ve all had computers put in their brains, they vary in intelligence and ability greatly. They’re now all really smart, but it only helps them so far. Tom, much like Percy Jackson, is really good at fighting, but he’s impulsive. Unlike Percy, he can also be quite vicious.

Though Tom is white, most of the rest of the main characters are diverse. His love interest is half hispanic, his crush is black, and his roommate is Indian, for example. I completely adore Tom’s group of friends. I love that Wyatt’s the most useful and cleverest one (totally the Hermione only grumpier). Tom and Vikram are hilarious together. Yuri’s so sweet, and I feel bad for his inevitable losing of the love triangle. TINY SPICY VIKRAM. That is all.

If you were into Ender’s Game, you’ll be into Insignia. It’s not close enough to feel like been there read that, but they’re definitely similar.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


Series Review: Insignia by S.J. KincaidAllies by S. J. Kincaid
Series: Insignia #1.5
Published by Katherine Tegen on May 7, 2013
Genres: Science Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 48
Format: eBook
Source: Library

In S. J. Kincaid’s fast-paced and humorous sci-fi Insignia trilogy, the earth is in the middle of World War III when teen gamer Tom Raines is recruited to train with other young cadets as a pivotal member of the elite combat corps, the Intrasolar Forces. At the Pentagonal Spire’s training academy, he makes the best friends of his life—fellow government weapons-in-training Wyatt Enslow, Vik Ashwan, and Yuri Sysevich.

In this 47-page prequel novella to the series, budding genius Wyatt Enslow—intensely loyal and hyperintelligent if occasionally, hilariously, socially awkward—takes center stage as S. J. Kincaid reveals Wyatt’s life before she found her place, and her own inner strength, among her devoted band of friends at the Spire.

Wyatt’s my favorite character of the Insignia series so far, and I do appreciate her POV. I do like experiencing the world from her view and getting a bit of her back story, but so far as plot goes nothing is added in this short story.

It is funny though that I couldn’t get through The Diabolic because the first person POV’s voice really didn’t work for me, but there’s so much voiciness in Kincaid’s third person POVs in this series. My one reservation here is that Wyatt was clearly autistic and the implant “fixed” her. She’s totally glad to have last that part of herself, though Blackburn questions whether it’s truly a good thing. This portrayal of autism seems to me potentially problematic.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

Series Review: Insignia by S.J. KincaidVortex by S. J. Kincaid
Series: Insignia #2
Published by Katherine Tegen on July 2, 2013
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 390
Format: eBook
Source: Library
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The impossible was just the beginning. Now in their second year as superhuman government weapons-in-training at the Pentagonal Spire, Tom Raines and his friends are mid-level cadets in the elite combat corps known as the Intrasolar Forces. But as training intensifies and a moment arrives that could make or break his entire career, Tom’s loyalties are again put to the test.

Encouraged to betray his ideals and friendships for the sake of his country, Tom is convinced there must be another way. And the more aware he becomes of the corruption surrounding him, the more determined he becomes to fight it, even if he sabotages his own future in the process.

Drawn into a power struggle more dramatic than he has ever faced before, Tom stays a hyperintelligent step ahead of everyone, like the exceptional gamer he is—or so he believes. But when he learns that he and his friends have unwittingly made the most grievous error imaginable, Tom must find a way to outwit an enemy so nefarious that victory seems hopeless. Will his idealism and bravado cost him everything—and everyone that matters to him?

Filled with action and intelligence, camaraderie and humor, the second book in S.J. Kincaid’s futuristic World War III Insignia trilogy continues to explore fascinating and timely questions about power, politics, technology, loyalty, and friendship.

Vortex does have some symptoms of second book syndrome, in that the plot’s a bit slower than in the first book. The beginning meanders a bit, for example. Ultimately, though, Vortex proves a powerful installment, upping the stakes, advancing the plot, and helping Tom achieve some much needed personal growth.

Tom Raines will be to some a deeply frustrating character. Though he’s been artificially made a genius via his neural processor, he’s still not that bright. Tom makes a succession of brash, stupid, selfish, and impulsive decisions. He has no respect for authority whatsoever, which means he’s constantly in conflict with the corporations that sponsor the military and with his military commanders and teachers. Tom and Vik have a lot in common with Harry and Ron, except that they’re much more cruel by nature and are less inclined to listen to their Hermione figure (Wyatt). Reading about Tom could totally be the worst, but he’s so well-characterized. And it’s so satisfying to see him finally starting to understand at the end of Vortex.

There are some seriously amazing twists at the end of this installment. View Spoiler » I am, however, nervous about the romance between Tom and Medusa (this is her callsign, not her actual name, I promise). On the one hand, it’s cool that Tom’s got feelings for her now that he knows her real face, but their relationship has some inherent problems. Also, I ship him with Wyatt, so…

I debated on the rating between 3.5 and 4, but I rounded up for a couple of scenes that were genuinely hilarious. This book made me laugh out loud. The thought-sending communication is a comedic gem.

So far, this is a great action series. It makes me even more disappointed that The Diabolic didn’t work for me.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


Series Review: Insignia by S.J. KincaidCatalyst by S. J. Kincaid
Series: Insignia #3
Published by Katherine Tegen on October 28, 2014
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 419
Format: eBook
Source: Library
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S. J. Kincaid has created a fascinating dystopian world for Insignia, her futuristic science-fiction adventure series perfect for fans of Ender's Game. Earth is in the middle of WWIII, battling to determine which governments and corporations will control the resources of the solar system.

Teen Tom Raines grew up with nothing, some days without even a roof over his head. Then his exceptional gaming skills earned him a spot in the Intrasolar Forces, the country's elite military training program, and his life completely changed. Now, in Catalyst, the explosive series conclusion, dangerous changes have come to the Pentagonal Spire, where Tom and his friends train. When a mysterious figure starts fighting against the evil corporations' horrifying plans, but with methods Tom finds shocking, he must decide which side he's on.

With slim odds of success, is it even worth the fight?

Catalyst closes out the trilogy with a satisfying, albeit overly optimistic, ending.

Plot-wise, I’m pretty happy with the series’ conclusion. It’s the weakest of the set, but not by a whole lot. Kincaid’s done a nice job keeping the plot inconvenient, and she doesn’t shy away from doing terrible things to her characters, especially Tom. It’s pretty remarkable how dark things got here. Tom’s time in isolation really changed him, and, as a character, I’ve enjoyed his evolution and how much of a stupid boy he’s been.

Ship-wise, this series is frustrating. Wyatt has such excellent chemistry with either Tom or Vik, she and Yuri, who are sweet but could not banter together to save their lives, are a thing in perpetuity. I really like Yaolan and Tom on paper, but in practice, I’m sort of eh on them. The diversity of the cast and the ships is still nice, but I wish I felt powerful shippy feels.

There are a few things I found a bit suspect with this conclusion. As I mentioned, the ending careens from massively dark to shiny progress and happiness in a turn so sudden it will give you whiplash. The general idea is fine, but it’s so idealistic as to be unrealistic; you can’t just fix everything so easily.

I also have some ish feelings about some rep, but it’s spoilery. View Spoiler »

Catalyst finished the Insignia series with the same sort of quality as the rest of the series. This is one of the most consistent series I’ve read.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:






3 responses to “Series Review: Insignia by S.J. Kincaid”

  1. I stayed away from this one mostly because of the comparisons I saw to Ender’s Game, of which I was not a fan but it seems so rare for a series to end well. I did check out the spoiler though and both issues are quite problematic. Glad it worked for you though. 🙂
    Bonnie @ For the Love of Words recently posted…Spotlight On: Summer 2017 SYNC Audiobooks Title LineupMy Profile

  2. I’m a big fan of this series. It’s totally Harry Potter meet Ender’s Game. Unlike you, I also liked The Diabolic, though not as much as this series. I do appreciate your issues with the series, though.

    I’m still kind of hoping we’ll get another Wyatt centric e-book, this one focusing on the time between the first two books, but it’s pretty unlikely now, especially now that Kincaid has two sequels to The Diabolic coming.

  3. I skimmed the reviews for books 2 and 3 bc spoilers but I love your review for Book 1! And I’m glad it seems like a satisfying series ending in general. I actually met the author at a Fierce Reads event a few years ago and bought this book for Chris (the gaming aspect). Neither of us have read but now I really want to, I had no idea it was so diverse and funny as well as action-y! I’m glad you reviewed the series 🙂
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