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?
I first heard about this book last year at an SCBWI conference. It intrigued me, and I put it on my to-read list. And then I got the chance to read an ARC! I snapped it up very quickly, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s like a cross between Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Feed by M.T. Anderson, and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
The characters are the best part. The dialog and camaraderie feel authentic, and I laughed out loud more than once. Tom is likable and sympathetic, and fairly easy to relate to. He also feels like your typical teenage boy with hormones and the tendency to jump to conclusions. I thought the author did a good job of capturing him as a person. The interactions between Tom and his friends is the highlight of the story, actually. There is a section where this is taken away, and I really missed it.
Another aspect which I enjoyed was when Tom and his friends are learning how to write software programs. I have to give props to the author because she clearly did some research on the subject. Their first encounter with the value ‘null’ is hysterical because it’s right on the money. I remember my first experience with this when I was learning to program, and had the exact same reaction. Not defining all your variables is a typical newbie mistake and the author captured it well. If there had been some infinite loops, that would have made it even better (an even more common newbie mistake).
For the most part, the plot kept me reading and interested, with only a few moments of head-scratching. Those instances were clear that the plot was driving the story instead of the characters, which bummed me out because they felt a bit contrived, but then the characters took over again later on. And Tom was most definitely driving the story for the conclusion, which I loved. We already knew this aspect of his character, but it was awesome seeing it in so blatant and brutally ‘out there.’ Some may not like him for it, but I ended up liking him more. I’m looking forward to the next book.
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