A review of The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin,  published by Insight Forge Press in 2015, ISBN 978-1517765064. You can see this review at Amazon, and GoodReads. Rated 4 stars out of 5.

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Murray Pearson is sick of buying broken kids from the slave Circles. He’s sick of training them to become skilled combatants, only to watch them break again. He’s sick of reporting his failures as a talent scout to men who don’t have the guts to stand in the Circles themselves.

Cego doesn’t understand why he’s fighting. He doesn’t understand the grueling training sessions he’s forced to endure every day. He doesn’t understand why they scream for blood when he steps into the Circle. The one thing Cego does understand is hand-to-hand combat. He was born to fight.

Cego is sent down an unlikely path at Murray’s side, paved with fierce competition at the world’s most prestigious combat school along with the answers to his own mysterious past.

Synopsis

This story is mostly fighting/combat set in a scifi universe. Older, retired fighter finds young hopeful in a fighting pit. Retired fighter recruits young fighter for a battle school. Young fighter is awesome. Retired fighter discovers why young fighter is awesome, rocks young fighter’s life with the truth.

The obvious parallel is to Ender’s Game – especially with a young boy going to a fight school, but more like if Ender had been sent to a Japanese judo school and learned to fight. It also had a bit of a Matrix type feel to it, especially with the hyper-realistic simulations.

The Fighting

There were many elements of jiu jitsu, judo, and grappling in this, with the school levels being white, blue, purple, brown, black, and red; the many “OSSS”s that characters uttered; the pieces of martial arts wisdom such as “You may need to give up position to gain position,” and the fighting jargon. The vocabulary in this book was highly specific. This makes the fight scenes very easy to follow if you know fighting terminology, and potentially confusing if you don’t.

Cego shrimped his hips out, circling his legs around Farmer’s knee and shooting his hand in for an underhook. Farmer allowed him to take the underhook, fishing his own overhook under Cego’s armpit and through to the other side of his neck, countering with the brabo choke. Cego felt the pressure on his neck and shrimped out the other way.

The Sci-Fi

This story was enhanced by it being set in a scifi universe, and the main plot point about why the main character is special required a universe with this type of science. Watching a fight and being able to see all the person’s biometrics displayed – being able to see heartrate, images of skeletons and muscles, oxygen saturation, and blood pressure – all things I could see them showing on a UFC fight were this technology available. Having a fight ring that influenced a fighter in various ways – confidence, speed, etc, simply by which element it was made of. Having physical simulations to help train students to be better fighters. All these elements greatly enhanced the fighting storyline. There was also a deeply embedded theme of “Light/Darkness” – purelights vs lacklights, the scifi swear word “darkin’,” and even some beings of light – spectrals.

Review

I most enjoyed the storyline, and the integration of scifi with fighting. I thought they both enhanced one another quite well. It was imaginative, and even though there were very familiar themes present in many scifi stories, it was unique. I thought the final 1/3 of the book was much more interesting than the first 1/3, and I thought the ending was both satisfying and interesting, and it made me want to go back and reread the first part of the book.

There were a few points I disliked. I honestly thought the boy was in his 20s, and it felt jarring to realize he was 13. The character was NOT written like a typical 13 year old – he was far too wise for his age, and missed a lot of the common faults that 13 year olds have. I also sometimes had trouble transitioning from one main character to the next, but this could be me reading at night when I was tired. Finally, I have zero idea why there were “spectrals” – beings of light – not a clue what purpose they served, why they were there, etc.

Disclosure and thanks

The author sent this book to me for the purpose of a review. I did not receive any compensation, nor did I promise a good review. I have no connection to the author other than sharing the same hobby, Jiu Jitsu. Thanks to the author for sending me a copy and entrusting me to give a thoughtful and frank review.

As of the publication date, this book is available on Amazon Kindle for only $2.99 (free with unlimited Kindle), and the physical copy is between $11 – $15.