By: Alexander Darwin
Reviewed by: Andy Peloquin
One hell of a book, perfect for lovers of martial arts and dystopian fantasy!
SPBFO 2020 put this book on my radar, and as a lifelong fan (and former practitioner) of martial arts, it looked like the sort of thing I’d enjoy. Doubly so when I saw it being compared to Red Rising, one of my favorite series of the last decade.
Combat Codes evokes a BIT of Red Rising, particularly the “grimdark world”. We start off in a grungy, filthy, squalid world where kids are basically slaves and set to fight in bloody arenas for the enjoyment of the audience. This is a very Black Mirror-esque intro that’s easy to connect to without much need for worldbuilding.
As the story progresses, however, the world begins to grow larger through the eyes of Cego (the young character) and Murray (the mentor), and we begin to see the many, many cracks beneath what little gilded facade is thrown over the ugliness of the world.
The concept of the Combat Codes felt a bit overdone the first time I read it–that line “We fight so that others do not have to” initially came off as trying to glorify what is, in this world, an ugly sport. But as we see more of the Combat Codes (at the beginning of every chapter, and threaded in throughout), it becomes clear that it’s cleverly constructed and written with a great deal of intention–not just well-crafted, but also incredibly relevant to the story at large.
Cego is pretty much the classic “hero” of this sort of story. He’s less driven by grand-story designs than Darrow, but his motivation is clear and easy to connect to throughout the entire story. The more we get to see of him, though, the more interesting he becomes as a character. By the end, I was more invested in HIM as a character than I was in the PLOT at large–which is definitely a good thing. As fascinated as I am by the premise (MMA/BJJ fighters battling for politics), it’s the character of Cego–and those around him–that make me immediately want to dive into Book 2.
Do I have any complaints? Perhaps the same complaint I had with Red Rising 1: I didn’t see enough of the world BEYOND the immediate.
The spelling of “Mercuri” makes me think this is taking place on the planet Mercury, so I spent the entire book wondering what is keeping the people from being roasted alive on the planet closest to the sun. I was hoping for glimpses of the world at large–both through Murray’s eyes, and through explanations given to Cego–but didn’t get them. I HOPE more are coming in Books 2 and 3, because those technological aspects were some of my favorite parts of the Red Rising series.
But honestly, this book was an absolute delight to read, and I’m stoked to binge-read the rest of the series back to back.
This review is the opinion of the author and does not represent the views of Aethon Books or its employees.
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