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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin review


Official author website
Order The Combat Codes over here: USA/UK
Read Fantasy Book Critic's interview with Alexander Darwin

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Alexander Darwin is a science fiction author with an unabashed reverence for combat sports. He spends his days getting humbled on the mats, staring at the unwritten pages of his next novel, and questioning the dumb luck that landed him such a beautiful wife and daughter.


FORMAT/INFO: Self-published by the author in 2015, The Combat Code counts 408 pages and is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats. Cover design by Damonza.

“We fight, so the rest shall not have to.”

The Combat Codes is set in a dystopian society where one-on-one, MMA style combat replaced war. It blends fantasy, sci-fi, cyberpunk, martial arts, and more.


Murray Pearson, a former Grievar champion, works as a scout. While looking for potential recruits in the slave circles, he spots an adolescent boy, Cego, with remarkable martial skills and honorable attitude. He introduces him to the Lyceum where promising teenagers learn martial techniques and compete with each other.


There’s much more to the story, but revealing it would spoil things for you. The book plays with the tropes (magic school, chosen one, master/apprentice) and while it doesn’t spin them around, it avoids obvious twists. It contains plenty of well-written and well-choreographed hand to hand battles. Some of them are brutal and graphic, but never gratuitously.


The fights take place in circles made of “alloys” that influence fighters in unique ways (for example, auralite makes you want to please the crows and rubellium rises anger). A great and well-executed concept. The government uses neurotech to enhance their fighters, but their machinations may run even deeper. I would say Darwin succeeded at connecting Cego’s journey of self-discovery with a much more complex plot of interplanetary politics and balance of power.


Despite young age, Cego acts like a wise adult with plenty of life-experience. He’s competent, honorable, and acceptably special. His teammates/enemies play well-known roles present in most magic/fight school setting (a bully, a mannered nobleman, good-natured bag of muscles, etc.). Most of them are memorable and well-rounded (it’s impossible to dislike Dozer or Abel); only Shiar, the bully, suffers from a profound lack of depth. He’s, basically, a caricature of a mean and arrogant douchebag.


I applaud Darwin’s approach to structuring scenes - Cego’s plans often end in a disaster, and it keeps things exciting. He faces all possible adversities (physical and emotional injuries, terrifying discoveries, a threat to him and those close to him), and reacts accordingly to get out of a jam. It also means the story ends in a cliffhanger, but not of the type that would make you furious. Quite the opposite.


“We fight neither to inflict pain nor prolong suffering. We fight neither to mollify anger nor to satisfy vendetta. We fight neither to accumulate wealth nor to promote social standing. We fight so that the rest shall not have to.”


The Combat Codes draws abundantly from martial arts movies and it embraces both awesome and cheesy staples of the genre. I had great fun reading it and found it exciting throughout. A must for fans of well-paced and mindful martial arts stories.


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