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Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin (Reviewed by Shazzie)

Pre-order the book here - U.S. | U.K.

Author website

Read Lukasz's review of the book here

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Alexander Darwin is an author living near Boston with his wife and three daughters. Outside of writing, he teaches and trains martial arts (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). He’s inspired by old-school Hong Kong action flicks, jRPGs, underdog stories and bibimbap bowls.
Outside of writing fiction, Alexander has written for publications such as Rolling Stone Magazine and SF Signal. His latest piece - "The Lost Diary of Anthony Bourdain" - was a featured piece in Rolling Stone’s January 2022 issue.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: In a world long ago ravaged by war, the nations have sworn an armistice never to use weapons of mass destruction again. Instead, highly-skilled warriors known as Grievar Knights represent their nations’ interests in brutal hand-to-hand combat.
Murray Pearson was once a famed Knight until he suffered a loss that crippled his homeland — but now he’s on the hunt to discover the next champion.

In underground and ruthless combat rings, an orphaned boy called Cego is making a name for himself. Murray believes Cego has what it takes to thrive in the world's most prestigious combat academy – but first, Cego must prove himself in the vicious arenas of the underworld. And survival isn’t guaranteed.

FORMAT/INFO: The Combat Codes was self-published in October, 2015, and is an SPFBO6 finalist. It is the first book of the Combat Codes Saga, and will be relaunched by Orbit books, and is due in June 2023, in trade paperback, ebook, and audio formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I've been waiting to dive into this book since I saw the Fonda Lee blurb. I needed no other pitch.

I don't know if I can describe the premise accurately, but this book has a lot going on. We have Cego, a boy in the underground, who makes a name for himself by bringing down other fighters, and gets discovered by Murray Pearson, a once famed Knight who is now a scout on the hunt to discover the next champion. Cego is a teenager, but he seems quite mature for his age. He is honorable, perceptive beyond his years, and is unbelievably kind and noble for someone in the ruthless underworld. He has a past that he claims not to remember, and Murray decides to fight his way out of the rings and bring him to the Citadel, a place where the best are honed.

We fight so the rest shall not have to.
I'm intentionally vague with the specifics here, since part of what I really liked about this book was that the gritty, dystopian world that the story is set in is gradually revealed to the reader, and I applaud the author's approach to this. Cego is a partially clean slate since he does not remember much from his past, and Murray is a Grievar well past his prime, and the difference between the way they see the world in their respective perspectives kept me curious and eager to learn more about the world. I'll just say this: this is a dystopian world where nations settle disputes with single combat, instead of engaging in large scale battles and wars. Naturally, there is an entire system built around training those with abilities to best represent countries, and it is one that doesn't come without politics tied to it.

There is a cost to becoming better, you know that, right?
If you follow any competitive sport, there are certain things that immediately come to mind when you come across a book that revolves around similar elements, and I assure you that they're addressed here. The author addresses the ideas of honorable fighting, using substances to gain a competitive edge, or even the fears of dealing with changes as the athletes get older, he does it with finesse, and there are characters who help make these concepts come to life in varying degrees throughout the book.

Now, there's just one thing to keep in mind. this book has a lot of tropes readers are familiar with - the magic school, master and apprentice, the bully, and the well-informed and rule abiding student. It's not a book that will revolutionize the genre. I think the highlight of this book is just how well the story is structured, and the fight scenes were so well written that I could clearly visualize them like I was a spectator in the stands.

CONCLUSION: The Combat Codes is a wonderful science fiction story in a new series full of potential. It is a cinematic read, and one I whole-heartedly recommend to fans of any competitive sport that want a well paced story.



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