Goodreads description: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?
Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.
So Tom is a bit of a loser. His dad is a paranoid gambler who moves Tom around from casino to casino. Tom hustles money through virtual games. He’s so good at virtual games that he’s recruited to go the elite training academy. He gets to train to be a part of a popular virtual fighting army that he’s always watched on TV and possibly become a hero. Tom lives to be important and with the new school and training comes a validation he’s never experienced. He also makes connections and friendships. This opportunity completely changes his life but there are downsides (dun dun dun).
I liked seeing the kids interact with each other in the school setting and that there were still typical stereotypes in this unique situation of superhuman improvements. There were still popular kids and nerdy outcasts despite how much technology changed them. Tom is believable as a teenage male–he’s arrogant but self-conscious. He has friends, crushes, and enemies. Sometimes I really liked him and thought he was funny: his antics with Vik and their arguing felt real and made me chuckle. But I also got annoyed with him and felt like he needed smacked, which is probably par for the course with a 14-year-old guy. Sadly, while I enjoyed some characters the only one I really connected with was Wyatt, the geeky girl genius. I wanted to know more about her!
The virtual gaming parts of the book were entertaining. I liked reading about them in virtual past and training with simulated historical figures. The technology along with the abuse of it was alarming but thought-provoking. The control and the risk of being controlled were intense. The dystopian aspects of the government, with the corporations and their alliances and food and water control were interesting but something about it felt strange to me.
I didn’t quite get the point of the World War III, which is being fought in space by teenagers in virtual reality. Nobody dies or loses anything but equipment, so it all seems a little pointless to me. Not that I would rather people die, but it felt like the whole thing was a big chess game, which kind of made me wonder why they bothered at all. If it was all equipment handled by teenagers, why not just actually battle through games? They could just play a game to see who would win and then there’d be no loss at all.
I liked this book but towards the end I got impatient and kind of just wanted it to be over. I don’t really have anything negative to say about it but I think it just didn’t clicked for me. I think it was a personal issue and I can see why other readers would enjoy it. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll read the next book in the series. I am interested to see how the world and characters develop but I think I’ll have to wait and see what the next one is about. I might read it just to see more of Wyatt!