#SPFBO Review (8): The Combat Codes (The Combat Codes Saga #1) by Alexander Darwin

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  Stage 1 is now complete and the finalists can be found here. My previous seven book reviews can be found here, here, here, herehere, here and here. Today I am reviewing my eighth finalist.

The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin is the finalist put forward by the Fantasy Book Critic and you can find their review here.

I have to say I had a really good time with this one.  To be fair, going into the read I thought it might not be for me, I’m not always keen on books that are particularly reliant on fight scenes but I confess that this pulled me in very easily and the author’s clear knowledge and love of the subject shines through.

I will start out by addressing a bone of contention with this particular book and one that has given me plenty to think about as I was reading.  This is a story that is fairly low key in terms of the fantasy elements and it also feels quite sci-fi centric.  That being said I feel like it’s a strangely satisfying combination of both genres and it was a book that won me over with relative ease.

The concept of the story is pretty much stated in the title.  This is a world where single combat is used to settle disputes, ranging from small to great, and thus dispelling the need for war.  Although this is an ideal solution to prevent massive bloodshed, over the years the concepts have become muddied and less adhered to and the warriors themselves rely more on body enhancements through stimulants and drugs to create faster, stronger champions (which to some feels a little like cheating).  One of the characters from the book is a scout, always on the lookout for new raw talent from what are more or less underground fighting arenas.  Here he becomes aware of a young orphan who shows definite promise.

What I really liked about this was a combination of things.  I think the writing is good, I definitely formed attachments to the characters and I liked both the gladiatorial feel to the ‘below’ world elements and the combat school and rivalries of the ‘above’ world.

The first character we encounter is Murray.  He’s the scout, former Grievar Knight, now relegated to hunting for up and coming talent.  I liked Murray.  He’s a bit of a no-nonsense character, gruff, tough, something of a loner and definitely a person who prefers the ‘old’ ways of doing things.  He’s definitely not a popular guy with the other Grievar scouts or the hierarchy that controls the combat school and knights.  I’m just going to say that I’m not entirely sure what Grievars really are – obviously they’re bred to become the fighters of this world and in the current iteration there’s a lot of dabbling with drugs and the like to enhance particular characteristics, but I don’t know if there’s anything more to them in terms of family or heritage.  What I can say is there is definitely a lot of elitism taking place here with purelights  being highly privileged whilst lacklights are barely suffered to breath the same air.  Cego is the other central character, both lacklight and underdog.  In fact really the story is almost a voyage of self discovery for him as he has no real memory of his past – although he recalls snippets and he has cleary received training in both combat and the codes that dictate behaviour.  I liked Cego – he reminded me a little of Sanderson’s Kaladin in that he’s a character who manages to pull together a band of characters that are essentially the down trodden and give them both confidence and hope.  Of course there’s also the standard ‘bully’ of the piece.  Shiar, and of course, he becomes the predictable thorn in Cego’s side.  This character felt a little flat and obvious for me but not enough to be too off putting.

The world building is perhaps a little on the skimpy side.  I think the author has been careful with his descriptions, which in one respect I think is quite clever because there’s nothing like a good description to really ‘age’ a novel.  But, it does make it a little difficult to really envision the place.  What I got from this first instalment was a dark, dingy, smelly, under or below world where people live pretty harsh lives and another completely different life for those that live above in the sweet smelling air where shortages are unheard of.  This is without doubt a world that is futuristic, the rings where the fights take place seem to have huge screens that display the fighters vital stats, there are simulated programmes used in the schools to test the students and there are definitely other scientific elements that I’m not going to discuss here.  Then there are the unexplained elements such as the spectrals, small glowing lights that seem to attach themselves to certain characters (I couldn’t help being reminded of the Spren with these), they definitely feel magical and give off an aura of ‘choosing’ characters to gravitate towards.   The fighting takes place on specially created rings that have strange alloys mixed into them that can influence the fighters – make them feel invincible, want to take risks, want to please the crowd, etc.

Overall, I can’t really discuss too much of the plot for fear of spoilers.  Like I said above this feels very much like a ‘finding youself’ type of story for Cego.  It has something of a set up feel with Cego finding himself part of a group of firm friends, being trained at an elite school with a gruff but not unkind mentor and five more years of schooling and battling to look forward to which will no doubt be enjoyed in future instalments.  If, like me, you feel a little sceptical about a book that has plenty of fight scenes I can say that these are particularly well described and easy to visualise.  Again, not particularly strong in terms of typical fantasy elements but I enjoyed the mix and would definitely read more from this world.

My rating 4 of 5 stars or 8 out of 10

I received a copy courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.

3 Responses to “#SPFBO Review (8): The Combat Codes (The Combat Codes Saga #1) by Alexander Darwin”

  1. #SPFBO Review (9): The Lost War (Eidyn #1) by Justin Lee Anderson | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] book reviews can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Today I am reviewing my final […]

  2. Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin […]

  3. Top Ten Tuesday : My Ten Most Recent Reads | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin – In a world where single combat determines the fate of nations, the Grievar fight so that the rest can remain at peace. I really enjoyed this one. 4 of 5 stars […]

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