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Insignia - S.J. Kincaid Wow. I grabbed this book at the library, remembering seeing it on GR or Shelfari or something but not really knowing anything about the book. I was not just pleasantly surprised, I was totally wowed. I don't know why, but this book just really impressed me. I was a little skeptical about the premise, but somehow Kincaid pulls it off.

The characters were fantastic, unique, flawed and charming and well-developed. We see so much growth in them, or just a deepening of Tom's understanding of them, throughout the book. Characters who started off completely obnoxious and despicable became characters we could grudgingly respect, and then even admire. Characters who seemed weak showed remarkable resilience. Tom as a character showed incredible growth, while not becoming Mr. Perfect by the end, either. He is flawed and admirable and fascinating in all the right ways. Not to mention the fantastic dialogue and witty banter and pranks and schemes and all of that ridiculously fun stuff that emerges in a competitive group of teens living in close quarters. I absolutely adored Wyatt and Yuri, Vik and Beamer, their interactions, their conflicts, their deepening friendships.

Not only were the characters superb, but the story itself was wonderful. I didn't really know what to expect. I know there is kind of a "boarding-school" sub-genre in YA, but this didn't have the shallow pettiness you so often see in those kinds of stories. The world Kincaid builds is fascinating and well-thought out, revealed sufficiently but not in a heavy-handed sort of way. There is a plausible reason for why teenagers are being used in this war, and -- unlike some YA dystopias -- this futuristic, sci-fi story actually has an interesting, reasonable, and suitably thought-provoking backstory. The politics of it all makes sense. Even if I can't picture it happening now, I can picture something like it happening.

There is a lot of wonderful subtlety here, too, like the Machiavellians being oh-so-Machiavellian. One little prank a couple of characters pulled just had me grinning because it was so sly and manipulative and....Machiavellian. And for once I found myself completely unsure of where the plot was heading or what twists the author would take to bring us here. There were parts I was biting my nails and flipping pages as fast as I could, because I couldn't figure out any way for the characters to escape their predicament.

I really, really hope we will see more of Tom & Co. in the future. I'm a huge fan.