MMA-inspired sci-fi debut with heart and well-written combat scenes
the combat codes
by alexander Darwin
SPFBO Award Finalist for Best Fantasy Book (2020)
“We fight, so the rest shall not have to.”
In a world where single combat determines the fate of nations, the Grievar fight so that the rest can remain at peace.
Cego is a mysterious Grievar boy forced to fight his way out of the slave Circles into the world’s most prestigious combat school.
At the Lyceum, Cego will learn a variety of martial arts from eclectic teachers, develop deep bonds of friendship and fight against contentious rivals to climb the school’s rankings.
But, Cego will find far more than combat studies at the Lyceum. He will find the mystery of his past unraveled by forces greater than he could ever imagine.
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Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Fun, tense, and entertaining; The Combat Codes is an MMA-inspired sci-fi debut with heart and well-written combat scenes.
“A perceived weakness is strength, and a flaunted strength is weakness.”
I’ve been waiting to post this review for a while now, but after hearing there will be a new updated cover art for the series done by the incredible Felix Ortiz, I knew it would better for me to wait for its reveal first before posting this review. I mean, look at that! I loved the distinctive quality of the cover art; it reminded me of Star Wars poster. The Combat Codes is the first book in the The Combat Codes Saga trilogy by Alexander Darwin.
This is a debut that’s currently a finalist in this year’s SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off), and I think it deserves its spot as a finalist there for its quality. Personally speaking, though, I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised that some readers classified this as fantasy; I think it’s a sci-fi/dystopia novel with a little fantasy element, and it’s a really great one.
“We fight neither to inflict pain nor to 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 story in The Combat Codes takes place in a world where single combat determines the fate of nations, the Combat Codes guide the Grievar to fight so that the rest can remain at peace. We have two main characters to follow in this book.
The first one is Cego, a 13 years old Grievar boy with a mysterious past that’s forced to fight his way out of the slave Circles and enter the world’s most prestigious combat school. The other main character is Murray, a retired Grievar Knight who currently scouts for talents to be enlisted into Lyceum for better and elite training.
The main story itself isn’t nothing too surprising; if you’ve read plenty of coming-of-age SFF books, you will most likely know how the story goes from point A to B. However, just because a story is predictable doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing; it all always comes down to execution. I found Darwin’s storytelling of this predictable story to be engaging, and the revelations contained in the narrative made me excited for the next book.
“A Grievar shall become neither arrogant in victory nor broken in defeat; this is the path to complacency.
A Grievar’s opponent is their greatest teacher; one learns more walking the path of defeat than they do on the road to victory. Such a balanced spirit will give a Grievar the continued purpose to strive for combat mastery.”
I highly enjoyed reading Cego’s character development. The Combat Codes have been forgotten by many Grievar and fighters of the world, but Cego never stops doing his best to uphold the Combat Codes, even when he doesn’t fully remember his past or understand himself. Also, the relationship that Cego built with Murray and the friends—Dozer, Weep, and Knees—he met along the way was well-written. Friendship, mentorship, and standing for what’s right are prominent themes in the story, and I enjoyed reading about them.
As I said, it’s a predictable story, even the bully, the villains, and their actions were predictable from their first appearances, but I can’t help but found myself turning the pages. There’s just something about waiting to see bullies receiving retributions that I can’t ever get enough of. However, I do think that the side characters needed more characterizations and focus. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the next book in the series will fix this.
“A Grievar shall not accumulate land, wealth, servants, or worldly possessions beyond what is necessary for survival. In the act of relinquishing all but dedication to martial prowess, a Grievar will become unburdened, free to attack and defend without hesitation.”
Actions and hand-to-hand combat are very integral in this book. I started reading The Combat Codes expecting there will be a lot of action scenes, and I’m not disappointed by this. Darwin has delivered detailed hand-to-hand combats with a rhythm that flows really well. The combats and the blow by blow traded between fighters were both vivid and impactful.
If you’re a fan of martial arts, or maybe Cradle series by Will Wight, I have a good feeling that you’re going to have a blast reading this book. It also helps that the world-building and history of the world enhanced the believability of the combats and stakes contained in them. Plus, Darwin’s prose was accessible, and each epigraph at the beginning of each chapter helped established the importance of Combat Codes in the world.
“A Grievar must fully commit to the present moment. Weighed down by events of the past or too feather-footed in anticipation of the future, a Grievar will be unable to find the rhythm of combat.
A wave rolling to shore and receding to sea knows neither purpose nor path; it has no awareness of time passing. So must it be with a Grievar’s every breath; rolling like a wave and fully in the present. Passage Three, Twenty-Seventh Precept of the Combat Codes”
I do, however, want to address one more time that I don’t think of The Combat Codes as a fantasy novel. Almost everything in the world-building relies on technologies, and if anything, the closest comparison I can think of when it comes to the world-building is Red Rising by Pierce Brown or The Hunger Games (with martial arts) by Suzanne Collins. The class distinction and treatment between Purelight and Lacklight, for example, are very reminiscent of the Gold and Red in Red Rising.
I have other reasons for this assessment, but I’m afraid that’s diving too deep into spoiler territory. This, of course, doesn’t mean that I’m dismissing the quality of the book; I enjoyed it after all. This is just me disagreeing with the fantasy genre classification.
“Anger is like a boiling pot of water. Useful if you can keep the boil steady, but if turned too hot, it will overflow and become useless.”
I doubt The Combat Codes will revolutionize the genre. But if you’re looking for a fast-paced familiar, charming, tense, and engaging escapism novel with heart and great hand-to-hand combat scenes, this is a no-brainer. I highly enjoyed reading this debut, and I’m so looking forward to continuing to the sequel, Grievar’s Blood.
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