The Conscript

The Conscript was written by Nate Kirtis and first published in 2016. It is a science fiction novel that focuses on a teenage boy who is kidnapped and forcibly recruited into a foreign military school. The book forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

World-FIVE is known for being a dangerous planet, but fourteen-year-old Avi Garza has always felt safe at his school in Co’pia. Yet everything changes on the day that mysterious foreign soldiers invade his school. They kill everyone who resists them, including Avi’s two best friends, and take the rest hostage. After days of travelling, Avi and the other survivors are released in Camp Condor, a military school in distant Yermo, and given two options. Either they can join the academy, or be used as target practice.

Unbeknown to his captors, Avi is not what he seems. He hide his true intelligence and the years of combat training that he received as a child. Avi knows that his best chance to have revenge is to play along, and therefore he hides his strengths and befriends the other boys in his bunker. However, his strange actions catch the attention of a camp official who requests for him to become his personal adept. Such a thing is unheard of, as not even the students who have been training for years have achieved such a lofty rank.

Naturally, Avi’s promotion angers both his fellow students and members of the faculty. It’s not long before some of his classmates strike back, taking advantage of Avi’s lack of citizenship in an attempt to murder him. As a foreigner, Avi knows that his chances of surviving are limited unless he can be recognised as full citizen of Yermo. Yet his best chance to earn this is to win the 6Day Games – a Camp wide war game that pits all of the students against each other…

The Conscript was actually a lot better than I was expecting. The plot itself takes elements from popular science fiction series like Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers. Kirtis throws the reader into Avi’s world with little preamble, yet the novel is still very easy to read. Part of this is due to the story’s limited focus. While we get glimpses of a bigger picture – a world torn by attacks by the insectoid Rohlmac – we don’t see much outside the boundaries of Camp Condor. Avi’s world is filled with new concepts and slang, but it doesn’t take long for the reader to slip into it and get up to speed about what is going on.

However, it was not perfect. The novel is told largely from Avi’s perspective which causes some issues with pacing. Avi is a very strategically minded individual. He spends a lot of time alone, mulling over his long-term goals, or discussing his war game strategy with the people around him. While there are some very exciting scenes in the story, they are rather spaced out. The novel isn’t boring (far from it) and it certainly kept my attention, but if you’re looking for action this may not be the book for you.

It also took me a long time to understand what was truly going on. The real reason for Avi’s abduction is not explained until quite late in the story. Although there are a few chapters told from the perspective of Avi’s parents and camp supervisors that did hint at what was happening, this isn’t made clear until the final couple of chapters. Personally, I felt that this should have been foreshadowed a little more throughout the book. Avi spends so much of this novel in the dark and 400+ pages is a long time to wait for an explanation.

When it comes to characterisation, the only person of real note is Avi himself. Avi was a really curious character and I did have some mixed feelings about him. Firstly was his narrative voice. Although Avi is only fourteen at the start of the novel, he never really felt like a teenager. He was just too calm and prone to epic speeches. I’m aware that this is part of the point, a product of his Tilden training and potential heritage (although this is never confirmed in the story), but it still made him feel a bit uncanny. Avi was just a little too capable and on the level. Because of this, I never felt that he was ever really in danger.

However, Avi was still a likeable protagonist. Kirtis tried to balance his excellent mind with some physical frailty. Although Avi is well versed in martial arts, he still lacks the training of his fellows which really comes across in his more physical classes. While this doesn’t effect things much in the greater scheme of things, I’m curious to see if is weakness will play any part in future stories. I’m also very keen to learn more about his Tilden abilities. Avi displays a couple of interesting powers in this story which he does his best to keep secret from the others at the camp. As these seem to be growing gradually stronger, I also wonder what impact they will have in the next book.

However, the supporting cast didn’t come out quite as well. The Conscript has an enormous cast, many of whom have alien and impossible to pronounce names. While Kirtis did give brief descriptions of each character as they appeared, this only really boiled down to things like ethnicity and hair colour. I didn’t really feel as though I was given the time to get to know any of them, and the titbits that I was thrown (like what became of Argent’s parents) didn’t really effect anything.

I was especially disappointed by the lack of female protagonists. Camp Condor is a mixed sex school, yet the few female characters that Avi meets don’t really affect anything. Take, for example, Clara. Clara is seen watching Avi as he first arrives and he’s later given the mission to learn more about her. Where does this go? Absolutely nowhere. Avi speaks to a couple of other (male) characters about her and gathers some basic information that he never uses, and he never really talks to Clara herself. Personally, this felt weak. You’re probably aware by now that I really like my books to have strong female characters. Unfortunately, in The Conscript, these are woefully absent.

However, for all my grumbling, The Conscript was a promising debut that had a lot to offer. I really enjoyed Kirtis’s world-building and found myself getting very engaged with Avi’s adventure. The character of Avi also wasn’t without his charms, yet I wished that more time had been spent in developing the supporting cast and giving a better idea as to the state of things outside of the camp. Still, all in all, I do look forward to seeing where Kirtis will take the story next. If you loved books like Ender’s Game, I’m sure you’ll eat this up.

The Conscript can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: The Spirit of Stratos: The Shadow Virus | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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