Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



S. J. Kincaid
Fiction  Series
For ages 13 and up
HarperCollins, 2012   ISBN: 978-0062092991

When Tom Raines was a little boy he lived in a proper home with his parents. His father was a successful professional gambler who was admired and who was able to provide for his family. Now Neil Raines is a drunk who often cannot even get enough money to pay for a motel room for the night. It is not unusual for him and Tom to spend the night on the streets. Tom’s mother left Neil and she now lives in New York City with her boyfriend, an executive who works for Dominion Agra, which is one of the biggest multinational companies on Earth.

   Now fourteen-year-old Tom and Neil move from town to town so that Neil can gamble. More often than not he loses. Tom plays in VR parlors trying to make enough money to pay for a room and some food. He is always missing school, even though all he needs to do is to log on to the Internet to attend his virtual school, Rosewood Reformatory. After missing school for two weeks, Tom logs on and he meets a gorgeous girl called Heather in his virtual classroom. He is amazed that she invites him to have a video chat with her. Why would she be interested in him?

   After a rather unpleasant discussion with his teacher about his lack of schooling and bleak future, Tom goes to a VR parlor to play some games. For some reason his Die, Zombies, Die game morphs into a Martian war game. Tom manages to beat his opponent and when the game is over and his opponent appears, he sees that it is Heather. She tells him that he has “passed.” Passed what? Then a man, a real one, comes over to talk to Tom in the VR parlor. He explains that his name is General Marsh and that he has been watching Tom’s gaming activities for a while. He feels that Tom would fit in very wall at the Pentagonal Spire. In short, he wants Tom to train to become a Combatant in the Intrasolar Forces.

   In Tom’s world people no longer fight wars on Earth. Instead, they battle out their differences in space using ships and other combat machines that are controlled by young people on Earth, some of whom are trainees at the Pentagonal Spire. World War III is being waged in space between the Russo-Chinese alliance and the Indo-American alliance ,and the battles are not about territory any longer. Instead, they are about commerce and mineral rights in space. Multinational companies are the powers that be, not nations.

   Though his father is dead set against Tom pledging himself to “the corporate war machine,” Tom decides to go to the Spire. He wants a future and does not want to end up as a drunken and impoverished itinerant gambler like his father.

   When Tom gets to the Pentagonal Spire, which is located at the center of the Pentagon, he quickly learns that there is more to being a Combatant than he thought. They don’t control the combat machines using regular computers. Instead, Combatants have neural processors, powerful computers, installed in their brains and they interface with the unmanned drones, the combat machines, in space. At first Tom is taken aback by this information. Does he want to have a computer for a brain? If he doesn’t go ahead with the procedure to have a neural processor, he cannot be a Combatant.

   In the end Tom decides to go ahead with the procedure, and he is amazed when he wakes up after the surgery. Nothing is the same. He can learn things by downloading them. He is stronger, faster, even taller. He is no longer a short pimply boy who is a nobody. Tom is delighted with his new life. He has a purpose, friends, and he has even secretly got to know the best Combatant of all. He has made contact with Medusa, the Russo-Chinese Combatant who cannot be beaten. Then Tom learns that nothing is what it seems and that there are people out there who will stop at nothing to advance their career, even if it means tampering with the brains of teenagers.

   In this beautifully written and fascinating story, the author takes her readers to a future that is exciting, and terrifying. We can never be sure what new trial Tom is going to have to face. Readers will find it interesting to see how Tom changes, how he grows up, as the story unfolds.