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

Rating: 7.5/10


“We fight so that 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.


Thanks to the author for a listening copy of The Combat Codes for review consideration. This did not influence my thoughts or opinions.

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 Combat Codes is a love letter to martial arts with a dystopian sci-fi Ushiro Geri to the solar plexus. Darwin has written a splendid debut that takes a handful of tropes we see across SFF and breathes new life into them. I can definitely see why he is a SPFBO finalist with this entry.

You know, indies have come a long way in recent years and you have to wonder why they still don’t get the attention they deserve. We used to think the cover art game just wasn’t there, but you can’t say that anymore. I MEAN LOOK AT THAT COVER BY THE WONDERFUL FELIX ORTIZ. I can definitely attest to the fact that it isn’t the writing, so I guess it has to do with marketing or social media. The masses just aren’t there for most, so it is up to competitions like SPFBO and the book bloggers of the world to help boost these fantastic titles up as much as possible.

What Darwin excels at with this novel is hand-to-hand combat. I mean, my goodness, every single fight is calculated; measured to the Nth degree with precision. You feel the impact of each hit, taste the blood and sweat from the combatants, and see just how brutal this world is. Cego is a very intriguing character, much like Ender Wiggin, as he is calm and calculated rather than bullheaded. Though the end results aren’t always there, he is constantly learning from his mistakes while balancing out risk vs reward. I quite enjoyed seeing his progression, as well as the bit of backstory the author chose to reveal.

The only drawbacks came with some of the secondary characters. Many felt very surface and I hope that with the continuation of the series, they get a little more light shined on them. They are a little tropey as you can expect from most of your “magical school / coming of age” type stories, but Darwin doesn’t take a cliff dive into painting the same arcs we’ve seen time and time again. I also want to see the world fleshed out a little more; maybe broaden the landscape a bit and allow for more exploration.

This a story I believe will resonate with fans of, say, Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, Red Rising and maybe Will Wight’s ‘Cradle’ series. It is a very enjoyable debut and I look forward to Book 2 (and its snazzy new cover).

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