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

Rating: 8/10


“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 Mr Darwin for providing me a review copy of his impressive debut, The Combat Codes. And even more so for making it look incredible with the brand new cover – I mean, come on, that is one hell of a cover. Many apologies that it took me so long to get to this, I continually underestimate just how big my TBR is …

The Combat Codes is a debut that knows when to throw punches – and most certainly how to make them most effective. Darwin takes you on a technically sound ride through an intricate story of martial arts, of striving to – not just be good – but be the best. And of defeating the hand that you’re given so badly that you end up being the person you want to be. That, and a fightpunk world of advanced technology, Simulations, mechs and much more for you Sci-Fi fans to sink your teeth in. This is for you fans of martial arts anime that enjoy the written form.

In short, the plot is about Cego, a martial artist stuck in the Deep until Murray sees something in him and fights for his release to the surface – Murray is a Grievar Scout looking for the next Knight who will fight battles for Mercuri, to fight 1 on 1 bouts so that wars don’t have to be waged. During the tests, it is apparent that Cego is not as he seems, and we watch this unfold in the Lyceum where he and his team – the Whelps – learn through the Combat Codes, practical fighting and other lessons, and strive to be the top of their level, one. There’s broken dreams, bodies, and incubators enough to remind you of DBZ. For me, the first half of the plot was very slow, and did take me some time to get through; there’s a lot of staying down in the Deep while we wait for something to happen to Cego. It isn’t that this part wasn’t interesting, it’s that the Surface and the Lyceum are so much more interesting that I wish we moved on quicker. As, when it gets going, and the rapid punches of twists and turns at the end of the book hit you, it’s annoying that it ends there. And your TBR doesn’t allow you to quite jump into the next book straight away – because I can say that I damned want to, and am very looking forward to continuing the Combat Codes Saga. That ending though …

I enjoyed finding out about Cego’s past the most, and like everything that wears these kind of inspirations on its sleeves, the truth in this is what holds the most intrigue; I love MCs with sketchy pasts that end up being huge power points, but I also can’t go into it too much without spoiling this for any of you. Just be sure that there’re cool secrets within the book, and it’s best to stick around for them.

The martial arts in the book are the true magic – you can definitely tell that Darwin is an experienced practitioner himself. And where my martial arts experience is very … limited, and the meticulously plotted fights are probably lost on me in their technicality, I can still appreciate how very well set out they are. It’s not that you are told every step of the fight. It’s that you feel every beat of it, are pulled into the sweat and anguish of it, see the techniques coming – all of it an experience rather than writing on a page. I hope to see much more of this in the second book.

One thing I will touch on with the world-building, I felt like this book could’ve been at least a third longer and I would have still enjoyed it; there was a lot of time where something is mentioned and then we move on, or there’s suggestion of something happening, but we don’t get to see it. We could have really slowed down, beefed it out and it still would have pulled me in the same way. But that just goes to show that Darwin has written something very intriguing.

Overall, if you’re a fan of anime, martial arts or just great SFF books, this should be one that you check out.

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