STEP INTO THE CIRCLE BLOG TOUR: The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin (reviewed by Shazzie and Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Pre-order The
Combat Codes over HERE (U.S. | U.K.)

Alexander Darwin
is an author living near Boston with his wife and three daughters. Outside of
writing, he teaches and trains martial arts (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). He’s inspired
by old-school Hong Kong action flicks, jRPGs, underdog stories and bibimbap

Outside of writing
fiction, Alexander has written for publications such as Rolling Stone Magazine
and SF Signal. His latest piece – “The Lost Diary of Anthony
Bourdain” – was a featured piece in Rolling Stone’s January 2022 issue.


 In a world
long ago ravaged by war, the nations have sworn an armistice never to use
weapons of mass destruction again. Instead, highly-skilled warriors known as
Grievar Knights represent their nations’ interests in brutal hand-to-hand

Murray Pearson was
once a famed Knight until he suffered a loss that crippled his homeland — but
now he’s on the hunt to discover the next champion.


In underground and
ruthless combat rings, an orphaned boy called Cego is making a name for
himself. Murray believes Cego has what it takes to thrive in the world’s most
prestigious combat academy – but first, Cego must prove himself in the vicious
arenas of the underworld.

And survival isn’t guaranteed.

FORMAT/INFO: The Combat Codes was self-published
in October, 2015, and is an SPFBO6 finalist. It is the first book of the Combat
Codes Saga, and will be relaunched by Orbit books, and will be published on
June 13th 2023, in trade paperback, ebook, and audio formats.


 I’ve been
waiting to dive into this book since I saw the Fonda Lee blurb. I needed no
other pitch.


I don’t know if I
can describe the premise accurately, but this book has a lot going on. We have
Cego, a boy in the underground, who makes a name for himself by bringing down
other fighters, and gets discovered by Murray Pearson, a once famed Knight who
is now a scout on the hunt to discover the next champion. Cego is a teenager,
but he seems quite mature for his age. He is honorable, perceptive beyond his
years, and is unbelievably kind and noble for someone in the ruthless
underworld. He has a past that he claims not to remember, and Murray decides to
fight his way out of the rings and bring him to the Citadel, a place where the
best are honed.

We fight so the
rest shall not have to.

I’m intentionally
vague with the specifics here, since part of what I really liked about this
book was that the gritty, dystopian world that the story is set in is gradually
revealed to the reader, and I applaud the author’s approach to this. Cego is a
partially clean slate since he does not remember much from his past, and Murray
is a Grievar well past his prime, and the difference between the way they see
the world in their respective perspectives kept me curious and eager to learn
more about the world. I’ll just say this: this is a dystopian world where
nations settle disputes with single combat, instead of engaging in large scale
battles and wars. Naturally, there is an entire system built around training
those with abilities to best represent countries, and it is one that doesn’t
come without politics tied to it.


There is a cost
to becoming better, you know that, right?

If you follow any
competitive sport, there are certain things that immediately come to mind when
you come across a book that revolves around similar elements, and I assure you
that they’re addressed here. The author addresses the ideas of honorable
fighting, using substances to gain a competitive edge, or even the fears of
dealing with changes as the athletes get older, he does it with finesse, and
there are characters who help make these concepts come to life in varying
degrees throughout the book.
Now, there’s just
one thing to keep in mind. this book has a lot of tropes readers are familiar
with – the magic school, master and apprentice, the bully, and the
well-informed and rule abiding student. It’s not a book that will revolutionize
the genre. I think the highlight of this book is just how well the story is
structured, and the fight scenes were so well written that I could clearly
visualize them like I was a spectator in the stands.
The Combat Codes has taken a long route to get to where it stands
today. It was first self-published by the author in October of 2015. The author
then entered his self-published debut in the sixth edition of SPFBO in 2020. We
at Fantasy Book Critic were lucky enough to have it in our lot. We were
convinced of its special nature and were thrilled to put it forward in the
finals. Since then Alexander Darwin has gone from strength to strength, getting
a literary agent to then finally getting picked up by Orbit Books. So now here
we are, with a new expanded and edited version, that’s sufficiently more
engrossing and features more worldbuilding details.

The book opens
with Cego, an orphan of sorts who is forced to endure martial training and
fight in bouts. Murray Pearson is an ex-Grievar warrior who now has to perform
scout duties, which he tolerates barely. Murray is an old-school warrior who
holds to the tenets of bravery, fortitude and hard work. He’s a strong believer
in the Combat Codes, the teachings and regulations laid down by the Grievar of
the old. The book focusses on a world that is a wild mix of SF and a tiny bit
of fantasy. The main story is incumbent upon Cego’s eventual ascent as well as
Murray’s struggles with the Grievar community.

The biggest
strength of this book is how smoothly it reads. Alexander Darwin has written a
simplistic story that’s filled with action, conventional tropes and a lot of
heart. Both Cego and Murray are heroes and written as such. Cego especially is
a person who will draw our heart strings as he struggles with his background
(his memories of his island home and how he trained with his brothers). He
knows the right way to do things and often makes the people around him to be
better. Murray on the other hand has lost almost all of his hope and within
Cego realizes a way to regain his and society’s honour.

The readers are
treated to some excellent action sequences and herein we get to see the
author’s martial background & expertise brought to the fore as rather than
being flashy, he takes us through the minutiae. With each & every fight,
Cego improves and the readers can see how exactly how and why. The
worldbuilding is also more explicit than the self-published version as we get
to know more about the nations that inhabit this world, the Grievar’s history
as well as the Daimyo.

The story takes
plenty of twists and turns but it is something that most of us have read and
enjoyed before. This is what I loved about this story, the author’s writing
style is a smooth one and he provides us with a story that while being familiar
still has the spark of originality. Plus the ending is such a thrilling one, it
makes you want to have the sequel “Grievar’s Blood” right now. I loved how that
played into the mystery of Cego’s origins which gets partial clarity within
here and then leaves some significant bits for the sequel.


The Combat
Codes is a wonderful science fiction story in a new series full of potential.
It is a cinematic read, and one I whole-heartedly recommend to fans of any
competitive sport that want a well-paced story.


NOTE: This was
part of the STEP INTO THE CIRCLE blog tour and you can check out all the stops
over here

June 6th – Queen’s
Book Asylum

June 7th – Space
and Sorcery

June 8th – Out
Of This World SFF

June 9th – Bookwyrms Den

June 10th – Under
the Radar SFF Books

June 11th – Grimdark
 & FanFiAddict

June 12th – Fantasy Book Critic

June 13th – WeatherWax Report 


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