The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

SPFBO: The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

As promised, we continue reviewing the SPFBO 6 Finalists. Our next one up is The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin, chosen by the Fantasy Book Critic team.

About the Book
Series: The Combat Codes Saga #1Genre: Sci-Fi, Martial Arts, Fantasy
Date of Publishing: October 31st 2015Publisher: self-published
Book Blurb
The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

“We fight, so 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. 


Jen – 8/10

I actually won a copy of The Combat Codes in the spring and had been trying to find time to squeeze it all summer. I was pretty happy to see it as a finalist so I could move it up my list.

The Combat Codes surprised me. Don’t get me wrong, I did expect to enjoy it – underdog claws his way out of the slave pits to make it into combat school – it’s right up my alley (other than the school part). And I expected good fights, but what I didn’t expect was for it to have so much heart (or to enjoy the school parts). A lot of times with fight books or movies, the story is just a vehicle to showcase the fights themselves, and the characters and the plot get sacrificed along the way. 

The characters are very likeable. You want Cego and his group to succeed. I love that they have became this found family unit, and that through hard work and good attitudes they are overcoming the obstacles that are thrown in their path. Honestly, I just love the whole underlying message, that life sucks but you can rise above it with a little effort on your own part, and sometimes with the help of friends.

This is what Maze Runner could have been if it had tried a bit harder to do something besides a write to formula story.


So, if anything was a little on the light side, it was maybe the magic and the worldbuilding – which was more a blend of sci-fi/fantasy but there was enough of both to please me.

The circles where the Grievars fight are color-based magic that influences the fighters in ways that could affect their fight, mentally or even physically (I thought of this as status affects in an RPG game). Some fighters have tattoos that do this kind of magical flux, where they change as the fighter grows in skill.

The fights are great and not over-done, we don’t see every move broken down to the minute detail but we do get enough to understand what’s going on even if you don’t know the first thing about fighting. I liked that they weren’t too technical but still have all the fun and feel of a good UFC-style ring/octagon fight.

There is also techy stuff in the world – food blocks (if I remember right) and even an alien type race (which made me think of the aliens in Mars Attacks for some reason) suggesting there’s quite a bit more to the world that we will see in the next book.

This felt very much like a can of worms got opened at the end of this book. In a good way. The story feels complete but there were some things left unanswered that make you want to jump in to the next book immediately.

In conclusion the TLDR;

Great fights, great friendships, great story and message. I really enjoyed The Combat Codes and plan to read the second book.


Nick – 6.5/10

This book was an action-fest of fighting and quite a lot of fun I thought.  There aren’t a lot of lulls in The Combat Codes, which I also liked.  Cego, the main character is a young boy who is quite adept at it, so much so that he falls on the radar of a former Grievar fighting legend named Murray.  Cego has used his fighting skills his entire childhood as a way to possibly crawl out of the streets from which he came from.  That ticket could just come by way of Murray’s invitation to train Cego at the Lyceum, a school for the gifted like Cego.  But is there a hidden motivation behind Murray’s sudden interest in the boy, or is it purely to gain a talented recruit?

I had a fun time reading this story.  There were a number of times that I was reminded of movies and other books that were heavily influenced by martial arts techniques and philosophy.  So it hit me in the feels in that area for sure.  The action was plenty and I was intrigued by the main character Cego.  We get introduced to him and not a lot is known at first, but as the story progresses Alexander Darwin begins to shed more and more light on his background and just what makes him special.  

The technical aspects and descriptions of the hand to hand combat fighting was unlike much of what I have read in the fantasy genre.  The only thing that I might be able to compare it to is Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover.  Both books really go all out when it comes to making you feel as if you are there in the fight and feeling every blow or bone shatter.  I enjoyed the fight scenes immensely and really applaud Darwin for his vivid narrative.

The things that I would have appreciated more focus on were a few of the secondary characters and a more in-depth backstory on the Spectrals.  I also felt like the world-building could have been addressed more, but admittedly I am a sucker for books with incredibly deep and multi-layered world-building.  So that took away some of the enjoyment for me.

In the end I thought that The Combat Codes was a solid SFF read that had a lot of fun moments in it.  It definitely made me want to investigate this author further.  I would like to read more of Alexander Darwin’s books and plan on doing so in the future.


Peter – 8.5/10

“We fight, so the rest shall not have to”

The Combat Codes has perhaps been the most entertaining read of the SPFBO so far. It was a brilliant mix of sci-fi and fantasy and some of the most wonderful combat scenes I have read!  It was also a great rags to riches story of an orphan, tempered to be a weapon and realising his fate.

The concept of the story was cool, single combat is fought to decide the fate of nations, the book has a great pace and really sticks to the story. I really loved the concept but the story was a little bit A-B, but then again if a story is predictable can it not be enjoyed?  I would answer of course it can and as mentioned, I really enjoyed this!

Action and hand to hand combat are integral in this book, action comes thick and fast but the build up and atmosphere is where Alexander really hits the hammer home.  If you are a martial arts enthusiast, fan or generally interested, these scenes will tick every box for you.  The combat also really helped the development of the story, the world – building, as well as the stakes involved in each fight. 

I really enjoyed the development of Cego, a major POV character in the book.  You are struck by his sense of honour, he is one to uphold the Combat Codes where many have forgotten them, even when he has trouble remembering his place in the world.  I also loved the development of friendship, Cego makes good friends.  Alexander presents themes of friendship, mentorship and standing for what’s right in the book, it was just so enjoyable to read.  The relationship that Cego builds with Murray, Dozer, Wheep and Knees is really well written, the comrade element of the book was really enjoyable.  This went hand in hand with Alexander’s nice and accessible writing style, the epigraphs really helping me to understand the combat codes.

All in all The Combat Codes was a really enjoyable and fun read, an interesting blend of fantasy, sci-fi and with some of the best combat scenes I have ever read!  A great and worthy addition to the SPFBO Final!


Timy – 6/10

I’m a bit on the fence about The Combat Codes, because it’s not a bad book by any means, but it just wasn’t for me, hence the lower score. It’s also up to debate whether it has enough Fantasy elements to put it into the Fantasy category, but that didn’t play into my scoring at the end.

The Combat Codes is primarily the story of Cego, an orphan boy who finds himself on the streets with no recollections of how he left his island home. To earn his keep and advance himself, he has to fight in the circle, where Murray, a scout takes interest in him and offers him the possibility to learn at the Lyceum.

The plot itself is pretty straightforward and simple, though I wasn’t quite sure where the story was heading for a long time. I mean besides the obvious, that is. There are some twists toward the end that keeps things interesting – some predictable, some not so much. The writing was engaging and I enjoyed it, though if I haven’t listened to the audiobook I probably would have skimmed some parts – not the fault of the book or the author, I have to add. Apart from the usual things – friendship, finding one’s place in the grand scheme of things, hunting for answers about a mysterious past – the center of The Combat Codes is the martial arts. Something that I’m personally not interested in and that affected my enjoyment of the book. There are a lot of hand-to-hand fights in The Combat Codes – which is not much of a surprise if you know that the Grievar culture (including their somewhat advanced technology) is built upon fighting. They fight to settle disputes, to earn land or supply. They fight for glory, for their country. I liked the idea of solving disputes by duels instead of full-scale wars. But of course, things aren’t that simple as they seem.

As for the characters, I quite liked them. Murray is a hard man who has seen a lot and one who is still trying to hold on to the teachings in the Combat Codes. We learn a bit more about the world and the political machinations in the background while Cego has his own problems to face. I liked Cego, who, despite the harsh reality, has a pure heart and gathers around him those who need kindness, protection, or just a place to belong to. The “odd” ones. He strives to do good and follow the Codes, which many others handle as just an old book of rules no one cares about anymore.

In terms of criticism, I would have liked a bit more worldbuilding regarding the world, the Grievar, the Spectrals, or at least a bit more build-up to the secondary characters, who are already interesting and well distinguishable, but there was just something more missing to really fall in love with them.

Ultimately, The Combat Codes offers a lot to those who enjoy reading about hand-to-hand combats spiced with technology and the universal message of friendship and perseverance will see you through the darkest of hours. That, and living by the Combat Codes.

Our Judgement
Jen: 8Nick: 6.5Peter: 8.5Timy: 6

Our overall rating for The Combat Codes: 7/10

The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

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