I grabbed a copy of ARENA a few months back and meant to request the sequel GAUNTLET, but then I kinda forgot. ARENA is a New Adult book about virtual gaming. I am classifying this as new adult since everyone in it is 18 or older and there is some sex and drug use not found in most young adult books. It seems to me that there are quite a few book recently coming out in this virtual gaming genre. I like the idea if it is done well. ARENA was done well and I am sad I missed requesting the sequel.
Kali Ling is an elite virtual gamer playing in the professional Virtual Gaming League (VGL). Every week people from all over the world tune in to watch gamers fight to their virtual death in tournaments in VGL. Kali becomes the first female captain to go into the VGL Rage tournaments and is at the top of her professional game when tragedy strikes. One of her teammates dies of an overdose. Faced with a seemingly unbeatable team Kali and her teammates are given a quick replacement called Rooke. Kali must get Rooke to play nice with her and the team so they can be a united force and get her own life in order or risk loosing everything.
There were quite a few things I loved about this book:
Kali: A confident female who faces things head on. Kali is playing a sport and living in a world still dominated by men, so having her become a leader is progressive, even in this alternate future. I loved that she is not afraid of her sexuality and goes after what she wants. She is also a fierce competitor in the games. Kali goes on a journey in this book and she ends up growing and maturing quite a bit as the story progresses.
Rooke: The new guy with a chip on his shoulder. He has reasons to be so standoffish especially when he sees all the drug use by members of his new team. He uses Kali’s religious roots in Taoism to try to get her to come away from all of that.
Virtual Gaming: I loved the way the players get “plugged in” and the way the book describes how it makes them feel. It was highly addictive to read about the fights themselves. They get killed and hurt in the games, which they feel but then it goes away when they disconnect. The VGL games are the biggest sport in this reality and the players are revered like the superstars of sports today.
Drugs: I know it seems silly that I would like this aspect, but I could understand why a drug that makes them feel like they are in the game might be so widespread and abused. I see drugs abused everyday in my real life and it makes sense that these superstar privileged gamers would feel and act invincible inside and outside of the game.
Other futuristic sci-fi elments: The author never let me forget that the book is set way into the future. There were cool aspects about transportation, fightign, and even their rooms with futuristic creature comforts. The author threw in so many details that reminded me over and over that this is sci-fi.
The pacing: This is an action packed book. From the first death match which leaves Kali and teammates dead in the VGL game, we get a sense of urgency since this team is in the championship that they have some catching up to do. They start at the bottom, which makes all the training seem really important. The author throws in a slave driving manager to urge Kali and the team to stay in the limelight and train like there is no tomorrow. Admittedly, it felt like we rushed through Kali’s teammates death, but the story must go on. I also liked how we came full circle back to that teammate as the story progressed.
I am not a gamer but I really enjoyed this story and had no trouble rooting for Kali and her team. The romance wasn’t everything for me, but I know some reader will enjoy the chemistry between Rooke and Kali. I also have to say that I loved the fact that Kali has two female teammates that are lesbians and very much in love with each other.
There were a few things I didn’t get about this story. First, the games themselves take place in a seemingly boring place with two towers and a wheat field with some trees. I felt like this aspect of the story needed a lot more details since it was such a futuristic story. I also disliked some of the immature conversations and exchanges between the players. This will appeal to a young adult audience due to the dialogue alone between the characters, but there were some mature themes that makes me want to place this in New Adult.
Besides those few hiccups, I enjoyed this book and the story of a girl overcoming obstacles to achieve her dream. The ending hinted that we can expect much more from Kali and her team as they reinvent the game. I plan to read the next book in this series and I would recommend this book to gamers and sci-fi fans.
Arena by Holly Jennings
Series: Arena #1
Published by Ace on November 1st 2016
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Action & Adventure, Dystopian
eARC provided by Ace
Now in trade paperback, the thrilling (New York Times bestselling author Jason M. Hough) near-future science fiction debut about the action-packed world of competitive gaming...
Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV. She s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier...
The RAGE tournaments the Virtual Gaming League s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a fight to the digital death. Every kill is broadcast to millions. Every player leads a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses. And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real. Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world until one of her teammates overdoses. Now she s stuck trying to work with a hostile new teammate who s far more distracting than he should be. Between internal tensions and external pressures, Kali is on the brink of breaking. To change her life, she ll need to change the game. And the only way to revolutionize an industry as shadowy as the VGL is to fight from the inside "