Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Release Day Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

Holly Jennings
Release: April 5, 2016
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A fast-paced and gripping near-future science fiction debut about the gritty 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 no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading 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 must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.

The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside... 
Arena was not what I expected, but I was completely sucked into its near-future world just the same. I finished it in one sitting.

Essentially, it's a new adult sports romance, though you could argue that the romance is really a secondary plot. It also deals with death, addiction, and celebrity in ways that are relatable today. But all of those things are complicated by the futuristic virtual gaming world. How can you accept the death of a friend in real life when you die and respawn in the game every day? How can you overcome addiction when you're addicted to the game itself? And how do you find time to deal with any of it when the team owners and sponsors schedule every minute of your day?

I liked Kali and I enjoyed watching her try to answer all of those questions. As she works through her issues and learns how to lead her team, she also gets to know her teammates better and I enjoyed doing that along with her. One of the ways they bond is over classic video games, which is a lot of fun. I'm not a gamer, but even I know Super Mario.

The RAGE tournament matches are incredibly detailed, from the wind in Kali's hair to the smell of the grass. They're also highly entertaining in the way they combine an athletic event with a video game. Even though it's just a game, it feels like life or death to Kali and that comes though to the reader. I was rooting for her both in and out of the game.

Arena has a little something for everyone. Fans of sports romances will find enough familiar ground to relate to the story and sci-fi fans will be impressed with the gaming world Jennings imagines. Blending the two results in a unique and fascinating book that I would definitely recommend no matter which fandom you belong to.

Recommended for fans of: sports romances, classic video games, virtual worlds

ARC provided by the publisher via Penguin's First to Read program


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