Monday, April 4, 2016

Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

Arena by Holly Jennings
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Science Fiction
ISBN: 9781101988763
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

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 is a thrilling, high-octane read that will appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike. Holly Jennings’s debut is like an excellent popcorn flick – blockbuster action, cool characters, a hint of romance, and a story that will keep you glued to your seat.

In the near future, virtual gaming has been taken to a whole new level. Pro gamers are like athletes, complete with all the perks and problems that come with fame and fandom. Kali Ling has loved gaming all her life, and even among her teammates is known as the “warrior.” Kali has worked her butt off to go pro, and at twenty has become the first female captain in RAGE tournament history. But when one of her teammates dies, Kali begins to realize she’s losing her grip on reality. The lines between what’s real and what isn’t, what’s image and what’s truth, are blurring, and unless she does something, she’ll lose herself forever.

I absolutely loved Kali. She’s got a strong voice, a sometimes ruthless personality, and her dedication to the game and her teammates is absolute. Yet Kali isn’t invulnerable, and it was fascinating to watch her struggle to overcome the obstacles – many of which she has created for herself – in front of her. As Kali realizes her problems with addiction, she begins to peel back the layers of the world around her. Helping Kali is her new teammate Rooke, an enigmatic warrior with secrets of his own. Rooke, along with Kali’s other teammates Derek, Hannah, and Lily, are an interesting and diverse group. The dynamic of the team is one of the things I liked best about the story. The banter between them and the way they grow, work, and bond as a team balanced out the book’s action sequences perfectly. I also love that Ms. Jennings seamlessly worked Kali’s Chinese-American heritage and the teachings of Taoism into the book. Ms. Jennings truly made this a well-balanced story.

I’ve seen this book compared to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, but having never read the former and with only a passing familiarity with the latter, I can’t honestly say how Arena compares. Taken on its own, Arena is tons of fun to read and the world Ms. Jennings has created has so much possibility that I can’t wait for the sequel!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.