Thursday, August 11, 2016

Arena by Holly Jennings

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Andrew Zollman

What I Read: Arena by Holly Jennings

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: The year is 2054, and virtual gaming (eSports) has overtaken traditional sporting events worldwide. Millions of viewers tune in worldwide to get a glimpse of arena death matches featuring gamer turned athletes. Team Defiance is one such team, led by Kali Ling, who are fighting in the RAGE Tournaments to be this year’s champions. Gamers live every day dying and coming back to life like gods to appease viewers and sponsors alike. Every player is a modern digital gladiator wielding weapons and wearing armor.

The pain is real and the brutality extreme, and has made the public numb to outrageous acts of violence. Kali Ling is an exceptional fighter. Coined ‘The Warrior’, she is the first female captain to lead a team in the RAGE tournament. Is the task before her to difficult? Can she deal with the realities of the sport? When a tragic event happens during the tournament, can Kali find herself again in time to get herself and her team back into competitive form? Virtual gaming is much more than it appears, the truth is being hidden and not everything is as it seems for those not involved with the fighting.

What I Thought: This is Holly Jennings's debut novel as a writer. Both the concept and subject reflect current trends popping up in our society and changes affecting our culture as we move on from the age of millennial gamers into the 21st century. Virtual Reality gaming has just hit the markets and a story about its use is well planned for a writer. As a new writer, Jennings is just getting into the industry and has some lacking elements in her work as she explores her possible future in the story. The evolution of her characters and their interactions are well established and you can relate to their shortcomings and personalities when describing an avid gamer or athlete. She does a great job of blending the two together for the purpose of the story.

The action on the other hand is lacking. Jennings touches on the combat and brutality of the sport but never goes into full detail of the situation. When someone cuts into someone else, is there sensation, is there a change in personality, what else can happen to those involved? In Arena the characters in a sense become numb to the violence. There is little difference or variation between one gamer and another as they compete. I would have liked to see her delve deeper into what happens because of sport and the violence. Even with what is expected of gamers for sponsors and the fans, the addition of drinking and drug use just blurs the differences between reality and the virtual world. I would have also liked her to go a little bit more into the aspect of the combat, the styles, tactics, and uses of each. Combat in the tournament matches was extremely fast and was overshadowed by the challenges of Kali and the team. So much so that at times it was forgotten and I had to go back and read them again to remember what happened.

A bright spot in the story was Kali’s interactions with her team and the challenge that is the sport and the image she is being forced to play by her boss and sponsors. The conflict hits close to home and some of the more controversial aspects of professional sports we see today in Boxing and MMA when fighters interact with media and the spotlight.

This is one of my first science fiction titles that I have read with a focus on sports and virtual reality. The conflict is there but more background and research into the effects of gaming and violent sports would have made the story more convincing. I liked the concept and the approach, but I think it needed more detailed information for the reader to push them closer to the problem and message. The romance was light and has teenage tones of relationship which was good. I don’t like romance in books to overshadow the conflict that the main character is facing and the focus of the book.

Recommend for older teens and adult readers who actively read science fiction. Once again this story has a strong female character which the story revolves around and I think it help move and shape events. Enjoy!

Readalikes: This is Not a Game by Williams, Walter Jon

Or look this book up on NoveList!