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Arena by Holly JenningsArena by Holly Jennings
Published by Ace on April 5, 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Purchase at Bookshop.org
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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 totally outside of my usual reading zone. It’s YA and science fiction- neither of which I read. I’m not even much of a video game player, but something about the description grabbed my attention, maybe the hint of  “dark secrets” or just the quote in the blurb: She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier… Whatever the reason, I picked it up, and wow, am I glad I did. It’s not a perfect book, but I really enjoyed it.

The Rage tournament is a virtual gaming event, kinda of like capture the flag, expect each team has a tower they’re defending. It’s televised each week and is really violent and graphic. The gamers are truly athletes, they have to train in real life to be able to do all the figthing in the virtual world. They are celebrities, catered to but also tied to their sponsors expectations.

Kali actually gets to grow as a person. For a while I thought it was going to turn into one of those all about the guy books, but it really managed to keep her burgeoning relationship with the newest member of the team under control. It was her story – about overcoming addiction, speaking the truth, becoming a leader. Along the line, she gets back into the Taoist philosophy her father taught her and for me, that was the weaker part of the story. It helped her find balance, but felt a bit forced to me, and in truth a little boring compared to the training, fighting, playing retro video games and strategizing. Kali realizes she has become a role model and actually wants to live up to what that should mean.

The characters were all good. They each had their own quirks but for the most part they avoided becoming stereotypes. And they work together as a team well, once Kali acts like the leader she can be.

Maybe it’s because I read so little in these genres that I enjoyed it. It felt fresh and new and just a bit geeky (in a good way).

About Holly Jennings

Holly Jennings is a self-proclaimed nerd and lover of all things geeky and weird. As the firstborn to a sports enthusiast, it was soon discovered that the only games she’d ever learn to master involved consoles and controllers. Her childhood was spent crushing virtual foes, racing on simulated tracks, and rescuing digital princesses. As a young adult, she fell in love with English class, speculative novels, and comic books, which inspired her to create stories of her own. Eventually, her passions converged and she started writing about the future of video games.

She lives in Canada.


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