“Arena” eBook was published in 2016 and was written by Holly Jennings (http://www.authorhollyjennings.com). This is Ms. Jennings first full novel.
I received a galley of this novel for review through https://www.netgalley.com. I categorize this novel as ‘R’ because it contains scenes of Violence, Mature Language and Mature Situations. This Science Fiction Young Adult Romance is set in 2054 Los Angeles, California.
The primary character is Kali Ling. She, and four others in their early twenties, make up the team Defiance which is competing in the RAGE Tournaments. These are immersive Virtual Reality gaming competitions. The games are 5 on 5 bloody fights to the death with axes swords and similar weapons. The contestants feel the pain as they are hacked or stabbed. They all have ‘died’ in the game many times.
Ling and her teammates are now in the National championship competition. Winning will net them riches and world wide celebrity status. Just as they begin the playoffs, Ling’s lover and team mate, Nathan Saunders, dies of a drug overdose. The circumstances though are covered up in the press.
Naturally Ling is distraught. Her anxiety is heightened when she is unexpectedly named the team captain and must work hard to integrate a new player, James Rooke, into the team. Now that he is dead, the team owner, the gaming league and the press act as if Saunders never existed.
For Ling it is a battle on many fronts: Can she lead her team to victory in the championship; Can she make the public remember Saunders; Can she bring to light the excesses and pressures on the players; Can she overcome her own substance abuses; and Can she deal with her growing feelings for Rooke.
This was an interesting 7+ hour read of the 335 page novel. It was more romance than I typically like, but the story was engaging. The concept of competitive gaming was far from unbelievable, given the current state of technology and interest. I did have a problem with the concept of avatars being limited to the physical abilities of the actual players. I certainly liked that aspect of the story, but in a universe where the drug tests were routinely being spoofed, how hard would it be to fudge the skills of a player? I give this novel a 3.8 (rounded up to a 4) out of 5.
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