5 Stars, Book Reviews

{REVIEW} Arena by Holly Jennings

Arena by Holly Jennings

(Click the book cover to see on Goodreads)
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction – Dystopian
Title: Arena
Author: Holly Jennings
Length: 336 pages
Publication: April 5th 2016 by Ace

First To Read

Note: Penguin Random House sent me this e-book via First to Read for free in exchange for my honest review.

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’ is written in first person past with limited point of view. The half-American, half-Chinese narrator is Kali Ling, a twenty-year-old pro gamer with the talent, ego, and snark to kiss some serious a**. Though, in a white, male dominated sport, she needs all the attitude she can get to make a name for herself and compete against the other top gamers in the gladiator-style RAGE tournaments.

Pacing: The pacing is quick. Specific points in time aren’t referenced or pointed out. Rather, plot-heavy scenes lead the story seamlessly from one week to the next, giving a smooth timeline. Additionally, the while high-action scenes and low-action scenes are intermingled, there is no slow point in the book. Each scene, each interaction, is utilized to push the plot forward and keep the pace.

World: Very little of the world is displayed in the book as the characters return to the same locations, but small details give insight into the futuristic-style world in which the book takes place. However, the game world is where the real design takes place. It’s the key element in gamers’ lives and is created to be more realistic than the real world, adding to the reality of the game.

Writing: The writing is clean, concise, and to-the-point. Enough descriptions are given to imagine the scenes, but aren’t overly detailed so as to hog focus. The action scenes, on the other hand, are high-intensity, detail-specific sections that really draw in and hook the reader.

Non-Spoilered Plot: In a world where virtual, full-immersion gaming has stolen the spotlight from real-life sports, such as the NFL and MMA, it’s the perfect opportunity for gamers to reach fame and fortune. One such gamer is, Kali Ling. Though, being a woman, she faces many challenges in a gladiator-style game where a person’s out-of-game strength translates to in-game strength, especially when most opponents are male. Yet, unlike her opponents, she has more than fame and glory pushing her forward, and she’ll use every advantage she has to win.


Character: Kali Ling struggles to find her place among other gamers. As a woman, she must train harder and be more cunning so as to out-maneuver rather than out-weigh her opponents in the arena. For this reason, she has a tough exterior, a head for the game alone, and uses snark as a defense mechanism. Even so, her inner fragility may be her downfall.

Plot: The main plot of this novel is Kali Ling fighting to discern who she is and what role she plays in her controlled, overbearing, gender-biased world. Not only is she fighting for the same recognition as men, but she struggles to keep-up the strong, domineering, modern, yet chaste and traditional Chinese image her sponsors have created for her. Though, physical appearances aren’t the only difficulties Kali faces.

Like many young people living in the spotlight, Kali needs a way to decompress, to cope, to relax. She’s chooses the virtual
world. With it’s overly realistic graphics, scents, and nerve interaction, Kali begins to believe it’s the real thing. Only when she starts to lose time and realizes the digital world isn’t the answer, she turns to drugs, like many gamers, including her deceased teammate.

With the help of her new teammate, an ex-addict, she regains control, and a new sense of purpose: exposing the truth. Team owners and sponsors have disguised drug-related deaths as other causes. The viewers don’t know the dark reality behind the glamorous gamer life and Kali will do everything she can to find peace for her deceased teammate, even if it means risking her position on the team in the process.

Thanks to the championship game announcers, the truth finally reveals itself. Of course, Kali being the first female team captain to win the championship helps to push the scandal into the unavoidable limelight. It’s this revelation that causes Kali to realize what she really wants: a better future. Not just for herself, but for the players who are battered physically and mentally by their team owners, and sponsors. She wants a healthier environment for all gamers. After all, it’s a game. It’s meant to be fun.

With fantastic character development, a dash of dark topics in young adult fiction, a touch on realism, and a splash of video game-style science fiction, this book was a fast, exciting read. It’s for these reasons that I leave this book with, ‘Arena’, with five stars.5tars


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