Thursday, April 7, 2016

#Review - Arena by Holly Jennings (Science Fiction)

Series: Untitled
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: ACE
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction

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 author Holly Jennings debut novel. It is a story that is set in futuristic (2054) Los Angeles. It features 20-year old Kali Ling, a Chinese-American Pro Gamer known as The Warrior. She and her Team Defiance teammates (Hannah, Lily, Derek, and Nathan) go head to head in a violent world known as the the Virtual Gaming League's Rage Tournament. 

Arena is a story that is filled with issues like drug and alcohol abuse, sponsors rigid rules of behaviors for players, and the stress that these peak performing athlete/gamers face each time they enter the virtual world of the Rage Tournament. In a world where well seasoned gamers plug in and die day in and day out, it is sometimes hard to understand why anyone would put themselves through such torture. 

But, Kali does it week in and week out for major monetary prizes. Not only are they paid like top level football or baseball players, but they are also in peak shape requiring them to train day in and day out to stay in shape, pass mandated drug tests, and stick to mandated dietary supplements for fear of being cut. Kali is at the top of her game. She's so good, that after the team loses one of their members, Kali becomes one of the ONLY female team captains in league history.

But, Kali is far from perfect which I am totally on board with. She enjoys getting wasted, popping pills called HP (Health points), and doesn't hold back when it comes to having her share of sex. Kali and her teammates face a major dilemma after they brutally lose to an up and coming challenger called InvictUS and are forced into the Rage Tournaments losers bracket where one loss will end their season. 

Struggling to come to terms with both Nathan's loss, and their shocking defeat, Kali finds herself getting increasingly disjointed from the world and her teammates. The pressure of keeping the team together while not self-destructing, really takes a toll on her life and her body. On top of her emotional challenges, she gets a new teammate named James Rooke who has his own baggage to carry around. Rooke literally pushes every single one of Kali's buttons. Some in good ways, some in bad. 

He makes her realize that she has been living a life style that is truly destructive to her mental & physical health. He also makes her feel for the first time in a very long time. In this world, Rage Tournaments are like the Super Bowl with thousands of people watching online, and in person. Kali's every movement and actions are judged and scrutinized by everyone, including her own manager Clarence. This is a world where it is very easy to lose yourself in the virtual reality where things are violent, fast paced, and horribly bloody.

Arena is apparently NOT a standalone novel. The author states that she is in the process of writing the sequel for this book. That is interesting since the ending of Arena leaves readers with some much needed good feelings, and also a bit of sadness. Where the series would go from here, is anyone's guess at this point.  

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