Source: Blogging For Books – I received this in exchange for an honest review.
Series: Arena #1
Edition: Paperback, 400 Pages
Genre: Young Adult (New Adult?) Sci-Fi
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository
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 fight to the digital death. Every kill is broadcast to millions. Every player leads 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 s stuck trying to work with a hostile new teammate who s far more distracting than he should be.
Between internal tensions and external pressures, Kali is on the brink of breaking. To change her life, she ll need to change the game. And the only way to revolutionize an industry as shadowy as the VGL is to fight from the inside.
Arena is an upper YA book that centers around one of my favorite sci-fi tropes; virtual reality gaming. Anyone who is familiar with my taste in anime knows I basically gobble it down like it’s the source of life itself. I’m pleased to say that Arena not only kept me entertained but brought something new to the genre.
As I stated before, this is an upper YA book. It does, in fact, have mature themes, though it is not graphic or distasteful. The main characters deal with substance abuse, which I’ll get into below, and they do have sex and party. It kind of treads a weird line between YA and New Adult, if I’m being honest and I just don’t really know where to place it. So you’ve been warned.
Kali Ling, the Warrior, is an elite gamer. She’s one of the golden few who play games at a competitive level, who spends her days training her nights partying and her weekends in a virtual reality fighting. She along with her team, Defiance, are aiming to become champions of the RAGE tournaments, a team versus team death match. I seriously hate multiplayer team v. team games, but it’s literally my favorite kind of VR story. I’m so bad at them, but THIS is the level of good I’d like to think I could be. I love everything about this setup, including the very obvious negatives of having a hyper realistic game that centers on being killed or killing someone else. It’s gritty and it has it’s issued, and I want all of that at the forefront and addressed. In this world gamers are celebrities, and they are expected to act as such. Their PR is everything and they are expected to go out and be in front of the cameras. Every drink they down or smile they give away is marketable, and it’s a black hole that is hard to escape from. It’s a world of alcohol and drug dependency. We see young people so desperate for virtual reality that they do what ever necessary to alter their own. We see Kali fighting addiction, anger, and grief. It doesn’t glorify the partying or the celebrity, and that’s the part that really made me love this.
The VR world itself is pretty awesome as well, though kind of standard for the entire subgenre. That being said, it’s still wicked cool. The RAGE tournaments are definitely a focal point, but I think what honestly made Arena stand out is that much of the story takes place outside of it. We get to see the stresses of a competitive gamer and athlete, we see the training, the strategy, the hours of studying, all mixed in with an unbalanced blend of media and social obligations. We see these characters grow and learn to take what they need, as opposed to what they want.
In short, I think this was one seriously great read. It does have this weird age level gray area that’s kind of odd, but I think the fact it goes into the battle of excess and even death is something worth noting. I look forward to reading book two when I get the chance.