Review: Arena – Holly Jennings

I was certain that I wouldn’t like this after the first four or five chapters – until I ended up getting completely sucked into the story.

Once past the somewhat convoluted opening, Arena turned into a pretty great story dealing with things like obsession, addiction, leadership and GAMING! Holly also touches on some of the real life pressures that pro athletes in all kinds of sports face, not limited to the stupidly easy access to drugs and alcohol, and loss of control.

We are introduced to Kali Ling, a competitor in the Virtual Gaming League’s RAGE tournament which involves teams of five competing in a fight to the death to move forward in the tournament. And like all pro sports, the competitor’s lives are under constant scrutiny, media pressures, unrealistic demands from sponsors and team owners and then there is the whole thing of the player’s death being broadcast to millions every week – not to mention the sometimes blurred line between he real world and the virtual one.

But Kali is a warrior and after the drug related death of her sometimes lover, her own drug abuse, blackouts and worry over being the league’s first ever female team Captain, she starts to fight back against a league that is hiding dangerous truths from the world.
I’m a ridiculous sports fan and a tiny nerd. So, I sort of love the idea of pro gamers – especially where the game is like a virtual Battle Royale. And, it’s believable. I mean is it really so far fetched to think that we could have a pro league of virtual warriors? We have UFC which is two humans beating the shit out of each other, so competitors killing one and other in a virtual as themselves seems pretty legit. Not that I could watch this as it if it was a real thing since I have no stomach for violence. But reading about it was pretty sweet.

Where the book lost stars for me:

  1. The virtual game was basically capture the flag, and I sort of feel like a pro-game would be a bit more in-depth and strategic than that. But, okay.
  2. I really didn’t enjoy the ‘love story’ in this one. It wasn’t believable and absolutely unnecessary. Those two could have remained supportive friends who care deeply about each other and the story would have lost nothing;
  3. As I said at the start of this review, the beginning was somewhat convoluted and throughout the book there were places where the writing could have definitely been improved. I sort of feel like this had to do with pace – it WAS fast paced. I mean, I finished this in two sittings. But, the story could have used a few breathers, where the author could have taken some time to give us some more information. Not perfect, but still good.

3.5 out of 5 stars for Arena. I’m seriously looking forward to the sequel!


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