Published by Ace on April 5, 2016
Genres: New Adult, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction
Source: Amazon Vine, NetGalley
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...
I’m a long time gamer, so my review of ARENA might be a bit biased. But if you’re a gamer and/or have always wanted to check out the virtual world, this might be the book for you. The idea behind ARENA is super fun, the execution is good, and there are just enough pop culture references to classic games to add to the geeky atmosphere.
Kali Ling is a warrior. Every week she fights to the death in the RAGE tournaments, watched by millions around the world. Move over, football and soccer and basketball. Gamers have taken over as the star athletes in 2054. Games have evolved as well, to the point where gamers plug into pods and play with their entire bodies in an immersive world.
There’s virtual sports, racing, RPGs and more. The RAGE games are a classic example of capture the tower PVP, played by teams of five. This season, Kali is making history — she’s the first female team captain in RAGE. But Kali’s not so sure she’s up to the challenge. She’s dealing with the death of a teammate, melding his replacement into the team, the expectations of the team’s owner and the media, and her own increasing frustration at being a cog in the virtual machine. It’s a lot to juggle, and Kali has to keep the team from losing anymore games while dealing with all of that, because if they lose one more time, they’re out of the tournament.
As a gamer who would love to set foot in World of Warcraft, I loved the idea of Kali and her team playing in virtual reality. Fighting the other team and defending their tower to the death. Death doesn’t kill them in real life, but real life injuries transfer to the game. I especially liked that the gamers had to be skilled in real life at martial arts and weaponry — if you can’t swing a sword in real life, you aren’t killing anyone in the game. It’s logical. The evolution from watching gamers stream on Twitch to watching them play in Super Bowl like matches makes sense, too.
I liked that ARENA detailed a lot of the team’s training and matches. I geek out over that sort of stuff, and I also enjoyed Kali’s efforts at team bonding with classic games like Mario Kart. I could tell the author had really thought about how virtual sports would work, such as regular athletes not being able to cross over successfully, because they don’t have gaming experience. Jennings also considered how celebrity status could impact the gamers, talking about drug abuse, anxiety and depression, and virtual reality addiction. There’s even some dialogue on women in gaming, Kali’s Chinese background, and finding a balance between virtual life and real life.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the romance between Kali and Rooke in ARENA. At least it wasn’t the dreaded insta-love, but something about it just felt a little off. To me, it would have made more sense if they stayed friends, but then I’m usually critical of romances.
Overall, I had a ton of fun reading ARENA. It’s a fun book, with lots of gaming action, but it also delves into a few deeper topics. I believe this is a standalone, but I’d enjoy seeing more of Kali. Based on her journey during ARENA and the ending, I think she has a lot more story to tell.
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