Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

Posted April 4, 2016 by Lillian in Reviews / 2 Comments

I received this book via Netgalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Review: Arena by Holly JenningsArena by Holly Jennings
Published by Penguin on 2016-04-05
Length: 336 pages
Reviewing eARC from 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...

Initial Reaction

So I had really high expectations for Arena, Holly Jennings‘s debut novel, and I was sorely disappointed. The first half of the book I just didn’t get it….

And then there was a turning point that caught my attention and the second half I couldn’t read fast enough. I was so pumped!

Arena follows the story of Kali Ling as she rises to fame in the Virtual Gaming League (think NFL of her time). With fame comes prestige, money, and of course the rock’n’roll life style of the Hollywood A-Listers….aka booze, drugs, and sex. So was not expecting that!!! Isn’t this a young adult book? Anyways I digress, let’s break down what I liked and didn’t like.

Amazing Character Growth

I say it all the time, “I loved seeing the growth in [insert character name here]” BUT it’s rare that you see the character growth to the extent that Holly Jennings pulls off in Kali Ling. The book opens with Kali Ling, a cocky VGL gamer who never loses. She’s the warrior both in virtual and the real. But when her teammate dies of a drug overdose (in her bed I might add) it does a number on her. The author takes us through what Kali is dealing with, from hitting rock bottom to figuring out her life. It is truly amazing to read, and a little inspiring!

But it’s not just Kali that the author takes through this transformation. It’s Kali’s entire team. They all deal with their teammate’s death in different ways. And Kali, the newly appointed captain, has to find a way to make her team a TEAM all the while adding a new player to the mix to replace the one they lost. I loved reading how they became a team, working together through the tournament and having fun as friends to relax from training.

The New Adult Plot for a Young Adult Audience

Okay so maybe it’s because I’m a mom now but there were several scenes in this book that I felt were not appropriate (AT ALL) for the young adult crowd. In the opening chapters alone, there is use of illegal drugs, lots of drinking, partying, oh and a sex scene. AND don’t get me started on the language!

The plot has an odd pace as well. The book is centered around Kali and her team entering the RAGE tournament which is like the Super Bowl  for gamer every where. The book starts with them losing their Death Match, meaning they enter the tournament on the losing bracket. Then their teammate overdoses (because apparently in 2054 it is super easy to get street drugs) and they have a couple of weeks to replace him AND become a team again. Sounds fast paced right….WRONG! The first half of the book is everything I just stated and it moved SO slow, there were gaping holes in the plot and there were times I was sure I missed something. And then something happens in the second half, I don’t even know what, but there is a clear dividing point from the inane to the interesting and the pace picks up speed.

My Conclusion: Pass

So this is a book about virtual reality and ultimately addiction. Kali struggles throughout the book and the gaping plot holes become clearer because they were supposed to be there as a projection of Kali losing it. For me the book was just okay. During the first few chapters I very nearly DNFed it simply because Kali has a friends with benefits relationship with the teammate that OD’s and then the new guy comes in and she’s all like “he’s hot.” Big no-no in my book. At least mourn the teammate a little first please before moving to the next guy. What I did like though is that the Kali isn’t your typical young adult heroine. She has problems, big problems that she overcomes and it focuses on that instead of the romance. Overall if you enjoy science fiction, you like video games, than give the book a shot. Maybe you’ll like it better than me!

Final Conclusion:

About Holly Jennings

Holly Jennings is a self-proclaimed nerd and lover of all things geeky and weird. As the firstborn to a sports enthusiast, it was soon discovered that the only games she'd ever learn to master involved consoles and controllers. Her childhood was spent crushing virtual foes, racing on simulated tracks, and rescuing digital princesses. As a young adult, she fell in love with English class, speculative novels, and comic books, which inspired her to create stories of her own. Eventually, her passions converged and she started writing about the future of video games.

She lives in Canada.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Got a Reading Problem?

Get your fix here. Sign up today to receive new posts straight to your inbox daily!

2 responses to “Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

  1. I was tempted to request this ARC in NetGalley but then I realized it wasn’t getting great reviews and I already had too many ARCs. I liked that it was about addiction to virtual reality because I have a character in WIP that is going through that. I’m not sure I’ll enjoy it more than you did though.

    • It was good. The last half really picked up but the first half was so slow. It was like at that halfway point I was reading a different book. The pace and characters were so different. If you do read it, I hope you enjoy it!

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.