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Romance and other things

Quite good

Arena by Holly Jennings (2016-04-05) - Holly Jennings

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...



Dear Holly Jennings,

Your book was awesome, exactly what I needed at the time. I picked it up because I saw your publisher on Twitter promoting books with LGBT characters and I figured why not. There is indeed lovely f/f side romance and the side characters who are a couple have pretty important roles. I liked both girls, what I did not expect though is to like the main character so much. I have read some reviews and I totally agree that you will either love Kali or will be completely turned off by her. She has this no nonsense attitude which for me suited her very well, considering her choice of the career – professional gaming as it developed in the year 2054. Actually let’s learn a little bit about how professional gaming developed in the world of this book.

“Video games. Once a child’s plaything. Once blamed in part for the obesity epidemic that plagued our country decades ago. Now, eSports are the fastest rising trend in history. Thanks to advancements in virtual reality, participants have to be in top physical and mental condition as the games place extreme demands on both body and mind. Tonight, you’ll be meeting one of the hottest teams in the country. But first, we’ll look into the history of gaming, how the Virtual Gaming League formed, and why these games have become so popular. Let’s just say, we’ve come a long way from Pong.”

So, there are several leagues of the players and several tournaments going on – I believe one can switch between them or move up on the ladder, or do several tournaments, but I am not sure, at least for this book the organizational specifics ( most of them anyway) were not terribly important. What important is to realize that in order to play those games the participants may have to still plug into virtual reality but they have to be in top physical condition to compete because a lot of what they are able to do depends on what their real bodies can do. Their avatars are basically their own bodies.  They also have to be great gamers – apparently when e-sports initially started the owners tried to teach professional athletes how to be good gamers and they failed. They then decided to train gamers to be in top physical form and that was much more successful.

So basically we have the book not just about gaming but about gaming industry which also became a sport industry with all the problems facing professional athletes. Sponsors want to make more money, owners wanting to make money and of course gamers wanting to play because it is fun but also very well paid work. Drug use is a problem for many (not all) but the owners try to sweep it under the rug. When Kali’s teammate overdoses for a while it is not well known to the fans (or not known at all) why he dies. Things do change for the better as the story progresses, no worry.

Despite what I said above, the book is lighter than I expected it to be. Yes, Kali and her friends are dealing with serious issues, but it is dealt with a lighter touch. Kali’s troubles are not over when she remembers about the balance and goes back to Taoism which she loved studying before she started playing professionally, but she gets much better pretty fast. She knows she will have to be careful and pay attention to her issues maybe all her life, but it was almost, I don’t know, glanced over? Still some resolutions felt too simplistic I guess?

“And you’re not wrong with thinking that games are supposed to be fun more than anything else,” he continued. “You just need to retrain your mind to think that way. The virtual world is just for fun, and reality is the place worth living.”"

I am not complaining much, this is the kind of book I needed and wanted to read ; but just want you to not expect “Hunger Games” if that’s what you are thinking about based on the blurb.

I said before that I liked Kali, and I did; flaws and all. She does have very strong voice and I thought of her as very strong character, I thought she made mistakes, but owned them and I really did think she was a good captain for her team.

There is also a pretty significant romance for Kali in the story which blurb is completely silent about and I guess I should be too. I enjoyed their banter, which had occasional humor too which I always like.

As an aside, I often like sport themed books where other side, other team is an adversary but not a villain. And I liked that this is how their main competitor was portrayed.

Yes, I think it is a first book in the series, no I am not happy about that, but will definitely pick the second one up when/if it is out.

Grade: B