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...
About the Author
Holly Jennings is a life-long gamer who has spent innumerable hours playing World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. Arena is her first novel. She lives in Canada, where she is working on the sequel.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2016 Holly Jennings
This wouldn’t be the first time I died. Sure as hell wouldn’t be the last, either. But while most watched this virtual world from the safe haven of reality, there was nowhere else I’d rather spend my Saturday night.
Crouched high on the tower’s parapet, I overlooked a sea of wheat fields. The scent of lavender and taste of wheatgrass wove together in the air, drifting with the breeze as it swept through my hair. I took a deep breath and smiled at the irony, as thick as the mountain air filling my lungs. Lavender. Wheat fields. Tranquility.
Peace, in a place anything but peaceful.
Movement in the fields caught my eye, down and right. A zigzag carved its way through the ten-foot-tall stalks, heading straight for the tower. My smile widened. Maybe this sucker had the balls to take on Kali Ling.
I stilled inside. Even breaths. No fear. At the field’s edge, the stalks trembled violently. The air filled with the rainstick rustling of brush and dry grass. Yes. Someone would emerge. I gripped the sword sheathed across my back and waited, muscles tight, mouth watering. Come on. Give me something. A brute. Six—no—seven feet tall, wielding a mace. Or an axe.
Give me anything.
A rabbit scurried out from the field. Nothing followed. The grass fluttered in the breeze. Birds chirped, nestled in the nearby sycamore trees. It was the rabbit, and only the rabbit.
I punched the parapet’s brick wall, but when my frustration subsided, I realized another irony. In 2054, most twenty-year-olds hid behind a barricade—of textbooks. Studying for hours, days, or even years on end, they’d hide away from the real world only to remerge bright and eager to end up in jobs they’d hate. Meanwhile, I strapped on battle gear, sword and all, and headed into these fields.
Fields I now frowned at, which had stilled just to spit on my excitement. Only streams of sunlight punctuated the stalks from above, like skylights from the heavens. Everything blended together in shades of beige as if the landscape had been whitewashed through a sepia lens. In the distance, the enemy’s tower loomed, wrapped in a corkscrew of mountains and rocky terrain. How many of them remained? How close were we to victory?
Shuffling footsteps turned my attention inside. I leapt from my perch and landed on the tower’s stone floor with the impact of a fallen leaf. The wind whispered around me as it bowed to my movements.
The warrior. Pffft. I should be the ninja.
A pigtailed blonde stood in the center of the tower, dwarfed by more than the stories-high walls around her. Lily, fair-skinned with delicate features, like the flower she was named for. Dressed like a scantily clad Scandinavian warrior, she wore nothing but fur-lined armor and a wicked grin. Her hands rested on the pair of short axes sheathed at her hips. Not so much like a flower.
Lily shook her head as she approached.
“Your eyes,” she said.
“They can’t see your eyes.” She pushed up to her tiptoes and brushed strands of raven hair away from my face.
“Does it really matter?” I asked.
She frowned. Of course it mattered. Soft and black, my eyes were a distinguishing trait. How marketable.
“It’s the Death Match,” she said with a tsk. “Everything matters.”
“Did Clarence teach you to say that?”
“Do you think I would have listened?” She grinned and nodded at my perch. “How’s the view?”
A piercing scream ripped through the stillness, resounding off the tower’s walls. My ears perked up, and I seized the dagger at my waist. Dust clung to the air in suspended animation, trapped like the breath inside my lungs. Then, chuckling at myself, I exhaled, released my grip on the weapon, and nudged Lily.
“Really? Did they tell Hannah to go down easy? God, they’ll do anything to add tension.”
My chuckles faded when I met Lily’s taut expression. She shook her head, drew an axe from her belt, and crept toward the tower’s entrance.
“Lil, come on. There’s no way someone took her out that fast.”
“I’ll check it out anyways.”
“From the treetops?” I called out.
Lily disappeared from view through the tower’s entrance. Leaves crunched, and branches snapped as she climbed. Then it went still.
A breeze drifted through the tower and brushed against my bare midriff. I adjusted the armor padding on my shoulders and gripped the sword at my back, drawing it out slowly, purposefully, to catch the late-afternoon sun glinting on the blade. As if millions were watching me.
Absolute quiet blanketed the tower. The birds stopped chirping. The wind stopped rustling.
My breath hitched.
I planted my feet, sword out. Ready. Scuffling footsteps and soft grunts sounded out beyond the tower walls, followed by sharp chopping and wet splats, like cleavers hacking up meat. Or a person. Then, nothing.
I took a step forward.
Then footsteps, heavy and rough, beat up the dirt path to the tower. Two men appeared in the entranceway, both tall enough to brush the top of the tower’s entrance. The metal armor covering their chests, wrists, and calves struggled to contain the muscle beneath, every buckle and clasp strained tight. Ribbons of blood snaked down the swords gripped in their hands. Not bad, boys, but certainly not enough.
Not for me.
“Is this it?” I asked with a grin. “I was hoping for a challenge.”
On cue, two more men appeared behind them.
Four? What kind of crazy-ass ploy was this? Pushing into a tower with four left only one to guard their own. Where was the rest of my team? Why hadn’t they taken the enemy’s fortress?
Of the foursome, one had a cut down his eye and cheek and wore no armor on his chest. He moved toward me first, and the others fell in step behind. At the sound of their pursuit, he held a hand up and gave a swift shake of his head. They halted.
Taking me alone, One-eye? Impressive.
And completely dumb-ass stupid.
He broke off from the pack, leaving them at the door. The trio paced and whimpered, like hyenas waiting for the lion to make the kill. But like good animals, they obeyed their master.
One-eye charged, weapon raised, footsteps pounding across the stone floor. I remained, feet planted, bringing him to me. Breaths filled my lungs, slow and steady. A smile pulled at my lips.
He grunted as he swung for me, muscles straining. I parried his blows and swept him to the side. Like wind. Like water. Metal clanged against metal in a steady beat, his weapon slipping across mine every time.
We broke apart.
He grimaced, muscles clenched. Sweat dripped down his face. I grinned and rolled my shoulders, muscles like liquid. His knuckles turned white around the hilt of his sword. My weapon rotated with the flicks of my wrist, like an extension of my own limb.
He came at me again, making chopping motions in the air. The wind whined under the sharp slashes of steel. I stood tall as he reeled back and swung. As his sword whooshed through the air, I ducked. He stumbled past, revealing the canvas of his back. My sword ripped across it in so many rapid successions, I nearly wrote my name.
Zorro could kiss my ass.
One-eye went down to his knees, shaking. Breaths rasped through his lungs. Snorting like a bull, he pushed up to his feet and came at me again. Wielding his sword with both hands, he swung it like a bat, hard. The impact reverberated down my arms and knocked the sword from my grip. It went flying, smacked the far wall, and tumbled to the ground out of reach.
He grinned at me and brought his weapon down. I rolled, missing the blow. Drawing the dagger from my hip, I pushed up to my feet and slammed the blade into his shoulder. It disappeared down to the hilt. He groaned. I jerked it sideways. He cried out and dropped his sword. It clanked on the floor.
Blood poured out of the wound, gushing over my hand. I lost my grip on the dagger and tumbled to the ground.
The instant my back hit the floor, I pushed up, but my heels slipped across the bloody floor. One-eye ripped the blade from his shoulder and advanced. I scrambled backwards.
Keep space. He can’t hit you if he can’t reach.
I backpedaled, trying to get my feet beneath me, heels not catching. Blood sprayed out from my kicking heels.
My back hit the wall.
Cornered. First rule of fighting: never get cornered. Damn it.
One-eye closed in.
My chest tightened until I gulped for air. No. I was fine. I’d died before. Simulations. Practices. They teach you how to die. Fighting with honor.
For the show.
He knelt and delivered a swift backhand across my face. My head snapped to the side, vision reeling. Pain blistered across my face with the sharp sting of a rubber band. One-eye straddled me and pushed his weight into my stomach. I gagged and wriggled beneath him, trying to free myself. No luck. His weight and legs formed a vise around my lower half.
In a sweeping arc, he swung the dagger toward my neck, like a reaper wielding his scythe. Skin slapped skin as I caught his forearm with both hands and strained against him. He grimaced and leaned forward, adding weight behind his strength. My hands trembled, muscles screaming in protest.
The blade lowered.
Cold steel kissed my skin. I gasped and bowed my neck in. Come on, Kali. Fight.
Every nerve in my arms and chest ached. The trembling in my hands descended into violent shakes. One-eye grinned down at me like an animal driven mad with hunger. The dagger dug into my throat, sharp and burning. I squirmed and clamped my teeth shut on a squeal.
“Shhh,” he hushed, condescending and overexaggerated. His crew of douche bags giggled in the background.
Blood trickled out of my neck. Fucking bastard. Didn’t cut deep. I’d bleed out in minutes, not seconds. He was drawing this out, purposely, to make me suffer.
With one hand, he pinned my wrists above my head and with the other, held the knife over my face. I braced for the final blow, straining every muscle against a shudder. But instead of bringing the knife down, he let it dangle just above my lips. My own blood, sweet and metallic, dripped down and seeped into my mouth. I sputtered and coughed. Laughter rumbled in his chest. He was enjoying this, sick asshole. And he should. He’d won.
I closed my eyes. This was it. Defeat. Might as well accept it.
No. That wasn’t part of my image. That wasn’t Kali Ling.
I wrenched a hand free and punched One-eye hard across the face. His head jerked sideways, but his weight remained planted on my hips. Damn it. I reached for his shoulder wound, dug my fingers inside, and pulled. He threw back his head and howled, legs convulsing around me from the pain.
I grinned, then faltered.
My breaths morphed into gasps for air as the blood continued to drain from my throat. Numbness captured my fingers, and they slid down his chest, trailing three rows of fading blood across his skin. He looked down at me. Our eyes locked.
He laughed, revealing a row of perfect, bleached teeth. That sardonic laugh reverberated in his chest, flexing muscles I’m sure were already flexed. It was over. He had won.
My hand collapsed to the floor. Coldness crept up my limbs as my vision whirled and faded.
No. This wasn’t happening. We don’t lose.
We never lose.
The weight pressed against my stomach lessened as One-eye leaned toward my face. His breath came out in snorts, ghosting across my cheeks. Sweat dripped from his skin and mingled with mine. It swirled together with the blood in my mouth, salt and metal. I gagged from the taste, and from the blood bubbling up my throat.
My breaths shortened. He grew closer still, until the heat from him radiated against my skin. An inch. Maybe less.
I could just picture the cameras zooming in.
“Night, night, sweetheart,” he whispered as my eyelids fluttered, and my head rolled to the side.
Despite the numbness, a flood of emotions rushed through me. Shock from losing the fight. Fear as the darkness closed in around me. Rage fueled by the adrenaline pumping through my veins. And beneath it all, I had to admit I was impressed.
He knew how to put on a damn good show.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Honestly I was not expecting much from this book. Boy i was wrong. This novel was something else. It was full of strength and perseverance. The way that the main character overcame her issues and turned the industry on its head was amazing. She proved to be a strong leader, a game changer, and above all a dedicated friend. Other than the harsh language in some parts, it was one of the best books i have ever read. I was borrowing it from my college library but now i own it. If you are looking for a thriller centered on video games then this book is for you. I will definitely be reading the sequel when it comes out next month!
Warning: Drug use and graphic violence Holly Jennings has created a great world in Arena and I loved how she really flipped gaming on it’s head. I can totally see this future coming true once the technology is there. Having gamers be the most popular celebrities was a great idea! Jennings does a great job of not shying away from the very real issues that those involved with Virtual Reality gaming are going through. It would be easy to gloss over things but she dives right in with how much drugs, alcohol, and mental instability affect those that are constantly in a virtual world. Reading about Kali struggling with losing her teammate and then leading a team when she doesn’t know what she’s doing is great. Kali was a very enjoyable narrator because she was real; she makes mistakes, says stupid things, has real emotions and struggles with things just like everyone else. I’m not a big fan of first person narratives but the action and world building kept this story very interesting for me. Kali has some personal issues regarding drug use and addiction but I had a few issues with how her struggle was portrayed. I also liked the developing love story between Kali and Rooke; not everyone might be happy with this but I normally read Romance and only occasionally stray into other genres. So their story-line was a nice bonus for me! Rooke was very interesting and I wish we could have gotten inside his head too (the main reason why I don’t like first person, single POV books) because he had some deep things going on in his life and I loved how he was there for Kali whenever she needed him. I would have loved more on the Defiance team members; we get a pretty great look at Kali’s upbringing, history and story, as well as a good look at Rooke. But the other team mates are more superficial. This book is written in first person so it’s understandable that it’s mostly about Kali but I would have loved more development in the other characters.
This was just a heck of a lot of fun. Take the sport of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting and combine it with Virtual Realty gaming and a little bit of Tron, and you get Holly Jennings' book Arena. It is the year 2054 and Virtual gladiator-style fighting is big business. Bigger than today's Super Bowl or Stanley Cup. The fighters are super star celebrities whose whereabouts and goings-on are constant tabloid news. While it is virtual fighting, the gamers experience their own deaths nearly every week (unless they are the fortunate few who are at the top and don't take a loss) and those deaths - usually a hacking or decapitation - are broadcast on network television. This can take a toll on the players - imagine feeling your own death a thousand times! - who resort to drugs and alcohol to get them through. One of the hottest teams in the RAGE League tournament series is Team Defiance - one of the few teams with female players. That two of the women are having a lesbian affair and one (Kali Ling) is sleeping with her teammate, Nathan. This is all big news for Virtual Gaming League and RAGE followers! But Defiance is knocked down in a big way by a team that has come out of nowhere, Team InvictUS. All of Defiance is killed in record time and they are sent to the losers bracket in the RAGE Tournament. The team's owner calls Kali in for a meeting where he explains that he making her the team captain. Defiance never had an individual leader, but the recent loss shows that they need one. It's also good for the owner's publicity to have the first ever female team leader. Shortly after that, Defiance is met with another loss - the loss of Nathan, who dies in a drug overdose. Defiance slowly pulls together, which is made even more difficult with the inclusion of a new teammate who seems to have trouble taking direction from a woman. But the game has now changed for Kali. She has two goals now ... to get the team back on a winning streak, and to make sure the public knows about the rampant drug problem in gaming - the problem that killed Nathan. As I wrote at the beginning, this was just a heck of a lot of fun to read. Author Holly Jennings really brings the reader into the action and we can easily picture the game-style fighting that's going on. She's also done a really nice job of telling a story and making this about more than just virtual gaming. The drive to keep Nathan's memory alive and to let the world know about the problem of drug abuse in gaming feels a little bit forced, though it does make for a more complete story than just the constant fighting. The relationship between Kali and the new team member seems pretty obvious from the very start, but Jennings works it nicely, even though we all know what's going to happen. Having had fun here, I do want to read the follow-up! Looking for a good book? Arena, by Holly Jennings, is a swift-action story of virtual gaming, life, death, and the path to winning. It is a lot of fun and highly recommended. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Arena is, at first glance, a fun, butt-kicking action story about virtual warriors coming back from an embarrassing defeat. But it's very layered, and while action is a large part of the book, it also includes topics such as institutionalized drug abuse, addiction (and recovery), and mental illness. If you are familiar with MMORPGs or FPSs at all, you’re going to immediately relate to this book. If you have no idea what a “muhmorpug” is, it might take you a minute to get into things. As a veteran World of Warcraft MMORPG (that’s Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) player, the VGL RAGE tournament immediately reminded me of PvP and arena matches. The book starts with protagonist Kali Ling and her team losing a preseason match against Team InvictUS, which means they're in the loser bracket, and if they lose one more match, they're done for the rest of the season. Things are complicated when a teammate overdoses, and a newbie is brought in. At the beginning of the book, I thought, “yeah they lost to InvictUS now, but they’re absolutely going to win at the end. They have to!” But then as the story goes on, their victory doesn’t seem as sure. The development of the team’s–and especially Kali’s–focus on what’s important, and what is considered important at the beginning versus the end, is a great journey. That journey eventually makes the reader realize that even if Kali and her team could beat InvictUS, do they still even want to? I won’t give away the ending, because the final showdown is a great read and you won’t be able to put it down once you start it. I definitely recommend this book for anyone who has ever enjoyed a video game, or who loves totally sweet battle scenes, or who enjoys legitimately strong lady protagonists.
My Thoughts - 5 out of 5 Unicorns - I loved it!!! ***I choose what I read and review based on what intrigues me!! Yes, I got a review copy of this book, but no one tells me what to think, feel, or write about any book! The cover is what attracted me to this book, but the description is what compelled me to want to read it! There are two covers, but this one is my first and favorite one! I requested this book because it intrigued me, but then I was distracted by life, school, and other books. I’m sorry I was distracted for so long because this book is not my usual read. There were no shifters, vampires, or elements of paranormal that are my usual reads. I think part of what intrigued me is my son and students who are gripped in all that is gaming. I’m also a teacher who recently adding teaching computer and programming into my wheelhouse. I like trying to read things I think would interest the students. They would love this book for the strife from drug addiction and fighting the world. This is the first book in the series, and I’d say it is more new adult because the characters are 20ish years old. I’ve seen several places that classify it as YA, and I can see my students this. You should be aware though that there is graphic descriptions of violence and gore. There is also drugs, alcohol, and the misuse of them with partying. And I truly believe that gamers can lose themselves in the games and forget the real world around them. I think as long as you go into the book knowing there is death from drug overdose and all of the above that high school students read this stuff all the time by their own choice. It shocked me that students want the dirty gritty story of pain and strife. Some know these things personally, and they say it helps them to read about it. This book demonstrates morals which you can overcome addictions, you can change the world, and you have to start with yourself. Kali is an amazing lead character, and I loved her story. She perseveres, overcomes, and comes out the other side much stronger and wiser. She has help along the way with her teammates especially Rooke because they had the same battles to fight. I can’t even put into words how engaging and awesome this story was. Holly Jennings is a new author for me, and her writing is amazing. I can lose myself in her book, and I can’t wait to do it again! I highly recommend this book to any nerd especially if you had personal battles and challenges to overcome, or you are a hard-core gamer who needs a reminder to live your life in the real world and play and have fun in the virtual one!
Characters are realistic. Plot is fast paced and fun. It is just kooky enough to be fabulous and I would recommend it!
4.5/5 Thank you to NetGalley, Holly Jennings, and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for review! Where has this book been all my life?! Seriously, I couldn't have asked for a better book to read. As a female gamer and reader, this book spoke to me on a personal level and I absolutely loved it. It covered so many issues in the gaming world of 2054 that I'm sure are 100% relevant to the world of gaming today, and I appreciated that it was so raw and honest. To put it simply, Arena is a book that you don't want to miss, whether you are a gamer or a reader. Kali Ling is used to dying, she does it every week on national TV, but it never gets easier. The lifestyle of a gamer is fast and dangerous, both in reality and the virtual world. When Kali is chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, she feels on top of the world. That is, until one of her teammates overdoses on drugs and dies. His death is covered up and he's replaced with a cold, hostile new gamer. Now, Kali has to juggle the pressure of being a female gamer and captain in the Virtual Gaming League, and try to cope with the death of her teammate, while trying to guide her team to win the championship. It's almost too much for Kali, and it pushes her to the breaking point. In order to change her life, she has to change the rules of the game the only way she knows how- from the inside. I cannot say enough good things about this book. Having the opportunity to read something that appeals to me on both my gamer side and my reader/writer side was such an incredible experience. I loved the world building that went into this story, of both the real world and the virtual world. This book is set in 2054, and virtual reality gaming is the most popular form of gaming, with consoles that we know and love today being called "ancient." The idea that virtual reality gaming has become such a huge thing was so cool to picture. With esports becoming bigger and bigger each year, the thought that the professional gaming world could evolve to virtual reality gaming tournaments is not such a crazy idea, and it was such a treat to be able to read about a world where this has happened. Kali participates in the RAGE tournament, which is a gladiator style death match where teams fight to capture each others towers and take out the enemy team. It's bloody, brutal, and painful for the players. Of course, they don't actually die outside of the game, but there are no safety filters and players can feel every punch, stab, and throat slice they experience in-game. If that's not motivation for staying alive, I don't know what is. This was just unlike anything I've ever read and it was such a great experience from start to finish! I feel that the characters in this book were a huge part in making this book a success. Yes, the story line and writing are amazing and I will definitely be addressing those later on, but the characters were just so well-written and made the story absolutely wonderful. What I loved most was that while the main character, Kali, was portrayed as a super strong character, she also had plenty of flaws. Basically, she wasn't perfect. There's a huge problem with MC's that are just too perfect and unflawed, or simply don't have their flaws acknowledged at all throughout the book. Read the rest at: http://underthebookcover.blogspot.com/2016/12/book-review-arena-by-holly-jennings.html
I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I would rate this about 3.8 stars but GOODREADS DON'T LIKE THAT SO :))))) Arena by Holly Jennings doesn't really focus on the video game competitions, but more the struggles the main group of characters face. Meaning, the action of the bloody games isn't as focused on as the behind the scenes. That being said, this book focuses on a lot of issues and themes such as addiction, teamwork, and society's views. The main character, Kali, is a strong female lead who is a genuine role model. She's thrown into this leadership position, not quite sure knowing what to do, but tries her best with what she has. Kali works hard, is an amazing gamer, and has a strategic mind that won't conform to what society wants. I admired her because her strength was shown in a unique way, one that I actually haven't read in any other young adult main character. Jennings really created a great outline for interesting and three-dimensional characters, but she didn't follow through. The other characters were definitely there to help, but they all fell flat (including Kali). While they did have different personalities and looks, none of this was really elaborated upon. The story really just focused on Kali so you never got to learn more about the others. I really wish we had been able to get backgrounds and internal demons of the other characters also. Though the plot didn't focus on the action of the games, the great fighting scenes were still there. If you were looking for a really action-packed book though, I don't think this would be it. Most of the plot was focusing on inner demons of the characters, and how these problems were dealt with. Nonetheless though, I found the mixture of intense gaming and universal themes to be very interesting. The world of virtual gaming and 2053 is expanded on very little. The main focus of the novel was the characters' hardships, so the reader sees very little of the outside world. The society does play a large role, and is very similar to the real world's. Nothing matters except money and looks, and I am excited to see how Kali deals with this is the second novel. Honestly, there's just so many life lessons mixed into this that I think could help a lot of people. "If you hate, you become exactly like them. When you face your enemies with compassion, you realize there's still a person behind that hate." I sped through this novel. I don't know if I would say the pacing is fast because if you're expecting tons of action and kick-buttery then... it's not. But, if you just want a quick and interesting sci-fi read, then I'd suggest this novel. There's just enough super cool fighting that I think you'll be satisfied.
Holly Jennings' debut novel, Arena weaves Taoist philosophy into a hard hitting futuristic story that puts the spotlight on the world of virtual gaming. It will leave readers dying to jump right into the sequel, Gauntlet! Arena is a fun novel with a serious edge that takes readers to the year 2054. Gamers are the new sports superstars as they compete in various full immersion virtual games from golf to first-person shooter RPGs, and everything in between. Kali Ling is the confident, strong heroine readers love to read about. She's girl who seems to have life all figured out until the lines between reality and the virtual world blur. When her team, Defiance, loses a teammate to a drug overdose in the midst of a life changing tournament Kali must come to terms with the dark reality of the gaming industry. Kali and the other members of Defiance, including the newest member Rooke, must learn to work together as a team if they hope to advance their careers. This story has depth that I was not expecting. The complexity of the story is balanced with hard-hitting topics like addiction, substance abuse, and mental health. Though the main character is 20 years old, I would recommend Arena for a more mature audience. The action is somewhat graphic and not suitable to the younger readers. Many women who read this story will see themselves reflected in Kali. She may consider herself just a battle-hardened warrior, but she is also the typical young woman who is struggling to create a name for herself while standing against the demands of society. Readers will fall head over heels for her confidence and determination to change the rules of the game. Jennings takes serious concepts and weaves them seamlessly into her plot so that you feel the significance of the characters' feelings and actions. The effort to put a positive spin on a dark situation can sometimes come across as preachy, but Jennings masterfully puts hope on the pages of Kali's story. Arena is the start of a series with an original voice that will take readers to the next level. Warning: this stand out novel may have you dusting off the old Nintendo and Super Mario Bros. system! *eGalley provided in exchange for an honest review*
AMAZING FIRST BOOK. Arena is the first book by Holly Jennings so I wasn't sure what to expect. What I found was a storyline that was a combination of fantasy and a future look at "reality" tv. This book will be especially appealing to video gamers. This is a standalone but there is a soft cliffhanger and it's clearly not the end of the story. There is violence though it is in the virtual world. The book blurb adequately describes the storyline so I'm not going to repeat that all of that info here. If you like an Alpha kick butt female lead character that is also conflicted and dealing with her own issues, then you will enjoy this book. The author did a good job of setting the stage for Arena as well as any future books in this series. It is like Oz and we get a glimpse behind the curtain. The characters are multi-dimensional and well written with vivid imagery of both the character descriptions as well as the settings in the real and virtual worlds. In the Virtual Gaming World and RAGE tournament, just like with celebrities and pro sports players of today, there are a lot of things that go on off field or off camera that the public knows nothing about. As usual not everything, or everyone, are as they appear. I am looking forward to reading more about Kali, Rooke, and the rest of Team Defiance. I was given an opportunity to read this book from NetGalley and chose to review it.
I would like to thank Ace & NetGalley for a copy of this e-ARC to review. Though I received this ebook for free, that has no impact upon the honesty of my review. A captivating story about personal issues played out in the media, the stresses of living a life dictated by team owners and sponsors, and the massive cover ups that allow the image to remain king. Kali Ling is an incredible character who takes us on a journey of deep introspection and self discovery, all framed in a futuristic, but realistic, world of professional gaming. Virtual gaming is the new hot kid on the scene, and 20 year old Kali is right in the thick of it, living her dream and not really paying to much attention to all that's wrong in the industry. The way all players drug tests are falsified, and how all the drugs they could ever want are supplied by the team owners, players brainwashed into parroting, if not believing, that "image is everything." This story is a fascinating mix of personal and public, showing the fault lines that run through pro sports and the damage it does to each successive generation of players. Everyone toes the line in fear of losing sponsors, or getting dropped from teams; Kali follows this path until her teammate Nathan overdoses. That event begins the unraveling of Kali's belief in the industry; though it had begun some time prior, it took Nathan's death to bring it to the fore for her. This story is both exhilarating and saddening, as though it is fiction it is so easy to see how close to reality it likely is for most industries that rely on public fans and private sponsors. But Kali's journey, and that of her friends and teammates is refreshing, and feels oh so authentic. The characters are well crafted, with Kali and Rooke the two central players, surrounded by two empathetic and enjoyably strong young women as well as a young man with more depth than one would expect. Between their budding friendship and growing dependence upon each other to struggle through the challenges they face they move the story ever forward. Their lives and challenges both propel the plot and are the plot. This is a refreshing journey of a very realistic character, one who faces tough challenges, especially at the very young age of 20, and yet learns to rediscover herself. In doing so she also learns how to lead, far better than she'd ever imagined possible. Not only is this a great book for anyone who would be in the entertainment industry, be it as professional athletes, models, actors, etc. but also for those who support those various industries by following them. It's also simply a wonderful story of reaffirmation, self discovery, and personal growth. And on top of all that it's just a flat out good story, one that will challenge you to put the book down to sleep when all you want to know is what happens next. In Arena Ms. Jennings has done a wonderful job of tackling serious issues, sharing solid life lessons, and still keeping the reader more than engaged.
4.5 stars I really liked this. I found it to be exciting, interesting, and I found the characters to be likeable. I loved the idea of the story. My video game appreciation and knowledge only comes from playing any Mario Bros or Little Big Planet games with a dabble in Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy. Haha. I really liked that this drew me in from the beginning while they were in their gaming zone. So brutal but yet entertaining. This book had a lot in it that I liked. Majoring battling to be #1. Diverse characters with race and sexuality. Addictions, the cons of it and how to overcome it. Death, in and out of the game. Finding a happy medium with one’s self. Kali was stubborn, hardheaded, passionate, and totally amazing. I liked how in the beginning she was just teammates with her team, but by the end they were practically family. I liked her growing relationship with Rooke also. It started as total dislike that became something more. The only thing I disliked and it was so minimal it could be practically nothing was that sometimes some parts did dragged a little. But other than that, I found this fascinating. *I received through NetGalley
She glanced around for Buckeye
Book was bad and boring