Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

I remember starting to read this book around the second half of July. Yeah, it was around EVO 2017 was streaming. I thought that was the best time to do so. You know, I was in the gaming mood so reading this book during that time was a perfect combination! It wasn’t.

I requested this book from Blogging For Books and received it on the first day of Anime Expo, July 1st. I finished it a few days ago, September 21. This is a classic example of myself being a mood reader. I was psyching myself up for an epic eSports gamer girl kind of read but after the stress of EVO 2017, I was burnt the heck out.

But I’m here now. I read it. I finished it. And guess what… I liked it. A lot.

As you know, I love eSports. I’m usually a stream monster than an active player. I follow some Blizzard games and such but my gamer girl heart belongs to the fighting game community. My first foray into gaming (apart from JRPGs and survival horror) was Tekken 3, the national video game of the Philippines, and Marvel vs Capcom. I could play them for hours and this was the time before online gaming. Eventually, I got familiar with Street Fighter and Mortal Combat.

Fast forward to 2016. Specifically EVO 2016, my first and probably only EVO. We might go again but for now, I say “only” because… well, some people watch a stream for 9 hours straight in the comfort of ones room. My brother and I were on the stream for 9 hours. Straight. Like right behind the players’ chairs. It was an insane experience. No food, almost no drink, standing on our feet for about 9 hours. And thanks to Twitch, we have proof. The year before that, we also took a drive up to San Francisco for the Capcom Cup Finals where we bought our first fight stick. Up to that point, we were pad players. We’ve met most of our favorite players (I pretty much died when I met Nemo and Tokido so… I’m all good). I mean, these players are almost legendary. I was in awe. And I guess I always will be.

But I digress. That’s my background in eSports. This book, while it does mention Street Fighter, is about another kind of eGaming. It’s more of a virtual world. Think MMORPG. Our protagonist, Kali Ling is the first female captain of a team competing in the RAGE Tournament. It is an elite competition where virtual warriors fight to the death. Virtually, that is. But higher levels of the game become so intense that even real life players feel pain.

Kali, being the captain, has to deal with a last minute lineup change. Rooke replaces one of their longtime teammates and at first, he was hard to deal with. Apart from that Kali has to juggle being in the spotlight, her own personal problems, dealing with her inexperience with leading a team, and of course, the business aspect of a professional gamer. I enjoyed all the points mentioned in the book in explanation as to why professional gamers became athletes in their own right. For a geek/gamer girl, it was pretty awesome and so empowering.

I have to say that I half-read and half-listened to this on audio book. And I enjoyed both. It was a fast read. Sure, it wasn’t the best writing but it was fun and engaging. Although there were times when I felt the events in the book was all over the place. Some characters weren’t very developed but at the end of it all, they weren’t that needed to further the story. I loved Kali’s and Rooke’s back stories. Erin Spencer was a good narrator. She gave life to Kali and made it sound real. She was both strong and whiny at the same time. It actually reminded me of NA audio books for some reason. But then again, I wouldn’t 100% consider this YA either. Maybe an older YA? This does not shy away or sugarcoat sex and sexuality. Also, I love how easy and natural the addition of diverse characters felt. It was organic and not at all forced. There were characters of color and a lesbian relationship.

Another thing that I got an absolute trip from is that this book is set in LA! The final tournament was set “across the street from the newly renovated LA Convention Center”. Coincidentally, there’s construction going on right now at that general area. Hint, hint.

Overall, it was such an adventure. If you’re not much of a gamer, don’t shy away from this. There’s not much jargon and the few “classic” games mentioned are pretty familiar to many. And besides, the action was easy to follow and understand. It was pretty badass, if you ask me. I can totally see this played out in an RPG or an actual team tournament. I cannot wait to get my hands on the second book, Gauntlet. If that’s anything like this one, then I’m going to for sure enjoy it too.

Rating: 4/5 stars. I’m reading Warcross next so I’m definitely in a gaming mood!

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One thought on “Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

  1. Pingback: WRAP-UP | SEPTEMBER 2017 | Shelf Pickings

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