Recommended for ages 14+
In the not too-distant future, gaming goes even more hi-tech. Athletes are gamers now, and the RAGE tournament is the Virtual Gaming League’s top competition, pitting the best against the best. Live, virtual gladiator games, with the players battling one another on a bloody virtual reality field and taking no prisoners. The pain is real, though – just because you don’t die when your throat is cut doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like hell. Kali Ling is one of the top RAGE competitors, part of the top team, Defiance. Virtual gaming is everything to her – her ticket to fame, fortune, and freedom – until the morning she wakes up next to her teammate and sometime friend with benefits, Nathan, dead of an overdose.
Kali finds herself named Defiance’s team captain and Nathan’s memory all but erased. There’s a cover-up in play, because no one wants to talk about the drug abuse going on in the virtual gaming world; no one wants to hear the ugly side of the glitzy business. But Kali is determined to fight in the virtual world and outside of it to wake people up.
Arena is going to be a huge summer hit with gamers and sci fi fans. It’s been compared to one of my all-time favorite books, Ernest Kline’s Ready Player One, but I think it’s grittier and tackles harder subjects like drug abuse in sports, constructing the perfect media image, and the problem of celebrity as role model. Although Arena takes place in the future, it sounds surprisingly similar to problems we have today in our very real world of sports. It’s a wake-up call on one hand, and a tremendous sci-fi novel with a kickass female lead character (and two equally kickass female supporting characters) on the other. That’s what’s going to get this book into people’s hands, and that’s how the message is going to be relayed.
Arena has ethnic and sexual diversity. Much of Kali’s internal healing comes from Taoist texts, including the Tao-te Ching, so make sure to have some of those titles (and Sun Tzu’s Art of War) ready for readers who will go deeper. Pair this up with Armada, Ready Player One, and the Vault of Dreamers books for readers who are gamers and dystopian, media-driven future aficionados.
This is Holly Jennings’ debut novel – and there’s going to be a sequel, so get ready. I’m looking forward to seeing what else she gives us. Arena is out tomorrow, but you can check out Holly Jennings’ author website for an excerpt right now!