Arena by Holly Jennings


3 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book.

Virtual combat is the hottest sport on earth. Teams of 5 compete to the death in a virtual arena, waking up back in this reality as either victors or losers. Kali is the first woman to ever lead a team and the upcoming tournament will make or break her career, but then one of her teammates ODs and Kali’s chance at the title falls drastically.

The main theme of this story is actually the dangers of heavy drug use in sports, which obviously is still an issue today, making this science fiction sports book surprisingly and immediately relevant. It deals with the high-pressure lifestyle athletes face and the ethical decisions that come with deciding how to react/cover up some sorts of behaviours. It was a strange topic to get from science fiction, but an interesting one. I would have loved to had an accompanying article on how many professional gamers also have addiction problems.

Other than the theme, it wasn’t a spectacular book. Professional combat done in virtual reality made for a neat backdrop for the book, but I didn’t really like any of the characters enough to get really into the storyline. All we see of the characters is them in reference to each other and their sport. It is a small cast and none of them are very interesting or 3-dimensional. We don’t get a full, robust sense of them as people, and besides the two main characters, no one really has a personality.

The combat also felt a little empty since I knew everyone was going to come back alive. The tension was very much something you would see at a sports match, not in actual combat, so I found it very weird. I am used to having my science fiction liberally splattered with gore.

Overall, this was more of a sports book than anything, and did not find its ideal reader in me. There was action, but not the type I like (with lasting consequences) and none of the characters hit home.



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