Title: Arena
Author: Holly Jennings
Pages: 336 pages
Published: April 5th, 2016
Source: ARC from Ace publishing
Genre: Science Fiction, New Adult, Dystopia
Rating: 5/5 stars
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...

Buy it now!
Based on previous experience with books about virtual reality, I was quick to reach out to ACE publishing to request this stunning debut. And in short, this book did nothing but impress me. Arena brought the best of Ready Player One's thrilling and action-packed fight scenes and the snarky romance of any well-written New Adult contemporary.

Arena takes place in a society where virtual gaming has dominated and has become a well-recognized trend. Among the many virtual reality games, there are the RAGE tournaments where competitors compete in teams of 5 in combat to the death with weapons. Kali Ling, along with her teammates, love the rush that any VR game brings them. That is, until one of them overdoses, dies and Kali is appointed the new leader of team Defiance- one of the top teams in the industry. They've also got a new team member, the handsome Rooke who Kali can't seem to keep her mind off of. They must learn to work together as a team and possibly win it all in the championships. However with Kali relying so much on the VR world, she may not realize that she's loosing her grip on reality.

This book is a nod to the YA diversity that I have been dearly missing and not only with a female protagonist. She is also half Chinese! There are many cultural aspects as the book takes a deep dive into talking about Taoism. I appreciated the inclusion of an LGBT couple. It seems like there was an influx of diverse topics and characters, And although these aspects may seem really out of place together, they were seamlessly woven into the story that it felt effortless.

I don't think I've ever connected to a character more than I did with Kali, and not just because she's Asian. She is deeply flawed to the bone and doesn't realize it till halfway through the book. It's not to say that I loved her from beginning to end, considering I did have a problem with her when I first met her. She was this overconfident and cocky player who thought she was better than everyone else and acted a little bit too much like Celaena Sardothien-y. But not to fret, she grew away from that and it's because of the inner battle she fought that made her character all the more alluring. The whole time you're reading the book you realize that if she wants to get rid of her problems, it's all up to her and no one else. Kali was not afraid to embrace her ethnicity and race, which is something I've seen less and less in books with diverse characters. Plus she's a girl gamer, so she can kick some real ass. She's just so fucking amazing.

What may turn a lot of readers off, however, is the mention of it being in the genre of New Adult. Or it might turn people on, hey, you never know. For me, it was an automatic yes since NA is a genre I want to explore. What to expect? Profanity and lots of it. Sex, drugs and clubbing. Honestly it wasn't even that bad. I know for some people when they think of NA they think erotica. At least, that was always what I thought. The sexually explicit scenes were nowhere near erotic and are comparable to those in any other science-fiction YA books. So if you're worried about this book being 'too NA', for a lack of better words, then please don't be.

Holy shit. The romance was so fucking beautiful. This book made me feel so sexy. Wait no, scratch that. That sounds weird and so not platonic. I think the one thing that totally buys readers over when it comes to romance is snark and the classic trope of enemies become lovers. I really enjoy that trope when it's well done and Holly Jennings couldn't have done it better.

Looking for humor? This book's got it! I just about ate up all the dirty jokes and creative comebacks. LIKE WHAT ARE YOU HOLLY JENNINGS? A FREAKING COMEDIAN?

What more can I say to make you read this book? The lovely people at ACE/Penguin were nice enough to send me an ARC but me, being a complete idiot, just recently picked it up and now I regret not picking it up sooner. Arena is not a story, it's an adventure- filled with mystery, darkness, virtual gaming and smutty romance! Pick up this book and press start because I did, and I'm never looking back.

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  1. Love this review <3 I'll be honest and say I haven't really been in the mood for Sci-Fi or Dystopian. I'm not the biggest fan and I find it hard to find really good dystopian novels because they always seem too similar. But to see that this is New Adult :D I rarely see any NA that isn't contemporary so I definitely need to check this out.

    ~Karina @ A Reader Under The Sea

    1. The genre was a little surprising for me in the beginning but once you start the book, you'll know for sure that it's in the NA genre. I kind of loved the profanity though :P

  2. Wow this sounds fantastic. Like seriously, fantastic. I have to look into this one. I never heard of it before now.

    1. For real? I feel like it's so underhyped and deserves so much more attention.


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