Review: Arena by Holly Jennings


Arena by Holly Jennings // VBC ReviewArena
Holly Jennings
Published: April 5, 2016 (Ace)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Reviewed by: Amy

Rating (out of 5): 3.5 stars

In 2054 the Super Bowl will no longer be the most watched sporting event of the year. No, that honor will go to the RAGE (Reality-Alternate Gladiatorial Events) tournament. For all of the pre-season, Team Defiance has been kicking ass and taking names, much to Kali (The Warrior) Ling’s delight. She’s been dreaming of this her whole life, and especially since she went pro just over a year ago.

Everything threatens to come crashing down when the team suffers their first loss of the pre-season. It puts them directly into the losers bracket for the official games and means it only takes one more loss and they’re out completely. Defiance suffers another blow when one of their teammates dies from an overdose the next day. For completely legitimate reasons, Kali is thrown off center.

This brings to light darker aspects of the VGL (Virtual Gaming League), especially how they handle their players and their image. While Kali would love to take the opportunity to expose what’s going on with gamers behind-the-scenes, she’s on a downward spiral that she can’t seem to get out of. Further responsibilities are placed on Kali when she’s named captain of Defiance (the first ever female gaming captain), and has to integrate a new teammate who will challenge all her ideals, but is Kali already too caught up in the game?

Holly Jennings pretty much drops readers right in the middle of this futuristic world. Virtual gaming has been an entertainment outlet for a number of years at this point, so we’re not seeing its rise, and honestly, it doesn’t seem as though it’s going to fall anytime soon either. The evolution of Virtual Reality, as presented here, is quite interesting. The “gamers” who compete can only bring the skills they have in the real world into the virtual. So the stereotypical stigma that surrounds gamers nowadays is a thing of the past and instead they’re athletes with various forms of fight and weapons training. Unfortunately when they “plug in” one too many times, gamers start to lose their grip on what’s real and what’s fake. This leads to major substance abuse problems within the league.

Kali is at this precipice when the story begins. It was difficult to watch her continue to imbibe especially after the death of her teammate. She’s got a godlike complex going on as well, which makes it hard to be on her side at all for about the first half of the book.

Things turn around, albeit not easily, when Rooke joins the team and brings Kali back to herself. If I had to describe what Arena is about in one word I’d say: balance. The ancient philosophies that Holly Jennings brings into the story are all well placed and rather interesting going up against the futuristic technology.

For the romance part of the story, I liked that it was more secondary. Rooke’s character was more of a reality-check that Kali needed, and even though their clashing really brought forth their undeniable chemistry, it never once overshadowed Kali’s journey. Instead he brings an element of understanding to someone who feels so lost.

The way things work out leading up to the final tournament was not surprising. The final game, however, left me on the edge of my seat while I waited to see if Kali could truly achieve her balance, and if so, what she would do with it.

Sexual content: sex, drug abuse

One Response to “Review: Arena by Holly Jennings”

  1. Jess fox says:

    I read this too. Great review. I had a hard time trying to put my thoughts on this into words.

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