Arena by Holly Jennings

arenaArena by Holly Jennings
Series: Unknown
Genre: Science Fiction (Dystopia)
Setting: 2054
Published by Ace, 2016
Format: e-Arc (Release Date: April 5)
–I received a review copy of this book from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions stated here are entirely my own.
336 pages
Grade: C+
Synopsis: 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…

Initial impressions

  • I really enjoyed the gaming aspect of the story.

The story

  • The beginning starts with Team Defiance losing for the first time in the RAGE tournaments–a virtual gaming league. Team Defiance has three women and two men on the team.
  • Clarence who put their team together makes Kali the Captain of the team. She’s the first female captain the league has had, but it appears he does it more for ratings than because he thinks she will be a good leader.
  • Then she discovers one of her teammates dead of a drug overdose. Soon he’s replaced and forgotten.
  • Team Defiance is in the loser’s bracket of the tournament and has to win every game to make it to the top and meet the winner of the winner’s bracket.
  • Kali wants people to know that addiction and drugs are a big problem in the virtual world, but the sponsors and heads of the teams don’t want to know about it anyone to know that ugly secret.


  • For some reason I thought this book was going to go in a different direction than it did!
  • The beginning of the book really drew me in.
  • I like the gaming aspect of the book. Of course, it reminds me a bit of Ready Player One.
  • However, in Arena players are pro athletes, because your skills carry-over into the virtual world. They use all their skills and physical agility in the virtual world. They are their own avatars. They feel pain and feel when they die in the virtual world. They wake up in the “real” world alive, but with the memory of pain and/or death.
  • The resemblance to elite sports today is well-done–both the good aspects (the joy and love of the game, the physicality of sports and competition) and the bad aspects (sponsors and team owners who control the players, the dangers of addiction).
  • I like that Kali gets back to her roots as a half Chinese gamer who grew up with Tao philosophy and books. That helps her overcome many of her problems.
  • With the help of other people including her team Kali slowly learns leadership skills and what is really important to her.


  • To me this seems more of a coming of age book…learning to grow up and to believe in yourself. That is what Kali has to do in this book. Even though the characters are older I felt it was more of a young adult book.
  • Kali is too perfect. Everything seems to work out the way she wants it regardless of what she does. Just seems too easy to me.
  • There isn’t a lot of world building in the book–just vague references to the cost of education, difficulty getting jobs. I get the idea of a dystopian future, but the people competing in the elite games are doing just fine.
  • During the book I kept expecting bad things to happen to Kali and her team…things they would have to overcome. Because so much money is involved I expected Clarence who put together the team to control the team more than he did. I thought there would be plotting behind the scenes. I guess I’m too cynical!
  • This book doesn’t really need to be science fiction or set in the future. It could as easily be set today. The only science fiction aspect is the total immersion in virtual reality.

And concluding thoughts . . .

  •  I think because I was expecting more adventures and plots I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I might have if I’d realized the theme of the book was more the importance to stand up for what you believe.

Have you read this book? How did you like it?

Author info

  • Holly Jennings’ debut novel Arena is set in the not-too-distant future and was inspired by a documentary about young adults striving to make it as pro gamers (professional video game players). Tired of so many people looking down on those who enjoy games, Ms. Jennings created a future where gamers are the ultimate celebrity athletes. Thanks to fully-immersive virtual reality, pro gamers compete in nationwide tournaments and build their skillsets in the real world by training in weapons and martial arts. I hope that Arena is the first of many set in this world. 

Reading Challenges

  • 2016 Goodreads Challenge
  • Netgalley & Edelweiss Reading Challenge–hosted by Falling for YA
  • New Author Challenge–hosted by the Literary Escapism blog
  • New Release Challenge–hosted by Lexxie at Unconventional Book Views and Stormi @ Books, Movies, Reviews Oh My!
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy Bingo Reading Challenge–hosted by the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog — Debut Novel