Twenty year old Kali Ling has finally achieved her lifelong dream of becoming a professional gamer in the Virtual Gaming League’s RAGE tournaments. The league has the best players in the world competing weekly in virtual reality tournaments, the weapons are digital but the pain is real for the players. They eat, sleep and breathe their training and workouts but after hours they are expected to go out and make the club scene to smile for the sponsors and cameras but the drugs are easy to come by in this party life.
When Kali’s teammate overdoses the league covers it up and immediately replaces him. Kali struggles with dealing with Nathan’s death and then the added pressure of being made the first female captain in competitive gaming. Turning to drinking and drugs herself Kali battles her own demons. Will she be able to pull herself out of the dark side of gaming and lead her team or will she become yet another victim of the lifestyle?
Arena is one of those books that got off to a bit of a shaky start for me and I was wondering if I would like it at all. By the end though I really did enjoy the overall book and the positive message that is mixed into the story. Set in an athletic world where pressures from owners, sponsors and fans have the players turning to drugs to cope with the pressure is something that is a very real and touching subject.
Kali was a very likable character that had many different demons to battle and a lot to live up to. Watching her grow and struggle was certainly intriguing and you can’t help but to root for her to find her way and develop an inner strength. Drugs are a problem in all kinds of situations and here not only Kali but the whole team loses their friend to drugs and the story focuses on dealing with the loss and respecting their fallen teammate too.
What I didn’t quite love about this book was the gaming aspect or at least how it was explained. Taking place in the future players are no longer couch potatoes but athletes and beautiful. I found it a bit hard to grasp that players can be stabbed and beheaded or killed in any number of ways in a game and somehow feel the pain but no physical carry over to the real world but one of the players jumped in a game and further injured their ankle. Perhaps anyone who is a gamer would grasp the whole concept better but since the gaming is only the setting around the story it only brought my rating down a slight bit.
I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.