Thistle (thistle_chaser) wrote,

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Book #8 of 2018: Arena

Arena by Holly Jennings
Traditional or self-published: Traditional
Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)

Timing is funny sometimes. Just last week, I deleted all the LitRPG books off my Kindle. Picking a book at random from my To Read pile, I ended up with Arena, which is LitRPG.

But know what? It was good. Very very good.

The plot was about a "world series"-ish VR video gaming league. Professional teams train all year to try to become the champs. Like all video games, you can die in them, which is why these games have such a large worldwide following -- nothing like watching beautiful people kill each other, especially when they don't really die and can fight again next week.

The main character is a young woman, a member of one of those professional teams.

Oddly it did so many of the same things that the bad books did:
* Gamers as professional athletes -- gamers as some of the most physically fit people in the world. In those bad LitRPG books, that was completely not believable at all, but in this one the author explained it and made it work. The gamers worked very hard, physically training all day most days, to keep in peak condition.

* VR video games as more popular than any RL sport: While near the end of Arena my belief in this was stretched a little, the author still made it work much much better than any of those countless bad books ever did.

* Gamers as highly sexy people -- people fans threw themselves at to sleep with. Again, what was handled so poorly in those bad, self-published LitRPG books was completely believable in this one. Because the gamers were actually selling a product (advertising) as much as gaming, the gaming industry teams needed beautiful/sexy people.

Things this book did differently than all those bad ones:
* Had a female main character. I don't usually care the gender of characters in a book, but in this case it worked out really well to have her be a woman.

* Was traditionally published.

The author, a lifetime gamer herself, made the whole fictional world so believable. I really loved most of the book so much. It wasn't without flaws, however:
* The ending really, really bothered me a lot. Not just the main character, but her team of four other worldclass gamers made such an amazingly bad decision... I wanted to stop reading then and there, it was just so painfully stupid.

* Problems got wrapped up way too easily. Like the main character realized she had an addiction to the game, and solved it quite quickly... I chalk the easy solution part up to this being a YA book. I'm really not sure I buy that people can be addicted to video games though, so that made me a little frowny as well.

One element I didn't like, though I wouldn't call a flaw:
*I did not enjoy the whole subplot about one woman trying to change the whole system. Came off as too Hunger Games-ish to me.

But still, even with those issues, I loved this book so much. That being said, there's a second book out already, but I don't think I'm going to read it. I suspect it will be more of the "fighting to change the system" plotline, which hadn't worked for me. Hm, though now that I finished this book, I can look at the second without fear of spoilers... Looks like I was wrong. I think I'll pick up the second book and start it tonight.

Edit: UGH. Went to buy the second book:

Why does the ebook cost MORE than a physical copy? ARG.
Tags: 2018 books, book review, book: arena
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