Genres: Horror, Dystopia, Young Adult, LGBTQ+
[THIS BOOK IS CURRENTLY OUT OF PRINT]
I have received a free copy of Arena from the author of this book. This in no way affects the opinions reflected on this review.
When seventeen-year-old Tasa Strong is ‘taken’ by the dreaded Iron Cart, she finds herself in a vast arena filled with wild animals and grotesque killers. In order to survive, and save her beloved friend Valeria, Tasa must work with eleven other children to find a way forward – even as she comes to understand that many of them cannot be trusted, and may also be a danger to her life. As they struggle to survive, and compete, they are forced to make horrifying life and death decisions; voting on which in their company should be killed. This act threatens to tear any potential alliances apart; and factions form within their group. Yet still Tasa must struggle forward, led by a boy who seems to want to save her and her friend: yet also clearly has his own secret reasons and brutal abilities – until at last she faces a final and terrifying round of dangers that will reveal the most unexpected and shocking betrayal, and potential reward…
I read Arena in one sitting – it’s 127 pages of pure horror and adventure. This book is the first volume of the Arena series, which tells the story of Tasa as she gets captured and finds herself, her friend Valeria and other teens from the Underlands, under the glaring sun of an arena. The main rule of the game they’ve been thrown mercilessly into: survive, if you can.
The principle of Arena’s plot reminded me a lot of Hunger Games and Maze Runner. The story is very fast-paced, and there is definitely no slowing it down – I wish there had been more world-building and the characters had more complex personalities and relationships. They were a little too black-and-white and sometimes naïve, with Tasa not having as much internal conflict as I would expect in a situation like that. The plot is not entirely original, which I hadn’t expected anyways. The language used is simple, direct and with no more description and narration than the strict necessary. I expect that the following books of the series expand the world and maybe develop the main characters too.
An aspect that I really enjoyed was the casual diversity of characters. In most YA books, there are few dark-skinned characters and they usually are plot devices instead of proper characters: a scary fighter, an innocent little girl who will die so that the main character gains depth, etc. But Tasa is a gorgeous mixed girl who’s the protagonist, and there is also very casual LGBT representation. The story is not about racism or LGBTphobia. I really liked that! I don’t think enough dystopian/fantasy worlds take the chance to explore a world without some of the prejudices of ours, even if that world isn’t anywhere close to idyllic.
Arena isn’t the kind of book I normally go for, and I felt often that I am not the right reader for it. So I don’t think I will continue reading the series. Still, I can clearly imagine that if you enjoy survival adventures, this book will be a really good choice!
Verdict: I recommend this book for a young adult audience that prefers their reading to be fast-paced and full of adventure, specially if you like survival stories. Arena is 127 pages long, meaning one can easily read this in one sitting. The plot is not too original, and felt sometimes predictable, but nevertheless an enjoyable read. I especially liked the diversity of the characters.