I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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.
I loved the premise for this one. They had me at a virtual gaming type reality show. I don't really watch much reality TV (except for Survivor and tons of cooking reality shows . . . give me all the shows about FOOD!!), but I was crazy interested in how this one would play out. The book takes place in 2054, where the technology for video games has increased by 1000 and there are these new virtual worlds where you compete in these crazy televised championships. In the virtual world, everything feels super real. You even feel the pain when someone else kills you. But of course, when you get pulled out of the virtual world, there are no cuts or scratches and you are good as new. The problem is that people get addicted to this virtual world and they start preferring that to reality. There is even a drug that makes people feel they are in a virtual world instead of a real one.
This book did start out kind of slow. It took a few chapters before I got sucked in. I think it was a combination of the author trying to build the world and not enough action. We saw Kali with her team and we saw them out partying just so the media could watch and we found out that Kali and one of her teammates (Nathan) have a friends with benefits type situation. Nathan dies from a drug overdose in his sleep and all the sponsors and reporters and even Clarence (the owner of the team) pretty much sweep his death under the rug and try to forget he even existed. Now because his death happened fairly early, I didn't have a chance to get to know him and so his death didn't really affect me that much. It also took a while for the effects to show on Kali. The arrival of the new teammate and the consequences of Nathan's death is probably what sucked me into the story.
After Nathan's death, Kali becomes addicted to sleeping pills and other drugs and the virtual world as well. She is made captain of her team, which is a big deal since there has never been a female captain before. Kali has to deal with Nathan's death, along with breaking in the new teammate (Rooke). Cooke was stoic and really kind of boring at first. But I enjoyed their developing friendship and there was a whole slow burn thing. Seriously, I just wanted them to kiss already. Kali is part Chinese and she starts focusing a bit more on balance and Taoism and that is how Rooke and Kali begin to bond. I was a bit interested in the whole Taoism thing and it even made me look up the book they were referencing. But here was my problem: her addiction and the drug use that gamers engage in were supposed to be part of the main problem, but it seemed like more of an after thought. Kali dealt with her addictions and her feelings in a very abrupt manner and everything was just too clean. I wanted more withdrawal symptoms and more . . . something. I hate it when books insinuate that all people need is a relationship to get better and I don't think that's exactly what this book did, but it came close. Kali basically just talked to Rooke about Taoism and then it was like she was suddenly better. It didn't make any sense.
Nevertheless, I still loved the relationship between Rooke and Kali and I loved seeing the teammates prepare for battle. But there was a lot of that, so I guess I wish there was a little less friendship building and a little more aftershocks from the drug use. The friends were great though. There was Hannah, Lily and Derek. You could tell they all cared about each other and I loved how supportive they were of each other. Everything was leading to the climax of the book, which was the Championship between match between Kali's team and their rivals. The battle was super intense I couldn't put it down at that point. I do wish the virtual world could have been a bit more exciting. It was kind of bland and every single battle was played on the same field. I wish the author would have mixed it up a little with that.
Borrow/Buy/Skip: Borrow this one. Yeah, there were good parts in this book but I had a few issues as well. I would still recommend it.