336p. ebook available. Berkley/Ace. Apr. 2016. Tr $26. ISBN 9781101988763.
In this riveting story of professional athleticism, players make their names known in the virtual arena rather than the stadium. Their challenges are far from typical: they face opponents and fight in the virtual world with swords and medieval fervor and then slam back into reality. Death feels real, pain echoes even after they unplug, and these athletes cope in the most dangerous of ways. Kali must lead her team to redemption in the arena following a surprising and devastating loss but also keep them alive as they navigate the seedier side of professional gaming after a teammate dies. This title is mystifyingly slow; though it kicks off with fast-paced action, it drags until the "second act." Readers will sympathize with Kali's struggles with personal loss, and as the story progresses and new characters are introduced, this quickly becomes an addictive read.
VERDICT Those who make it through the lengthy exposition will delight in this real-world gaming tale that blends sports, video games, friendship, and just a dash of dystopia.

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