Original Books

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Arena by Karen Hancock

After reading several of Karen's other books, I must say that Arena is her best book to date, even though it is her debut novel.
Callie agrees to be a guinea pig for a new type of psychological testing because it pays well. The job: enter a psychological world and exit as fast as possible. She is given several instructions along the way, such as staying on the white road at all times and avoiding distractions. She must reach the Benefactor's Gate in order to exit the world and return to her her home.
But when she comes face to face with a human just like herself, her view of the test changes. Especially when he tells her that there is no way to reach the Benefactor's Gate. He knows because he's been trying for five years.
He eventually takes her to the group of people he's staying with, people who have also been in the Arena for a long time.
The Arena is filled with all kinds of dangers-Trogs, which are human like enemies; harries, which are like flying manta rays; and other dangers like menacing sand mites.
Callie fears she is trapped in the Arena forever until she convinces the group to scale the cliffs that lead to the Benefactor's Gate. They soon discover that reach the Gate was easier than they thought. What they find at the top stuns them.
The whole premise of the book is very original for a debut novel. Karen could have spent several books outlining all kinds of paths for the characters to take (don't get any ideas, Karen; I don't like sequels). The path she chose for her characters to take isn't the best, but it is still enough for it to be Elite.
If it were not for the end. After the characters return home, Karen makes a rookie mistake by adding an extra chapter at the end that ruins the whole book.
But there are other drawbacks to the book, such as the the perfection of most of the characters, including Callie. Also, there is an extremely predictable villain that should have been eliminated.
Also, there are too many scenes depicting the characters eating the foreign cuisine. It seems like Karen could have used those spots in the book to show off some more creativity besides eating.
All in all, it's not a bad book, and it should warrant a read. After all, what should one expect from a debut novel?
3.5 stars

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