Saturday, September 26, 2009

Book Review: Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Title: Girl in the Arena

Author: Lise Haines

Pages: 324


It's a fight to the death - on live TV - when a gladiator's daughter steps into the arena

Lyn is a neo-gladiator's daughter, through and through. Her mother has made a career out of marrying into the high-profile world of televised blood sport, and the rules of the Gladiator Sports Association are second nature to their family. Always lend ineffable confidence to the gladiator. Remind him constantly of his victories. And most importantly: Never leave the stadium when your father is dying. The rules help the family survive, but rules - and the GSA - can also turn against you. When a gifted young fighter kills Lyn's seventh father, he also captures Lyn's dowry bracelet, which means she must marry him... For fans of The Hunger Games and Fight Club, Lise Haines' debut novel is a mesmerizing look at a world addicted to violence - a modern world that's disturbingly easy to imagine.

I could write this review. I could tell you what I did, and didn't like about it. I could give you a full list of it's strong points and it's short comings. I could tell you it's the worst book in the world. But you know what? None of you would listen. This is a book that, simply by the title, every teenage girl (and some adult women) will pick up, no matter how great it is. Just look at the cover. Seemingly beautiful girl slumped over with long, dark hair veiling her face, a weapon in hand and a FIGHT TO THE DEATH poster beside her--it's empowering. We gals love reading about other gals. Especially ones who kick ass. So, it is with the assumption that most of you have already added this novel to your Amazon wishlist that I write this review.

Lynn is the epitome of a Glad's daughter. Her six prior have all died honorably in the arena, and her seventh and last is considered the perfect fighter. But she, her mother Alison, her brother Thad, and her father Tommy all know that it couldn't possibly last. She knows she shouldn't be worried--even if Tommy dies in the ring, Lynn and her family are set for life, her mother switching from a Glad Wife to a Glad Widow. But during his finale battle with newbie Uber, not only is he killed--but, due to a new bylaw set in place by the Federation, it is with dishonor, therefore eliminating all his retirement and life insurance funds, leaving Lyn, her mother and her brother with only a few months to vacate their home and find somewhere else to live. To make things worth, Uber has taken her dowry bracelet from Tommy's dismembered hand. Which means that, now that the media (and the federation) has seen it, Lyn has to marry Uber. She decides to fight for her and her family's freedom, and she's determined to win, no matter what the cost...

Alright, so, just want to get this out there: the title is ridiculously misleading. Lyn (the "girl" in this scenario) is only in the arena, five minutes. The entire book, while interesting, consist of her mourning Tommy and a player to be named latter, taking care of Thad, training, and reminiscing about such and such. If you picked up this book because you want to seem a girl kick some neo-Gladiator ass for three hundred pages, I'd suggest you take your business elsewhere.

Another thing you MUST know before picking up Girl in the Arena is that dialogue is

---like this, I say.

No quotes, no nothing. I eventually got used to it, but it might distract some readers.

Moving on, I thoroughly enjoyed Girl in the Arena. The character's came across as very real to me, and I would have liked to see more of them. From a critical point of view, the pacing was off with the whole thing; unnecessary tidbits drawn out with seemingly important events taking place in three paragraphs. The romance between Lyn and Uber also seemed weird to me, seeing as they've only really spoken a few times (that I saw) and most of the time was spent discussing Lyn's hatred for the guy. Then--THEY KISS. Which left me both awwwwwing and WTF???ing. But overall, Lyn and Uber were pretty cute together (despite the fact that he killed.Lyn's.father.) At the risk of rambling, I'll move on.

Girl in the Arena, while interesting, seems to fall on it's own originality like a safety net. Whenever at a loss for plot progression, Lyn starts on an inner history lesson about Glad bylaws and such, only to twirl back into the "now" like nothing had happened. There's also the occasional flashback, one in particular to her family's trip to Rome the year before. I could see how it's relevant (you know, neo-Gladiator's, Rome, geddit??) but I can't really understand what it does for the plot...except demonstrate Lyn's mentally-challenged younger brother Thad's psychic abilities.

It's also filled with some trite conversation that, again, does nothing for anybody or anything. Here's an example with Lyn's friend Mark (more on him later) and his father while training Lyn:

---You sparring without your helmet? Lloyd calls over to him.

---It's too hot, he says.

I've seen people spar both ways---with and without---so Lloyd doesn't press him.

Riddle me this, dear reader: if Lloyd doesn't press him, then what was the point of this little tidbit?

Like I said, the critic in me is pretty confused at the pacing and characterizations. But I'm also a reader, and as a reader, I did not care about the awkward plotting and strange dialogue. The atmosphere seemed to be hyper-modern, possibly to make it clear that this wasn't a dystopian future, nor an alternate past: this is right here, right now. I was rather disturbed at the intensity Haines put into the violence-obsessed world. This psuedo-Gladiator fighting was bigger then our football, baseball, soccer, movies, music, everything combined. It was a way of life. Whether you loved it or hated it, it was all around you, and no one seemed to think twice about it. Which was, frankly, fucking scary.

The characters themselves seemed to play second-banana to Lyn: she describes all those around her like everyone is just a little pathetic: her mother, desperate to maintain her Glad wife lifestyle, Thad, with the noise in his head, Mark, desperate to get inside Lyn's pants (or something), and Uber, a big bumbling sonuvabitch without a mean bone in his body. Mark, however, was adorable and I'd like to see more of him. But I couldn't help but feel like everyone had achingly few important dialogue or scenes. I digress.

Despite it's misgivings, Girl in the Arena is sharply original, painting out a world that is, like the summary implies, disturbingly close to our own. A definite must-read for fans of dystopian/fighting novels.

Rating: 6 out of 10 (leaning towards a 7)

Also: Another case of Misleading Publishers--the cover. Shows a girl with loooong hair. I'm assuming this is meant to be Lyn. Due to an incident involving Uber and Tommy's match, Lyn had to get stitches--therefore, shaving her head. In the beginning of the book. ...So no long hair. Hm.


Misty said...

Hmmm. I still want to read this, but I have reservations. Thanks for the review!

Jenny said...

Oh that dialogue would irritate me!!! And the inconsistency with the cover would bother me too. Great review!

Template by:
Free Blog Templates