When rogue Gypsy boy Freedom Smith runs into trouble with the law, he strikes a deal with the police: Instead of going to prison for a crime he didn't commit, he'll go undercover -- and underground -- using his incredible strength and boxing skills to infiltrate an evil, high-tech fight club known as The Bear Pit. His mission: to save other street kids from the drug-manipulated death matches the Pit has in store for them. Freedom thinks he can trust his new friend Java Sparrow with his secret life. If only he knew that this high-spirited, upper-class girl has a secret of her own....
I'm not entirely sure where this book came from. I found it in my book pile, flipped through it, decided it would either be some kind of Fight Club rip-off or a toned down version of said Fight Club meant to bring the wonder of violence and gore to younger audiences. Either way, I was bored.
Freedom--or "Fred" for short--is a fifteen year old gypsy with a talent for kicking ass. Right off the bat you know your reading about a weird sonuvabitch, as he's hanging from a cathedral drainpipe and hiding from a policewomen hanging missing posters on the street below, talking about how he wasn't doing anything bad, just climbing on the roof to eat some chili (it would look bad, see, 'cause he's a gypsy boy and police just hate gypsy boys.) As he waits for the police folk to leave, he gives us a little glimpse into his gypsy life: the families are so tight-knit you couldn't run away if you wanted to, kids leave school at eleven to learn a trade, etc etc etc. (The boy on the poster is Johnny Sparrow, the only son of the Sparowski Sparrows, who ran away from boarding school and was last seen living near a park.)
Freedom's super-human strength and speed is thanks to his triple-great-grandady, Hercules Smith. A nearly unstoppable fighter who took the underground fairground booths by storm one hundred and fifty years ago, it was widley believed he possessed a mutant gene that he passed on to his sons, which they passed on to their sons, all using the "reptile brain" (fancy terms for survival instinct.)
Freedom returns to the trailer he shares with his sister's family to find a group of skinheads had spray-painted "burn the pikeys" on the side. We get to see Freedom's affection for his nieces, the "close-knit"ness he referred to earlier, and his uncontrollable urge to fight whenever provoked. And so, despite his siter's warnings, he waits for the skinheads to return that night. Obviously, some shit goes down and Freedom ends up with an attempted murder charge and a peculiar offer: infiltrate an underground fight club, and he doesn't go to jail. For the sake of the plot, he accepts.
Is it just me, or do debut novelists often find themselves getting a bit caught up in the prose? There's so much slang and family history shoved at you (in the first chapter, no less!) I was this close to throwing this thing aside and watching Mad Men. Luckily, I never not-finish books.
If there is only one good thing about Fight Game, it is unique. To the best of my knowledge, very few YA authors have written about such an uncompromising, strange and often vicious main character, or the gypsy lifestyle. While the writing and pace has it's flaws, there is no doubt that Fight Game is an interesting look at the type of setting readers often shirk away from. It is dark, but not in the way Twilight or all that other vampire nonsense is. It's dark purely because it's not fucking around, not hiding behind angsty pretty-boys with a secret. It goes right out there and tells you what type of book it's gonna be, whether you like it or not, which you gotta respect at least a bit, right?
Fight Game is, no doubt, intended for the action readers of the world. Every chapter is jammed with one fight or another (pulled off with a helluva lot more grace then, say, a Mr. James Patterson?) and there never is a truly dull moment. Everything is told through Freedom's biting first person narrative, his gypsy 101 insights as well as his faint but haunting flashbacks that weave together into one brilliant "a-ha!" moment.
And, while K. Wild has written a gritty, fascinating protrayel of fighter/gypsy life, mixing in a fair dose of science fiction, I can't help but feel like she has fallen into a pit many authors before her have been victim to; Cliche Villain.
Now, I have a feeling this will be a reaccuring issue in this series (it strikes me as very episodic), but...come on. A little depth to the villain will not make him any less villain-y. It, if anything, will make him much more terrifying. In Fight Game, the Bad Guy is the owner of this underground "hundred year" fight, and he is, of course
I'm not saying the guy has to have blatant daddy issues or anything. All he is in the text is a really old guy who likes watching young men punch at each other till they bleed. I want to know why, damnit. No one is evil without a reason.
Rating: 7 out of 10--intriguing, action-packed, with writing that can only improve.
Also: Apparently there's a sequel of some sort...?