Monday, 26 September 2011

review: Girl in the Arena

by Lise Haines
Bloomsbury, 2009
dystopian, ish?...

Summary: I just have to use the paperback's here, it's that good:
The fans all went wild. So did the paparazzi. But her father wound up dead, killed in the arena on one of the biggest fight nights of the year. And by gladiator rules, Lyn is forced to marry her father's killer. Unless she fights him herself...

Dudes. Isn't that the most killer summary? Short, succinct, and it incorporates a section of the poster advertising the fight. Wicked awesome copywriting. *applauds*

The cover:

Yet another just-right cover! Everything from the poster to her left and the shield to her right to the model's dowry bracelet and the sandels with the gladiator straps to her pose -- looking like she's got too much to bear, yet knowing she's got to face this much more. Love it.

The book:

My first thought upon spying dialogue was Hey! It's just like French! which means that instead of quotation marks, there are em dashes at the start of each spoken line. Kind of like Blood Red Road, but easier to tell apart thought and speech.

The premise here sounds a bit like The Hunger Games, but the world most definitely isn't; it's basically our world right now, with gladiator fighting. (In fact, I'm not sure you can call it futuristic.) There's also a distinct lack of fighting, especially when compared to THG; instead, Lise Haines concentrates on relationships and the planning and plotting to take up residence in between the two monumental fights.

The integration of Roman and Greek history is a pleasant and well-done surprise. Contrast the cultural background with the life of the rich and famous that Lyn and her family go through, and you get a rich reading experience. Haines may lose some readers with description after description of the paparazzi as the plot meanders somewhat, even with sparse, informative flashbacks.

Lyn is the kind of protagonist I wish existed outside of books with life-threatening situations. Hardy, level-headed and plain smart, she earns our respect by rolling with the punches and overcoming troubles and tragedies without ever appearing cold-hearted. The mentally ill brother and best friend good with computers are both cliché, but they serve to highlight Lyn's character.

If you can hang on to the end (and I sincerely suggest you do), the author delivers an emotionally resonant finish that stays in tone with the rest of the novel, something not to be underrated. Girl in the Arena is an entrance into a world that could've been ours, and is all the more powerful because of that possibility.

Rating: 3.7 out of 5