Recently Read: Arena by Karen Hancock

An amazing novel by Karen Hancock, Arena is like an allegory, a virtual reality adventure, and an exercise in dramatic suspense all rolled up into one.

What amazes me most is this novel was not written in first person. I suppose I might stereotype female writers as always wanting to write in first person to maximize on the emotional aspect of the story. Karen Hancock easily and skillfully breaks my mental construct. She may have sacrificed her majority audience by not writing Arena diary-style, but the novel is presented intelligently and with such expert writing style, it would not have been as great if written in first person. Who wouldn’t rather have a superior quality novel than a popular one?

One consequence of the chosen point of view is the novel Arena hits the moments of tension with extreme accuracy. There’s a functional element of suspense in the writing, which is fun for the reader because the reader actually cares about what happens next.

The main character, Callie Hayes, appears to have gotten herself into a virtual world. It’s real enough she can’t easily escape. There are dangers at every turn, not the least of which are the other participants in the same virtual game. There are wild animals and treacherous landscapes. She is challenged to make choices all along the way. Some choices are good, others bad, many unclear—until later. Her challenges are multiplied when she meets others who want to help her, especially a rough and rugged man named Pierce.

I particularly enjoyed that Callie Hayes is not one of those characters you read about making one stupid mistake after another. She makes good choices at times, bad choices other times, and is still affected by the rotten choices of those around her.

There’s beautiful balance in Karen Hancock’s characterizations. Not all heroes are infallible, not all enemies are incurable. Friends turn on each other and then turn back. Much like life.

Like any good writer, Miss Hancock is a student of life, an observer of people, and a documenter of them all.

  1. Drawing Power  *

The writing style has such flow, the reader is easily drawn into the story and pulled along through to the end.

  1. Interesting  *

There is accuracy in the tense moments. There is great detail in the scenery, the dialog, the situations, and the props. Enough in all to make you want to keep reading.

  1. Offensive factor  *

Non-offensive, yet real enough for any calloused reader.

  1. Range of emotion 1/2 *

Within Arena there are a wide variety of emotions described. I think some of them, describing the way female emotions work, are lost on this man. Still, the emotions I felt while reading coincided at least half the time with what the writer was trying to convey.

  1. Character factor  *

Excellent characterization. Top scores for Karen Hancock creating real characters, believable characters.

  1. Technic  *

Karen’s style is pleasant. Her flow is smooth, plotting is without excess or obstacles, and she has the ability to get the right details in the narrative to make the reader care.

  1. Proper length  *

Just right. No word padding in this one.

Grand total: Arena by Karen Hancock is a * * * * * * 1/2 * 6 and 1/2 * star novel.

Published by Kurt Gailey

This is where I'm supposed to brag about how I've written seven novels, twelve screenplays, thousands of short stories, four self-help books, and one children's early-reader, but I'd rather stay humble. You can find out about things I've written or follow my barchive (web archive, aka 'blog) at or follow me on twitter @kurt_gailey. I love sports and music and books, so if you're an athlete or in a band or you're a writer, give me a follow and I'll most likely follow you back. I've even been known to promote other people's projects.

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