By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”
But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”
Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review but this did not affect my opinion at all.
This book was not on my radar at all until it turned up at my door. Once I read the blurb though, I knew that I really wanted to read it because it sounded like a perfect mix of The Hate U Give and Warcross which are two of my favourite books. Overall, I really loved this book. I read the whole thing in basically one sitting because I found it that gripping.
Kiera was such a great main character to follow. I loved how she was a strong and confident woman but she also struggled with what equality truly meant, especially since she was faced with different opinions from her sister and her boyfriend. I loved getting to see that inner turmoil that she went through to figure out her own opinion on everything. I also loved how she was so confident in her own ability to do everything.
On top of Kiera, a lot of the other characters were fascinating too. This book showed a lot of different opinions and thoughts through the eyes of different characters which I found interesting. My particular favourites include Cicada, who I wish we saw more of, and Steph. I especially adored the sibling bond between Kiera and Steph because it seemed very realistic as they argued a lot but they still loved each other and they were constantly there for one another.
Obviously, one of the best things about this book is the discussion about being black in this world. I found this story to be really unique as whilst a lot of books about black protagonists are amazing, they usually follow the Black American perspective but I liked how this book showed us what it’s like to be black in different parts of the world. I loved seeing how different things represent the black culture depending on the country you live in and how these translate into cards in the game.
One thing that did throw me about this book was the random POVs there were thrown in. I understand why the author added them but it made no sense most of the time and I would find it incredibly confusing to follow when we got one random chapter from Cicada’s point of view after 5 from Kiera’s. I wish we either had no extra POVs or more of them so that it didn’t feel quite so disjointed.
I also got slightly confused by the game itself. Maybe it’s because I’ve never played a game like this before, but the rules of the card game made no sense to me and I just didn’t get it. I also found it slightly unbelievable that Kiera created and maintains a game this big with over 500,000 users, without anyone knowing. It just seemed odd to me. There were quite a few implausible moments to me (for example, Cicada and Kiera don’t know each other’s names even though they have each other on WhatsApp which to me doesn’t make sense) but they were minor issues that I had. I think this book could have done with a lot of development, and could have even been expanded into a duology.
Another let down to me was the ending. I found the climax to be anti-climatic after the big twist and I wish we had learned more about what happened after Kiera discovered the truth.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I think there were a lot of elements that could be improved on but overall, it was a solid debut novel. I highly recommend this book, especially to fans of The Hate U Give and Warcross.