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Arena Paperback – May 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

There are disappointingly few good SF novels for the Christian market, and Hancock's intense debut is an excellent though edgy contribution to the genre. Callie Hayes is a frustrated artist with a colorless life; she earns minimum wage raising rats for laboratory use. When she volunteers for a seemingly harmless psychology experiment, she's unexpectedly thrown into a frightening and alien world. The narrative is a loose allegory of the Christian life: provided with a "field manual" (the Bible), Callie must navigate the "Arena" to return home. She hooks up with Pierce Andrews, and together with a ragtag group, they battle the mutant "Trogs," who delight in raping, torturing and devouring their victims. However, Elhanu (Christ) soon appears in disguise to help. Some CBA readers may be disturbed by the novel's many rapes and attempted rapes, as well as its occasional stomach-turning descriptions (e.g., human bones with the marrow sucked out). Hancock's characters struggle believably with sexual feelings and passion, something that's often handled poorly or ignored in CBA fiction. Characters are multidimensional, although one borders on caricature (SF 's typical buxom, long-legged, weapon-brandishing blonde), and the sporadic Scripture verses seem out of place. To her credit, Hancock admirably dashes most of the reader's preconceptions about the plot as the story progresses through a series of twists, turns and well-paced developments. If this book is any indication, the future should be bright for this promising novelist.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Callie Hayes grudgingly agrees to participate in a psychology study as moral support for a friend. However, frightened by the examiners' secrecy and evasiveness (one vanishes before her eyes), she tries to escape but finds herself cast into the Arena, a testing ground for participants of the study. Armed with only a guidebook and minimal supplies, she is soon forced to trust the enigmatic Pierce, a man who claims to have spent the past five years in the Arena. As Callie journeys toward the Gate, supposedly her ticket out, she learns more about the mysterious Benefactor conducting the test and uses her developing faith in him to find the way home. However, this path is laid with false trails, traps, and false messiahs eager to destroy Callie and the friends she makes along the way. Hancock's first novel is an allegorical blend of fantasy and sf depicting the tests a soul faces that strengthen or destroy belief in God. Hints of the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max surface, along with the sense of climbing through the wardrobe into C.S. Lewis's allegorical Narnia. A classic in the making for the modern era, with appeal for fans of Lewis and Kathy Tyers ("Firebird Trilogy"), this is required for all collections.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bethany House Publishers; Reprint edition (May 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0764226312
  • ISBN-13: 978-0764226311
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #581,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Andy Rector on April 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
My friend Phyllis encouraged me to read "Arena." I had been disappointed with Christian speculative fiction in the past. "This Present Darkness" is a great read, but it's hard to get to know the characters. I had gotten tired of the "Left Behind" series. Since Phyllis had read several books I raved about, I figured I owed her. So I picked up "Arena" expecting a hokey Christian novel.
Surprise. This book was a blast to read. Hancock created characters I cared about. "Arena" has an excellent balance of romance, action, and suspense. The author paced the story in such a way that I couldn't wait to discover what happened to the characters. By the end of the first chapter the protagonist is already in deep trouble.
A few times I wondered "where did that come from?" (like the armor of the characters, for example). I may have just missed some things since I read the book quickly. It didn't mess up the story, however. Sometime in the future, I will have to reread "Arena," and see if I just skimmed over some of these introductions too quickly.
Hancock's "Arena" reminds me of something Connie Willis would write. To be honest, with all the action and fighting in this novel, any thirteen-year-old aethist science-fiction geek would devour "Arena" with relish. The allegory to a Christian lifestyle is there, but not over done.
I would love to see this book turned into a movie or mini-series on the sci-fi channel. People would probably enjoy it as much as "The Matrix" and, trust me, the ending is much better.
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Karen Hancock truly hits the daily double with Arena, her first novel. Not only is it a fantastic story of exciting science fiction, it is also a powerful allegory for the Christian experience. I would urge prospective readers not to dismiss this book out of hand just because of its spiritual dimension, however - Arena tells a wonderful, exciting, and gripping story that any lover of good fantasy will greatly enjoy. The novel's allegorical depth is rich and complex, but it is by no means overpowering. You needn't fear that Karen Hancock will be pushing Christianity down your throat. You don't even have to judge the main character's incredible growth in a Christian sense; it's certainly there, but you can enjoy this story for its own sake and still take a seed of something very powerful away from it.

The book's protagonist, Callie, is a young woman in her mid-twenties who has yet to find her place in life. She has a low-paying job but yearns to be a painter, and her family is all in the business of trying to find her a man. She is trapped, frustrated, and floundering. In need of money, she accompanies her friend to a psychology experiment promising to help her get more out of life. Unable to back out at the last minute, she finds herself transported to the Arena, a whole world that cannot yet does exist - the mother of all obstacle courses. About all she has to guide her is a suggestion to stay on the white road and a manual, most of which is gibberish to her. She gets off to a bad start, quickly discovering just how dangerous a place the Arena can be.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A. Weaver on November 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
I loved this book. I hardly ever read fiction because I sometimes feel furthering my relationsihp with God is not going to happen by reading fictional stories. However, Arena has changed my mind! This book has made me see how much I was holding back from God, and gave me a big reality check. I came away from this book desiring deeper intimacy with God. I think it was the relationship that Callie had with Elhanue, and the way Hancock portrayed him as a friend and constant companion that made me see how I have been ignoring it.
I am a Christian, and quite a strong one, but it has been awhile since I have been unsatisfied with the level of intimacy I have with God.
I also thought the love story between Callie and Pierce was captivating. It was so well-written, and I love the fact that Callie only started to become attracted to Pierce after she got to know him. So many novels start with love at first sight. Their romance actually caught me by surprise (okay not entirely, but it was not obvious at the beginning that they would fall in love). I also thought Hancock did a great job of showing that Callie and Pierce struggled with passion and attraction to each other. People aren't perfect, even born-again spirit-filled Christians. I thought it made them seem human, and I was able to relate to them!
All I have to say is, this book has changed me and the way I see God. I highly recommend it!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Louis N. Gruber VINE VOICE on January 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
Callie Hayes is still at loose ends after graduating college, and doesn't have a serious relationship or any good prospects. Encouraged by her friend Meg she signs up as a volunteer for a "psychological experiment," and finds herself transported to a harsh alien world to carry out her assignment. Unfortunately she didn't pay much attention during the orientation and quickly finds herself lost, over-whelmed and in mortal danger.
The story quickly progresses as Callie struggles to survive and somehow get back home. In the course of her struggles she faces the limits of her own intellect, learns how much of her own effort is futile, and begins to understand faith in a much deeper way. And learns how to maintain contact with, well, God. And meets Pierce who is at first arrogant and obnoxious, but... well, you'll just have to read it. It's quite exciting and it will keep you turning pages.
Yes, it's an allegorical story about a Christian's spiritual journey; you can also read it as a plain old whiz-bang adventure story. It works either way.
Author Karen Hancock makes it clear from the beginning that this is a Christian book dedicated to Jesus Christ. For the most part she handles her material deftly and without preaching, but there are times when the theology becomes just a bit heavy-handed. And there are times when she offers too much explanation for all the strange happenings, rather than just showing the reader. Sometimes there is too much blood and gore, too much danger, too many impossible situations, but--hey! I still kept on reading, and so will you. This is not a perfect book, but a good one and an uplifting one as well. I recommend it. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber
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