I was hooked the minute I read about Brittney Morris's debut novel Slay. A story about a teenage developer of an online role playing game, the murder of one of their players and infiltration by a troll? It sounded fascinating and I signed right up. The book couldn't have come at a better time too, for I was struggling to get into anything after reading Kathleen Glasgow's How to Make Friends With the Dark and Slay drew me in and entertained me from the very first page.
Slay is the name of the game that seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson has developed and it boasts over 500,000 users. It is a virtual reality game that is part-card-game, part-combat that celebrates Black excellence, history and culture. The game is admittedly slightly US-centric but focuses on aspects non-American Black culture too.
A central theme in Slay is the experience of blackness and how this differs between individuals. There are many diverse opinions in the book and the book highlights that although society likes to tell Black people how to act and what the correct experience of blackness is, it is up to each individual to define their future and to live in an authentic way. This is an incredibly strong message to be going out to young readers.
The events in Slay centre around the murder of a young player in a dispute over the game's currency. A media storm ensues, with the normal talking heads seeking the game's creator, declaring the game racist and calling for legal action.
It provides the perfect storm in which an online troll can flourish. This troll threatens the entire Slay community and puts everything Kiera has worked so hard for at risk. Can she protect her virtual world?
I thoroughly enjoyed Slay and was quite happy to have been drawn into such an engaging story. I enjoyed the tournaments and matches in the book, the descriptions of the Slay gameplay and the detail behind each of the cards. I also loved the celebration of what it is to be Black and the exploration of how different that experience is for people across the globe.
My primary criticism of the book would be that the game and developer side of the story needs a reality check. Slay is a complex virtual-reality MMORPG, has over half a million users, is run for free on six university servers, has two mods and depends on donations or cheap purchases of backgrounds and images for the various parts of the game. The logistics of running a game of this calibre would be astounding if you imagine that local Facebook groups require far more than two mods or they descend into chaos or that 6,000 employees at my company require more than six servers to do our work. It just doesn't add up and it's unlikely that a teenager managed this without considerable capital input.
In my mind, I got around this by suspending disbelief and taking Kiera at her word that there are virtual-reality kits that make this sort of stuff simple for tech-savvy teens.
I also thought the resolution of the events in the novel were a little too easy and fell too comfortably into the skill set of those who triumphed.
Despite these reservations, I enjoyed Slay a lot and give it an excellent four out of five stars. I cannot wait to see what Brittney Morris delivers next and hope that she doesn't make us wait too long.
Slay is published by Hodder Children's Books and will be released on 3 October 2019 in the UK (affiliate link, I will make a very small commission if you purchase using this link).
I received an electronic copy of this book from Netgalley. In my search for superior young adult fiction, I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.