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by Karen Hancock
Published by Bethany House Publishers, 2002
Amazon.com: paperback
Amazon.ca: paperback
Amazon.co.uk: paperback
Christianbook.com: paperback
Highly recommended by: Shannon McNear

Book Rating
Rated 3 (Highly Recommended) by: 5 people
Rated 2 (Recommended) by: nobody
Rated 1 (Suggested) by: 2 people
Rated 0 (Reviewed) by: nobody
Total Votes: 7 people
Average Rating: 2.43 (Recommended)
Score: 1.70 (Recommended)

"A journey she did not choose will test her courage and change her life forever."

Callie Hayes thinks she's participating in a mere psychological test – a mere "obstacle course" – what she finds is a parallel world where she's expected to travel through hostile lands, through very real danger and deception, until she finds the Gateway from this new world back to her own. Will she die on the journey, and be returned to her old life with no memory of her time in the Arena, or will she make it all the way through to whatever reward awaits her on the other side?

Arena is a brilliant allegorical science fiction yarn – emphasis on the brilliant, with rich worldbuilding and characterization. People have been saying for years that CBA fiction needs to be grittier – more realism when dealing with hard issues – this book has it. The author is never afraid to look at the difficulties of the Christian life: personal inadequacies, the believer's struggle with the old sin nature, demonic influence, doubts about the Word. She also wrestles with questions that plague unbelievers: how do we know who to listen to, and what constitutes Truth?

The difficult elements are handled well, though some have expressed concern about the elements of torture and rape. The romantic subplot is sweetly done, and the story has a beautifully satisfying ending. Even on my second read, I turned the last page still wanting more, wishing I didn't have to say farewell to the characters.

This book well merited the Christy Award it won for allegory in 2003. (October 14, 2005)


Other Comments:

Well, it has finally happened. A year and a half after being bought by Bethany House Publishers, my science fiction allegory Arena has finally shipped and will soon be arriving on the shelves of your local bookstore, if it isn't there already.

For those of you who don't already know, it's the story of Callie Hayes, a disillusioned, acrophobic young woman who signs up for a psychology experiment that promises to turn her life around, then chickens out when the researchers become increasingly evasive about what she will have to do. She asks to be excused, but they refuse her request and instead they drop her into a world-sized "arena" and an on-going battle between good and evil. With limited resources and only a few cryptic words to guide her, she must unravel the mysteries enshrouding her only route of escape or be trapped there for the rest of her life.

It's an adventure, a quest and a love story all in one. And though it is allegorical, it was always my intent that the integrity of plot and character never be compromised for the sake of making a point. I wanted readers to be able to enjoy it whether they got any of the allegory or not.

Whether I've succeeded is something to be determined by individual readers, but I've just had word that Publisher's Weekly gave it a positive review. I've not seen the review myself, yet, but a friend (who called it "glowing") quoted me the first line: "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." She said their forecast is that "non-CBA booksellers should be able to hand-sell this one to SF readers who avoid Christian Fiction as a rule."

Well that certainly made my day!

If you want to know more about ARENA, I invite you to check it out at www.bethanyhouse.com or visit my own website. If you do decide to give it a try, I'd love to hear what you think of it. – Karen Hancock


Arena is one of the best sci-fi books I've ever read. It is strongly allegorical, and the parallels to Christ, the spirit world, and everyday troubles are striking and powerful. The main character gets pulled into an arena to help prove a point. But she makes matters worse for herself at first by not listening to the instructions. I want to say more, but I'm afraid I'll ruin the surprises.

There is some "sci-fi violence" that some people might not be able to stomach, but anyone well acquainted with sci-fi in general will have no problem with it. The story takes several fairly depressing turns, but just like the old saying about sunrise, these are followed by joyous moments and events. It is a wonderful read!

Karen Hancock is a master writer, and I very, very highly recommend this book! – Jamie Beck (December, 2005)


I picked up this book because Melanie Duncan, the editor of The Bookdragon Review, recommended it to me very highly. That just goes to show that there are different strokes for different folks.

Callie Hayes, the protagonist, is talked into being a subject for a psychology experiment by her best friend. Suddenly, she finds herself alone in another world, inhabited by strange and dangerous creatures. To get home, she needs to find the exit. Most readers will find pretty obvious parallels to such classic works of allegory as Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. The difference is that, where Bunyan allowed his allegory to override such considerations as plot and characterisation, Hancock focuses on the story, so that, while some allegorical allusions are obvious, other elements of the story have no obvious Biblical parallel, and might, in fact, be seen to contradict the Bible if certain comparisons are pushed farther than the story warrants. All told, if you choose to ignore the allegorical elements, the story still works as science fiction, or perhaps urban fantasy.

However, a good number of readers will find this work hard to swallow, not because of the allegory, nor even because of the setting, but because of the romance elements. At one point, Callie is kissed by another character:

She felt as if she'd exploded into a thousand pieces of light that whirled up and up into the vast cloud-scudded sky. When he drew away, she was spellbound with wonder. His eyes travelled over her face, his fingers caressing the contours of her lips and again pressing back the dancing tendrils of hair. She touched the grizzle on his jaw, the brown curl by his ear, then drew him to her, drinking him in, shivering with feelings she'd never dreamed she had.

Those women who read and enjoy romance novels will probably enjoy this book, but most men, and not a few women, will read passages such as this one and cry out, "Oh, come on! Why spoil a perfectly good story with this rubbish?" It's an unbridgeable chasm: you either go for romance or you don't, and how you feel about romance will determine your reaction to this book. Personally, my hands feel slimy just from typing that much of a quote for you. – Greg Slade


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