Hello Humans! Thanks for stopping by for today’s review of Brittney Morris’ Slay. This book promised to be a “Black Panther-inspired novel about virtual reality, safe spaces and celebrating your identity” which sounded fabulous to me!
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?
Obvious disclaimer here: I’m a white lady who can in no way comment with any authority on this book which has been written with teenagers of colour in mind. Seek out own voices reviews if you can because they will have captured a much more nuanced view than I could ever hope to.
Overall, I think this book is probably one of the better video game focussed books to have hit the market since the success of Ready Player One (I hate RP1 but that’s by the by). This book is intersectional in a way that other books just haven’t been, choosing to centre a black, female experience instead of a cis white male experience – basically I am HERE for this concept it made me incredibly happy.
This book hooked me with the mystery aspect of the story, working out who it was targetting Kiera kept me reading even when other things frustrated me (I’ll get into that below). In addition to that storyline, this book tackles huge concepts and encompasses massive debates all while still (for the most part) feeling true to the experience of a marginalised teenage girl.
The thrilling parts of this book, the danger, the online battles, the high action aspects are all great, but there are also softer moments that fill out this story into something so much more than just another video game book. Kiera navigates a somewhat abusive relationship, difficulties in friendships, sibling relationships, long-distance friendship. Those ‘human’ moments are, in my opinion, what makes this book exceptional.
Now I have to mention the parts that I was not so keen on. To be totally fair, I have, perhaps, a bit more insider knowledge into video game technology than some readers might – my wife is currently an AI programmer in a small game studio and the parts of this book where it tried to delve into the code and the running of such a huge enterprise just didn’t feel entirely believable to me. I didn’t get a sense of how and when Kiera had learned to code so well, beyond a couple of vague anecdotes. Knowing how much it takes to make a game I was just finding it a little hard to suspend disbelief here and it was frustrating me!
The only other thing that annoyed me was that this book tends to tell rather than show – which I know is often a personal preference thing, I felt like this book was explaining a lot to me in quite a stilted way, that might not bother you but it cut into my immersion just a tad.
Overall, I thought this book was great, and a great thing to have published and available for young girls interested in getting into STEM and video game programming. I think teenage me would have loved the plot and this book certainly gives food for thought as to the value of safe spaces in a digital age.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Slay is available now!
What say you? Is Slay on your radar? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!