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 can’t say I’m the target audience for this book, but that didn’t keep me from wanting to dive in and play Slay.
I was immediately intrigued by a high school girl developing such a popular game and keeping it a secret from everyone she knows. And the game! A safe place where players don’t have to hide and can enjoy the freedom to be who they truly are. Such creative imagery – the characters in the game, the dueling cards, the world within Slay – I can see how this would transfer easily to the big screen.
Something else I enjoyed are the relationships between Kiera, her sister, Steph and their parents, and Kiera’s friendship with Cicada – all loving, humorous, and very relatable. Her relationship with Harper is a tad strained at times, even though they’ve been friends since they were children. Having read The Hate U Give, there are parallels between Starr and Kiera in the way they felt they could never truly be themselves around their white friends.
When the troll infiltrated the game, I was so ready for him to get what he deserved. The buildup is tense, infuriating, and completely offensive – and then there’s a twist and the situation is dealt with in just a few pages. I felt a little cheated, like the payoff wasn’t big enough.
Even if you’re not a gamer, Slayer is an exciting, suspenseful read with some powerful and timely messages.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.