Fight Game

Fight Game

Author: Kate Wild

Publication: Chicken House – Scholastic – 2007

Pages: 279

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                        

Rating for Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Freedom Smith is a gypsy, and the great-great-great grandson of Hercules Smith, a champion of the bare knuckle boxing circuit.  Freedom has inherited Hercules’ strength and speed as well as his reptile brain – an instinct based survival mode he flips into whenever danger is near.  All this natural fighting talent has gotten Freedom into a fair bit of trouble over the years, especially since there are always so many people ready to threaten Freedom and his gypsy family.

When a group of skinheads try to burn Freedom and his family out of their trailer Freedom fights back, but it goes too far and one of the boys gets run over by a bus.  Everyone thinks Freedom pushed him, including the cops.  They’re all set to arrest him for attempted murder when Wren, who works for a highly secretive division of the police, steps in.  He’ll get all the charges dropped if Freedom agrees to work for him.  Wren wants him to investigate an underground fight club – the longest running fight in the world as he describes it.  They’ve already lost one undercover agent to the job, but Freedom’s different – he’s a kid, a natural fighter, and a gypsy with no real record of ever having been born.  He doesn’t exist.  Plus, the man who runs the fight – Darcus Knight – already knows who Freedom is.  He wants Freedom so much he won’t ask too many questions.

Freedom agrees, but right away he starts breaking the rules, doing things his own way – gypsy style.  And once he meets Darcus he finds himself tempted to leave Wren behind all together.  The draw of the money, the fight, is trying to pull him in.  Will he survive?  Will he keep his humanity or will he be drawn into the world of the fight and lost forever?

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Great first chapter.  We learn a lot about Freedom Smith and where the book is going in the space of a few pages without any of it feeling forced or overly dense.  I also like Freedom’s character, the way he speaks his mind and how Wild lets us know everything he’s thinking.  Darcus Knight, the villain, looks like pure evil.  Wild’s description of him is fantastically chilling.

I love all the descriptions of gypsy life that are slipped unobtrusively into the text, and I like how Wild has given Freedom a young niece, Whitney Jade, that he’s clearly very attached too.  Despite what he does for the police, it would be easy for a tough, natural born fighter with an ingrained distrust of authority to come off as a bully and a thug.  Having Freedom look after Whitney –and later a boy named Ant that he finds living among the fighters – makes him far more human and easy to like.

I really enjoyed Freedom’s daring rooftop runs and his tendency to climb the highest building he can, his need for regular adrenaline rushes.  It pumps up the book whenever that happens, and it’s cool to think of someone who spends most of their time traveling by rooftop.

The whole book has a very cool vibe, and Darcus’s underground lair is wonderfully imagined, full of ruined waterlogged tunnels half covered in moss and vines.  It’s a world of darkness and smoke with uncertainty and danger around every bend.

What I Liked the Least: Wild has painted Freedom as a fighting machine with sinews of steels, reflexes like grease lightening, and a reptile brain that can go into pure survival mode.  This sets a pretty high level of expectation for what Freedom is capable of.  It’s only heightened by the fact that an underground fight promoter and an ultra-secret police squad have both been keeping tabs on him, taking secret blood samples, and hoping to recruit him.  All of that, combined with the fact that he’s being sent to investigate an underground fight club, places a lot of importance on the fights themselves.

If Freedom is a superhuman fighter and the fight club is at the center of the story, then that really means that Freedom’s fights are at the center of the story.  But most of the fights themselves are fairly ho-hum.  Wild summarizes a lot of the action instead of giving blow-by-blows.  That might be fine for some books where the fights aren’t so central to the plot, but it doesn’t work here.  Everyone says Freedom’s an incredible fighter – he does, Darcus Knight does, the police squad that recruits him does, even other fighters do – but as readers we have nothing concrete to go on because, except for the last fight, they’re all painted in such broad strokes that it’s hard to say how good Freedom really is.

This is a minor point, but Freedom uses the word ‘Jeez’ far too often.  It felt like Wild wanted to slip a lot of profanity into the text but was afraid to use it, and latched onto ‘Jeez’ instead.  Once in a while is fine, but Wild uses it so often that it starts to feel forced – as if like Freedom would ever go around saying things like ‘Jeez’ and ‘Sweet Mercy’ all the time.

How Good was the Action?  Outside of the fight scenes it’s actually quite good, especially once Freedom makes his way into Darcus Knight’s underground fight complex.  Freedom races through the dark, watery tunnels, gets caught by Darcus’ thugs, has the one really good fight in the book against a mutated giant named Leon, and then there’s a police raid, explosions, and a struggle in the sewers.  But even before Freedom goes down there, there’s still some good action as he races across rooftops around the city.  While Wild’s fight scenes may have been a major letdown, overall the action doesn’t disappoint.

How Engaging was the Story? Freedom Smith is a fun, lively character and a Wild does a good job with his internal dialogue.  She’s also created a number of other very memorable and unique characters in the form of Darcus Knight, Java Sparrow – a runaway who teams up with Freedom to find her brother – Ant, and Wren.    Beyond that, the world of the fight – with all its dank and twisty corridors, fighters in leather, and a group of hyped-up teens called the Jackals – is really like a character in and of itself.  It’s all enough to draw us in and keep the story popping along.

Overall Assessment: This is a fun, highly imaginative book.  While the fight scenes were generally a disappointment – given how central they were to the book’s plot – the action in general is quite good and the characters are vivid and unique.

Profanity: None – well almost.  Wild does make very occasional use of the “H” word, but for the most part seems to replace her potential profanities with words like ‘Jeez’ and ‘Sweet Mercy’

Sex: None.

Violence: There’s a fair bit of implied violence, but relatively little actual violence.  We see plenty of people with bruises who have clearly been beaten up, but we generally don’t see it happen.  In the cases where Freedom gets beaten up, Wild is summarizing the action so we don’t feel it happening.

The world of the fight is obviously a violent place, and that comes into the novel to some extent, but not too overtly.  Freedom gets a bloody nose in one fight, in another he has to fight a boy who’s injured and they do their best to fake it.  In the climax fight he has to take on a monster of a man who threatens Java and Ant.  Freedom does get hurt here, but nothing bloody.  At one point he receives a grazing gunshot wound – the only one in the story.

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