ARC Review: SLAY by Brittney Morris // An Enjoyable, Beautiful Book Celebrating Blackness

Hello I’m still screaming that I was lucky enough to read this book!!!

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have gotten an ARC of one of my most anticipated releases for the last half of the year. (And talking to the publicist was one of the highlights of my year, because she’s genuinely the kindest soul ever.)

I can safely and HAPPILY say that I was not disappointed by this book in the least! And I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts with you today and hopefully convince you to pick it up when it releases next month!

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SLAY

Brittney Morris  ||  September 24, 2019

★★★★☆

Slay

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?

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This did not affect my opinions in any way. All quotes are from an advance copy and may differ in final publication.

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SLAY is a book that I think should be in everyone’s hands. It’s such an important read, and I think it’ll be an eye-opening experience for many, while Black people will find comfort in this story so openly celebratory of Blackness.

The book follows high school student Kiera, who developed the game SLAY in an effort to carve out a space for Black gamers, after having to deal with the racism prevalent in the gaming world. With half a million users, it’s a community for and of Black gamers coming together to honor and be proud of their identities.

But when a gamer is killed as a result of a conflict in relation to the game, SLAY is plastered all over the news and called “racist” and “discriminatory”. Kiera is forced to deal with the consequences, all the while trying to hide her identity as the game moderator Emerald and fighting a troll in the SLAY game.

berry 2  “If black gamers want their own space online away from the eyes of the majority, let them have it. Y’all have Mummy and Legacy of Planets. Do you need to have everything?”

I had so much fun reading SLAY: It was a thoroughly entertaining, engaging book, and once I started reading, I didn’t want to put it down. Kiera’s voice is so easy to read and relate to, and that made it an all the more immersive experience. It’s a mostly character-driven book, but still has enough excitement to keep you on your toes.

Kiera is a really strong main character, and not just strong as in well-written, but also as a person in general. Her strength as a Black woman is so admirable, and I love the way she isn’t afraid to stand her ground. And I love the little things that make up her personality too: her joking and playful side, her beautiful love for people, and of course her passion for gaming.

I also was pleasantly surprised to see the sibling relationship in this book! I had no idea about it going in, and it was so relatable to me. The way that Kiera and her sister Steph fought at times, and how Kiera felt an overwhelming love for Steph at other times—I loved it all so much and it feels like the perfect sister-sister dynamic.

The side characters in this book were also interesting! I think the most prominent ones were Steph, and Kiera’s fellow game moderator Cicada. While the book did talk about these characters and others, it was mostly focused on Kiera and I do wish it had expanded a bit upon other characters.

And SLAY, the game itself? It’s so!! cool!!! I’m not much of a video game person, but SLAY sounded so good. And I really loved that so much of Black culture was weaved into the game—the cards that you use to duel are all based on important Black things. (And it’s going to make for an AMAZING movie!)

example of the cards, see more here!

I think SLAY is much more of a character-driven book, which I don’t mind and actually love. The plot meanders a bit sometimes, but it means that we get to see more of Kiera as she grows and learns how to navigate in this world where her and others’ Blackness are unaccepted.

But even though it’s not super action-packed, there is a really good plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all (though I do suck at guessing plot twists), and I LOVED it. And because of that twist, and everything leading up to it, the end of the book gets a little bit more exciting action-wise, which I really enjoyed and think others will too!

My only complaints with this book were just small things that had to do with the writing. There are a few other POVs sprinkled in, and I would’ve liked it had it not been literally only one chapter in that character’s perspective and with no further expansion. Also, a very very minor thing, but some of the paragraphs in this took up more than a page and that took me out of the story sometimes, since it was so long.

I also do feel like the pacing was just a tiny bit off, in multiple places. The way certain events were wrapped up or resolved felt too quick and rushed at times, almost enough that it felt a bit unrealistic. However, my enjoyment of the book wasn’t affected a lot by these things, which I’m glad for!

berry 2  If we in the black community are thriving, surviving, learning, and living our best lives, we are all in the talented tenth.

Overall, though, SLAY is so powerful, and empowering as well. The author artfully tackles issues that Black people face currently, and discuss topics that most people don’t care to listen to. I feel like there will be some people who find it annoying and “too preachy” or whatever, but I found it to be important, considering the fact that these things aren’t usually allowed in narratives.

Even further, it’s just… a beautiful, beautiful book. It’s hard to read at times, because you get justifiably angry at the injustices that Kiera and other Black people have to go through. But seeing the pride that she holds over being able to create a safe space for her people and to cultivate a community of Black gamers who are unapologetic in showing pride in their Blackness? It’s gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

I fully recommend this book, for its poignancy and importance, its enjoyable story, and its strong characters. I can’t wait to see more people fall in love with the book and the game, and I think it’s a story everyone should read and remember.

:: rep :: Black female MC, multiple Black side characters

:: content warnings :: abusive relationship (not physical), racism, video game violence, death (off-page)


shall we chat

is SLAY on your TBR? do you play video games? what books with important themes and messages have you read lately? and isn’t this cover stunning??

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26 thoughts on “ARC Review: SLAY by Brittney Morris // An Enjoyable, Beautiful Book Celebrating Blackness

  1. I’ve heard so many things about this book and genuinely cannot wait to read it. I didn’t receive an ARC but I’ve got this baby on Pre-Order.. less than a month to go! I’m so glad that you enjoyed it :D Great review!

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  2. Fantastic review, May! I am now convinced I need to read this – the sister dynamic definitely sold it to me, I love that kind of stuff in books. And I was hoping that this would be exactly the kind of book you said it is, so I am really excited to hopefully get to it sometime in the near future!

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  3. SLAY is not on my TBR, not because I don’t think I’ll enjoy it, it just doesn’t seem to like capture my attention too much (idk) also im tryna be picky with what i add to my tbr now? but the cover is GORGEOUS!!! and i haven’t been reading lately OOPS>

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  4. I had been seeing a lot of buzz for this one, and I honestly couldn’t remember too much about what it was about before reading your review, May! This one honestly sounds like a really engaging story, and I’m so glad that Kiera was a strong character, and that the story and game were highly entertaining! <3

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  5. Omgg, this book sounds so good!! I had been seeing people talking about it for a while, but I wasn’t really sure what it was about. I love character-driven books! I also do play the *occasional* video game, though I tend to play more puzzle platform games. I’m not very good at the first-person shooter games. I die. A lot. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was SO good, Chana!! And usually contemporaries are pretty character-driven, but I wasn’t expecting it with this one, probably because of the video game aspect haha. But oh god, I’m DEFINITELY not a gamer — I wish I was because gaming sounds so cool, but I would literally die in like 5 seconds 😭😭

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  6. What a great review, and I am so glad you enjoyed SLAY! Honestly this wasn’t on my radar as something I would be interest in because I am not a big contemporary reader, but this sounds like such an important and beautiful read – and as a gamer I am extra enticed!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, this sounds amazing! I’ve been seeing it around, but yours is the first review I’ve read, and Slay looks like something I’d love. It seems like an utterly enjoyable AND important book, which is awesome. Also, I love that there was a surprising twist in it as well, and that Kiera is a strong MC, and that the sister-sister dynamics were great. I don’t have siblings, but (maybe because of that?) I love to read about siblings in books. Fantastic review, May!

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