Skip to content

Slay by Brittney Morris #BookReview

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?

Slay by Brittney Morris book cover

Title: Slay | Author: Brittney Morris | Publisher: Simon Pulse | Pub. Date: 24 Sept 2019 | Pages: 323 | ISBN: 9781534445420 | Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Triggers: Racism | Rating: 5 out of 5 | Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Page break indicator for Sci-Fi & Scary

Slay Review

The promotional material for ‘Slay’ describes itself as “Black Panther meets Ready Player One”. That’s a statement that is superficially true, but also misleading. What’s worse is that it sells the book short. I don’t know if it’s quite as good as MCU’s ‘Black Panther’, but it’s certainly better than ‘Ready Player One’.  It has what that book, for all its thrills and nostalgic fun, lacked: a heart and a purpose.

I’ll confess I started it not expecting too much, partly because of that promotional tagline, which suggests a novel that is like other things rather than a piece of art in its own right. My expectations were low because of my own personal prejudices. You see, the book is marketed as Young Adult, that weird modern literary classification that tells you little more about the book other than the fact that it has a teen protagonist and the publishers aren’t sure it is good enough for adults. In this case that’s a crying shame as ‘Slay’ is truly excellent.

It tells the story of an African American teenager, Kiera, who has secretly created an online virtual reality game that celebrates black culture and is exclusively available to black players. So, ‘Ready Player One’ meets ‘Black Panther’, only not at all really. Much of the book is actually about family and romantic relationships, and the challenges of growing up black in a white world. It reminded me much more of Angie Thomas’s ‘The Hate U Give’ than it did either of the other two works. In fact, it’s arguable whether it’s science fiction at all, as it takes place in the present day and all of the technology on it is currently available.

The book covers the themes you’d expect it to from the premise and manages to do them all justice. Identity, racism, the struggle for fair representation, the need for safe spaces. All get a discussed in a way that is never overblown or patronising. There aren’t necessarily easy answers to some of the questions it raises, but there is throughout a heartfelt passion that is impossible not to connect with.

The book works as well as it does because the author’s message is strong but told through believable characters and a gripping plot. The story itself is relatively simple, but Brittney Morris packs in enough twists and (virtual) action into it to make it extremely compelling. Kiera is a great character and the examination of both black and gaming culture is insightful. I read ‘Slay’ it in a couple of days and finished it feeling thoroughly entertained, moved and more informed than I was before I started it. I can’t think of higher praise for a book.  

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads (Buying direct from retailers is a good way to support indie authors); however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Published inScience Fiction Book ReviewsStarred Reviews
©Sci-Fi & Scary 2019
%d bloggers like this: