To her family and friends, Kiera Johnson is popular, a good big sister, an honors student, talented at math and likely to attend historically black Spelman College after she graduates from predominantly white Jefferson Academy, where she too often feels singled out as the “voice of Blackness.” But unbeknownst to everyone in her real life, Kiera is also Emerald, the developer of SLAY, one of the hottest new virtual reality role-playing games.
Tired of playing video games in which the only characters of color are villains or dwarves, and weary of encountering racial slurs hurled at her by other players’ avatars, Kiera developed SLAY to create a place where black gamers could play safely online. In the world of her game, black culture is not only respected but is actually the source of players’ power.
But when a black teenager is shot to death over a SLAY-related dispute, Kiera begins to question everything, from the possibility of her own culpability in the player’s murder to whether, as one particularly insidious online troll suggests, the game’s Afrocentric focus and referrals-only membership system discriminate against gamers who are not black.
Debut novelist Brittney Morris admirably melds Kiera’s real-life and online worlds in Slay while illustrating the diversity of experiences and philosophies within the black community. Morris intersperses vignettes that explore the varied experiences of black gamers around the world and what SLAY means to them amid detailed depictions of online gameplay and Kiera’s rapidly escalating real-world crises.
Readers will cheer for Kiera as she slays her own demons, and they’ll come away from the novel desperately wishing SLAY were more than the product of Morris’ imagination.