Warcross (Warcross #1)
By: Marie Lu
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Son’s Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 12th, 2017
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.
Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.
The first I heard about Warcross was last year, at an event Marie Lu attended at Quail Ridge Books. She mentioned a book about bounty hunters and a video game which crossed the boundary between virtual and real life. But frankly, her short description didn’t quite do Warcross justice. It’s part a Hunger Games-esque scenario, with high stakes and a ticking clock within a sportive virtual world. It’s part a look at virtual reality, with Warcross seeming almost like an early version of Legend’s Antarctica (or similar almost to Pokemon Go), and the consequences thereof. But mostly, it’s an action-packed ride that’s fun on the surface and thoughtful underneath.
The story starts out immediately engaging. Emika Chen comes forcefully onto the scene as the scrappy underdog, the one who’s had a LONG run of bad luck, is down to her last dollar, but is still fighting for a chance. She escapes by diving into Warcross, the interactive gaming software that everyone uses (some, like her roommate, to the point of avoiding real life). But her luck abruptly changes when her attempt to hack the Warcross Championships puts her on the worldwide stage in a big way. Soon, she’s on a private jet to Tokyo, on her way to meet the enigmatic founder of Warcross, Hideo Tanaka. And, before she knows it, she’s a part of the Warcross Championships, working undercover to find a hacker who will do anything to disrupt the game.
The book is fun, colorful and extravagant. Emika Chen has rainbow hair and a tattoo sleeve. The addition of Warcross into real life means that everything is technicolor, with people and architecture embellished by various virtual flourishes. I LOVED the description of Tokyo as a place that’s colorful already, but that really bursts to life when Emika uses her Warcross glasses. The world that Emika inhabits as a competitor is also wild, with all of the extravagance that we associate with famous athletes. She comes back after being chosen to already find a walk-in closet of designer clothes tailored to her size, courtesy of various sponsors. But I also like how, within this wild virtual world, the homely details are given prominence.
The competitive event of Warcross is also extravagantly action-packed. I enjoyed the creation of this sport that is somehow cerebral, brutal, and with that extravagant virtual touch that the rest of the book has. The sportiveness evolves throughout the book, and we slowly gain more understanding of it (I was grateful for not being totally bombarded with this all at once). But, speaking as someone whose ex was fairly obsessed with virtual sports, Warcross also fits what I know of how virtual games currently work.
And, as befitting a Marie Lu book, the romance was sizzling. It was set up early enough that it felt almost natural–Emika’s early fascination with Hideo was a solid sign that something was going to happen. But I also liked their interactions, how Emika worked to draw Hideo out of his shell. And when she did, the chemistry was electric–but their interactions were also filled with gentler moments, like when Hideo introduced her to his family and cooked them all dinner *sigh*. But then the book ended on a tense note, romantically and otherwise, which was a subtler yet more devastating variation of Marie Lu’s usual painful cliffhangers.
And, although the climax of the book was dramatic and action-packed, the conclusion was devastating–Emika learning that the side she’d been fighting for the entire time may not have been the right side, and getting into some serious ethical questions regarding technology. Although, granted, these had been a low undercurrent throughout the book, before they were spelled out at the end. But the book ended ambiguously, without a clear understanding of who had won or who the good guys were, without even a clear understanding of which side Emika was on. And frankly, this made me want the next book even more than Marie Lu’s usual cliffhangers do. ASAP PLEASE.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.