Series: Warcross #1
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons BFYR on September 12, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Sci-fi
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
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.
Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality
Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Emika is Chinese, Hideo is Japanese, Hammie is Latinx, Roshan is Indian)
Disability: 3 (Asher is paralyzed from the chest down; another disabled player is mentioned for all of once scene)
Intersectionality: 2 (Emika is living in poverty)
Marie Lu’s series starters have a funny thing with me. Legend was underwhelming, but I liked its series as a whole. The Young Elites had some fatal flaws, but its sequel The Rose Society is literally my next read. Needless to say I didn’t know what to expect from Warcross. Now I can say it’s Lu’s strongest novel yet, but it’s got some significant flaws too.
Emika Chen, a Warcross bounty hunter with a dead dad and a mom who left to move on to richer men, is broke, in need of rent money, and good at hacking. Her attempt to snatch a valuable power-up from a player in the all-star opening game of the Warcross championships gets her glitched into the game for the world to see instead. That’s how she ends up a hot topic across the globe with a $10 million job from the Warcross creator himself, Hideo Tanaka. Emika’s desperation to live comfortably rather than surviving on nothing is palpable and her character development is fantastic. A girl who has been on her own since she was eleven or twelve has to actually work with other people and let them in. Though such territory is familiar, it’s no less interesting or affecting for it.
Her love interest Hideo (whom I kept visualizing as Hideo Kojima because there’s only room for one gaming giant named Hideo) is similarly well-written. He presents himself to the world as a very serious, quiet twenty-one-year-old man, Emika’s peek into his Neurolink-recorded memories reveal an angry, pained man who keeps the sad reason for Neurolink and Warcross’s creation close to him. If you prefer your sci-fi with only light romance, Warcross and its prominent romantic subplot may not be for you.
Sadly, only Emika and Hideo get solid characterization. Supporting characters like Emika’s teammates Asher, Roshan, and Hammie exist more in the way of facts about them, like Asher being paralyzed from the waist down and Hammie and Roshan being Latinx and Indian, respectively. The games of Warcross themselves bored me, though they’ll translate well into visuals if a movie gets made. The pacing is uneven, moving the story along slowly at some points and lightning-fast at others. Emika’s two trips to the Dark World, the VR equivalent to the deep web/dark web, stand out as high points, as does the book’s ending.
And maybe it’s just me, but I’m really disappointed this rainbow-drenched book has no queer characters? The cover is rainbow and Emika’s rainbow-dyed hair is regularly mentioned, but we get no QUILTBAG rep whatsoever. QUEER PEOPLE OWN THE RAINBOW NOW, IT’S JUST A FACT. That’s why you find all-inclusive queer orgies at the end of rainbows now instead of pots of gold. (I know it’s implied Roshan and opposing team player Tremaine were once in a relationship, but I only deal in explicit, on-the-page-using-the-words representation, not implications and subtext.)
The fact remains that Marie Lu’s books are always fun despite their flaws. Warcross, in a nutshell, is an entertaining sci-fi adventure with a strong romantic subplot and a dystopic twist right at the end. She’s got me on the hook for another of her series and I don’t mind that one bit! An excellent book to pass some time with.