book review: warcross

Warcross by Marie Lu
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 368 pp.
Published September 12, 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.

Having never read one of Lu's novels before, I nursed a cautious optimism about this introduction to a new series. Filled with action, intrigue, and just the perfect sprinkling of will-they-or-won't-they romance, Warcross fulfilled all the expectations that another recent virtual reality read failed to meet. As the titular game, and the larger VR built up around it, Warcross exists as a natural extension of the technology we've become accustomed to today. It enhances and simplifies a user's life, in exchange for increasing access to their personal data and habits. What started as a futuristic landscape for a simple mystery—find and apprehend whoever intends to disrupt that year's championship—evolves into a nuanced examination of the increasing tension between privacy and convenience.

This conflict unfolds through the eyes of Emika, the teenage hacker and bounty hunter inserted into the championship games as a spy. Although Emika feels passionately about Warcross—the loss of her father and a hand-to-mouth existence souring reality—she isn't anti-social. Deeply empathetic, a wariness of her fellow competitors doesn't preclude her from forming bonds in and out of the virtual environment. Also, while Emika has a tragic backstory it never balloons into a defining character trait; it does inform and feed her sympathetic tendencies, but she is so much more than an orphan. I particularly loved how her skills with programming affirm a girl's place in technological industries. It's a small thing, but the idea of young readers identifying with or admiring a female character with Emika's skills is encouraging.

Emika builds her strongest connection with Hideo, the mysterious creator of Warcross...and her adolescent crush. They share an incredible chemistry that percolates through the story; Hideo's past unfolds at a similar pace, further entangling him in the overarching mystery as he grows closer to Emika. When his own childhood struggles emerge it adds another layer of authenticity to a relationship that could have easily skewed creepy. I don't often get invested in fictional relationships anymore (too much heartbreak!) but I'm really rooting for Hideo and Emika in the end.

The rest of Emika's teammates on the Phoenix Riders represent a diversity of nationality, race, and sexuality. Asher, the Riders' captain, uses a wheelchair. Just as with Emika, though, these markers of diversity don't comprise the only trait for each supporting character. Each team member gets his or her chance to shine and faces the promise of a greater role in future sequels.

Lu's prose delivers these wonderful characters and the fascinating world they inhabit with engrossing precision. When discovering a new author I often worry most about their writing style: no matter how intriguing the plot, if I don't enjoy their style it can spoil the entire book. Considering the level of hype I'd heard for Lu, Warcross readily lived up to expectations. I may have to wait until September to read the sequel, but luckily there are plenty more Lu novels to devour while I wait!


No comments:

Post a Comment