Series: Warcross #1
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on September 12th 2017
Genres: Science-Fiction, Young Adult
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.
Once again, I don’t get it.
I don’t know if it’s because I am currently fully burned out of YA or if Marie Lu just does not connect with me, but I truly do not understand the hype around Warcross. This novel is the epitome of ‘amazing premise, bad execution’. I was looking for a Japanese version of Ready Player One, and indeed the two novels are quite similar in plot, but Warcross didn’t even come close to Ready Player One in suspense, thrill or character development.
The book centres around Emika Chen, a young hacker and bounty hunter in NYC. As an orphan, she is struggling to make ends meet and dedicates her time to catching Warcross criminals. Warcross is a fully-immersive virtual reality combat game created by young billionaire, Hideo Tanaka, and the championships are watched by everyone around the world. When Emika accidentally hacks herself into the game she gets offered an undercover job as a player and spy in the game.
The premise may not be the most original but that doesn’t matter because it works. Competitions are one of my absolute favourite tropes in books (see Ready Player One, The Hunger Games, Wolf by Wolf, The Scorpio Races etc.) and so I found it surprising I didn’t like this book more. I should have loved it.
This book has a large cast of characters, most of which are players in the Warcross games. Unfortunately, none of them except for our main character Emika and possibly Hideo, were well-fleshed-out. Besides those two, I wouldn’t be able to tell you more than one or two things about any of the side characters; they were simply plot devices to push the story forward and felt more like props than actual people.
I liked Emika well enough – I didn’t find her as frustrating as many other female characters in YA books recently – however, there was also nothing about her character that stood out me or I found particularly memorable. I loved the fact she was Chinese-American and a hacker (more female characters in the IT field please!) but the way Marie Lu wrote her really dumbed her down which I did not appreciate. Instead of giving the reader specifics about how Emika worked with the book’s technology, the author used generic phrases like “she hacked into x”, “she hacked into y” which didn’t bring Emika’s skills to justice. I don’t expect writers to bog down a story with unnecessary details, however, a few well-placed specifics would have proven very effective in this case. Also, the over-emphasis on Emika’s rainbow-coloured hair was SO annoying. Emika couldn’t simply brush back her hair, she had to brush back her rainbow hair. As much as I love the fact that we have a female character with a non-natural hair colour, mentioning it on every other page is going overboard.
Then we have Hideo who I found to be so bland it was almost comical. He was uninteresting (especially considering the fact that he had such potential!) and I felt absolutely nothing for him. He was supposed to be a child prodigy, the cleverest of the clever, but I didn’t see any of that. Instead, he was another super handsome, rich, well-dressed YA love interest that wasn’t well-developed enough.
Most reviewers have described the plot of Warcross as being fast-paced and engaging and though I can see why people would have felt that way, it didn’t have the same effect on me. It was certainly action-packed and I didn’t find myself bored (most of the time), but the novel was too formulaic. The highs and lows, climaxes and troughs of the story were predictable and I saw the plot twists coming from miles away. Once I put the book down I didn’t feel a draw to pick it back up. Also, some of the explanations behind what happens in the novel were iffy at best.
The romantic subplot was extremely robotic and unbelievable. It felt very instantaneous considering Emika had had a crush on Hideo for a long time before she met him and I never really understood what Hideo saw in Emika. Also, I found the power imbalance between them slightly problematic considering Emika has been infatuated with him the way many young girls are infatuated with celebrities and he literally is her employer. The romance seemed to be based on physical attraction and not much else.
Surprisingly, I don’t have much to say about the worldbuilding. It was neither good nor bad, the virtual realities were quite evocative at times which was great but the whole concept behind the game and how it worked lacked depth and explanation. I had to suspend my disbelief frequently and wish Marie Lu would have spent a bit more time fleshing out the world.
One of the things that I think make Marie Lu a popular author is that her writing style is very cinematic and thus her books make for fast reads. However, she does a lot of telling vs showing and her writing lacks nuance. Also, she used the line “I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding” not once, not twice, but three times and even if the use has now become almost ironic, it still took me out of the story.
This was really the high-point of the book for me. We have POC, disability and minor LGBT representation. Emika is Chinese-American, Hideo is Japanese, Roshan and Tremaine (two players in the Warcross games) are gay and the captain of Emika’s Warcross team is in a wheelchair. Also, Emika’s dad had a non-traditional occupation and defied male stereotypes which was amazing to see.
Overall, I am very happy about the representation in the book and found Warcross to be entertaining, however, the story, world and characters were underdeveloped and the writing mediocre.