Manhattan, NYC (aka The City That Never Sleeps) is home to Emika Chen, a rainbow-haired teenager who is having one bad day. After almost being struck down by a motorist, she comes home to find a 72-hour eviction notice embarrassingly left on her door. On top of that, there’s no food in the cabinet (aside from spam), her bank account has a grand total of $13, and the passing of her father is still fresh on her mind. While most teenagers are busy planning for college and dreaming of the future, Emika is scraping by in life as a bounty hunter; which unfortunately is not proving to be profitable thanks to a corrupt police system.
Life sucks, but there’s always the world of Warcross to make the unbearable just a little easier. Developed ten years ago by boy genius Hideo Tanaka, this MMO is more than just a game, it’s where people from around the globe go to escape their reality and partake in the world’s largest competition. As the years passed, Warcross went from being just a game to a way of life where its alternate world intertwines into real-life. It dictates and influences economics and societal interactions in the real world.
Warcross is also where hundreds of people compete in the biggest international game that pits hundreds of teams against each other in hopes of winning a multimillion dollar prize. In a world filled with great prizes, comes great crimes. In the hopes of making 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 she is instead called by 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 is whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. Soon, her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire. Emika’s relentless hunt leads her into a world of intrigue, mysterious mayhem, and a secret that will not only shock the world, but forever change the life of those directly involved.
To read Marie Lu’s Warcross is to understand the meaning of love. As a former art designer for the video game industry, Lu is able to create elaborate, authentic worlds that transport readers into the complex world of the dark web, computer hacking, advanced technology, and cyberpunk that’s hard to pull away from. Within the 368 pages, Lu effortlessly blends Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft and Overwatch, and Tron to create a massive gaming world that is unlike any ever seen.
Emika’s world is filled with heartache and regret that bleeds through its pages. Corrupt police and a broken justice system makes it hard for anyone trying to make an honest living. Unfortunately for Emika, her criminal past makes it almost impossible to survive. Lu’s talent for writing shines through as she creates a world of despair and overcrowded impoverishment that suffocates anyone’s growth or hope for change. This is why the world of Warcross is desperately needed and why its obsession is easy to believe. Warcross represents hope, equality, and opportunity. Similar to losing yourself in your favorite game and pretending your life is fabulous on social media, people create the best version of themselves that awards them a system of points where they can continue to build a new reality and world for themselves.
This is also the game’s downfall. By allowing people to be the best version of themselves, they can also become the most sinister and corrupt versions of themselves. Because of that, hacking, bribery and even death are a common occurrence. Hideo, who has lived a sheltered life after creating Warcross, has accumulated many enemies who are after his wealth and his game. This causes crippling effects for this escapist society. Fortunately, he has Emika who is able to navigate this futuristic computer world like a pro.
As the story progresses, we are introduced to an array of sympathetic and racially diverse characters with engaging backstories, unforgettable personalities, and to my surprise, physical handicaps such as Emika’s team leader who partakes in heavy physical combat despite being in a wheelchair. There are also parts where the book relies heavily on team building, exploration throughout several virtual environments, and battle sequences that spring to life under Lu’s rich writing; which make each sequence more enjoyable than the last.
Similar to an action movie, Lu holds your attention as complicated fight scenes and quick thinking actions unfold between Emika and other competing teams. Despite being a YA (Young Adults) book, Lu presents very complex storylines about abuse, death, abandonment, and life struggles. A satisfying twist aides in making Emika a three-dimensional character with an unstoppable conviction to right certain injustices.
However, Warcross is not perfect. While the book’s main plots are rich in story, Lu tosses together a romance subplot with jarring consequences that could confuse a reader. There were moments when I just wanted the scenes to end so I could get back to the main story. Fortunately, the romance storyline doesn’t overpower the narrative.
Unfolding like a heist movie, Warcross was an enjoyable read that could easily be completed in one sitting. A love letter to gamers, Warcross is the unexpected book of the season.
*This review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.’*