ARC Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

review         book

Book Covertitle: Warcross
author: Marie Lu
pages: 416
format: Paperback ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4.5/5 (from hated to loved) or 8/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, The Matrix, old school Nintendo, and other glitzy cyberpunk media with a dark edge.
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.

in depth

  • This is going to be a review of gushing, hyperbole, and adjectives. As someone who loves video games, diverse stories, and sci-fi (but who is always desperately in search of more sci-fi books), I knew Warcross was going to be a winner. I wasn't disappointed. Like the author, inside a shiny superfun rainbow package is a deviously clever core. With a vibrant main character (not least because of her hair), a dazzling neon cyber-world with a sinister underbelly, a steamy romance, and a breakneck plot, Warcross rockets you through breathtaking rollercoaster loops and smacks you with an ending shock that leaves you clawing for more. 

  • Lu has a rare command of both characters and world, with some exceptions. Our MC, Emika, is a snarky Chinese computer whiz whose personality leaps off the page as vividly as her rainbow-colored hair. She's as fierce as Katniss, with a similar edge. Hideo is a Japanese genius playboy worthy of Bruce Wayne's mantle. They spark against each other like flint, their relationship intense and complicated. Unfortunately, the secondary characters don't burn as brightly. I loved Tremaine, the snarky bad-boy hacker and Emika's rival, but Emika's teammates were a little too subdued for people who played such important roles. 

  • Even if the main characters had been cardboard, the world was enough to draw me in. Lu crafts an atmosphere with the punch and lightning of old school Nintendo on acid. With precise, evocative descriptions, she renders a futuristic cyber technicolor Wonderland that I'd die to play in. It's a world where virtual reality is layered over physical reality, where you get points for going to the grocery store, where you can slip into fantasy playgrounds with the touch of a button. She gives enough detail about the platform, Neurolink, to seem scientifically plausible, without going into so much detail that the science begins to break down. 

  • On this stage, Lu takes the intersection between life and video games to its logical conclusion. The battle game Warcross is something that I could easily see being a real game; Lu's game designer roots are obvious in its intricacy. I was just as enthralled by the descriptions of Warcross battles in the grand tournament as I was with the underlying mystery: who's the hacker Zero and why does he want to take down Warcross? Lu also plays around with the dark side of technology, including an extra-sinister Dark Web that's actually a 3D black market. And the final's too much of a spoiler to say, but it elevates Warcross from fun cyber adventure to dark cyberpunk thriller with one punch. 

  • I won't say Warcross is a perfect book. The side characters get kind of shafted, and the central romance moves a little fast. However, the main characters and the world itself are so intensely vivid that you almost have to squint from the strobelight. I rode Warcross's wave on a rave-like high and crossed the final page with vicious book hangover. It left me with so many questions and theories, so much anticipation. I can't wait to jump back into Lu's technicolor Tokyo and follow Emika as she contends with the dark side of virtual reality. 

            in a sentence

            Warcross is a vibrant science-fiction thriller that riffs on video game technology to spin a cyberpunk mystery adventure that will leave you reeling. 


            will i read this author again?  Yes! This really makes me want to go and read Legend 
            will i continue the series?  If I had the sequel in my hands, I'd have already finished it. Twice. 

            Note: I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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