Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery
Emika Chen is down to her last dime on the cold streets of an overcrowded, futuristic New York City. She’s a bounty hunter when she can get the work, but without another success, she’s liable to find herself kicked to the curb with almost nothing to her name but a box of memories and a pair of hacked Warcross glasses.
Warcross. The game played by pretty much every person on the planet, accessed through a pair of special lenses that create a digital overlay on the dreary real world. The eighth annual tournament is coming up, and Emika, like everyone else, tunes in to watch the first sample match. She’s hoping she can use one of her hacks to save herself from doom. The last thing she expects, then, is to glitch and appear in the game.
Now the creater of Warcrosshimself, Hideo Tanaka, is blowing up her inbox with an offer she can’t refuse. But with everything on the line, will Emika be able to shake off the sinister feeling that something just isn’t adding up? Or will she be brought down by an enemy tougher than any other bounty she’s ever faced?
Oh my dear, sweet lord.
I sort of just want my review to be, “Go read this book now. You should’ve read it yesterday. Book. Read. Now.” However, I also know that such a review would be pointless, since it isn’t exactly giving you any reason to go read it besides my say-so, and opinions are like butts. Logically, I need to give you an explanation as to why it should immediately jump to the front of your book-queue and given to middle- and high-school students everywhere.
Warcross is a gorgeous book. The world Lu creates is simultaneously as gritty as the best Cain noir and as vibrant as a blockbuster kid-flick. She manages these contrasting worlds with ease, never hesitating to take the reader where she wants them to go. The world of Warcross is familiar to anyone who has played around with augmented reality games on their phones or tablets, but Lu bends the rules to create settings that take that concept light years further. It reminded me of reading Asimov’s visions of the future circa 1950: a world both familiar but still glowing with possibility.
That’s not where I can stop my comparisons. The plot is like a best-of compilation, pulling everything I loved from The Hunger Games and Ready Player One. We have the down-on-her-luck-but-plucky heroine (who, being the star of a YA novel, has her battles and romance, too) living in a universe where video games are king. References galore pepper the early pages; I’m not even ashamed to admit that I put the book down and squealed like a child seeing Final Fantasy mentioned (and I knew exactly what advertisement Lu was referring to, too. Again, not ashamed). There are in-jokes for anyone nerdy, geeky, or pop-culturally-invested enough to find them. It was like Lu had invented her own NeuroLink to peer into my brain and pick out everything I wanted to see in a novel, then actually went and wrote it.
The best part is, the main character isn’t a stereotype! Sure, some of the romance bits seem like self-insert fanfic, but I’m willing to overlook that because the whole thing is a fantasy anyway…and, even if it weren’t, she’s genuinely flawed. Emika Chen isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. She makes a lot of mistakes when working with her teammates, and she also isn’t the greatest player. She can’t just instinctively or instantaneously answer all the questions or fix all the problems. She struggles and fails, then gets back up to try again. She’s not some world-weary, unattractive-but-somehow-desirable-to-everyone-with-or-without-a-pulse teenage girl. There are no strained love triangles here, unlike in other recent teen-lit phenomenons. She doesn’t just stumble from conflict to conflict like a clumsy bear dancing to an author’s tune. Emika is just a young woman who has been hired to do a job and gets more than she bargained for.
That was one of the parts of the book I liked the best: throughout it, Emika has agency. Even at the beginning, when she’s desperately in debt and struggling to work, she chooses what jobs she takes as a bounty hunter. She chose to become a bounty hunter to begin with. She’s spent time learning how to do what she does, both in terms of hunting and hacking. She chooses to work for Hideo. She chooses her strategies in the game. She chooses to take risks going into the Dark World. We don’t have a protagonist who’s thrust along a path, driven by forces beyond her control; instead, Emika makes her own decisions based on her own logic and heart. Trust me, it’s refreshing.
Honestly, the way the whole book is written, the only thing that disappointed me is the ending…or lack thereof. Lu is leaving it open for a sequel, and I hate not being able to read the next book until sometime next year at the earliest. I want to spend more time in Lu’s world! I want an actual video game for Warcross! No, actually, y’know what’d be even better than that? I can see Netflix optioning this for an animated series, or a Japanese company grabbing it and making an actual anime. I would watch it so many times, and the book is practically begging for an adaptation. Anime would be the perfect medium for it, actually: the majority of the story takes place in Tokyo, the game worlds would be incredible to see on the screen, and the Japanese almost always do an amazing job of balancing mind-blowing action sequences with quiet, introspective moments. I can picture the full series in my head, and it’s gorgeous.
But no, seriously. Read Warcross. It’s worth it.
In the words of Mary Poppins, “Practically perfect in every way.”
- Students who love games, anime, and/or nerdy/geeky culture
- Students who love science fiction and/or mysteries
- Fans of virtually any other high-octane teen series currently available
- Alcohol Use: some underage drinking
- Bullying: some characters try to bully and intimidate others
- Death: character death is a plot point
- Deceit: characters trick one another and withhold important truths
- Lying: characters lie throughout
- Murder: characters plot and attempt to murder other characters
- Other Illegal Activity: illegal gambling; hacking; exposing and sharing private data
- Theft: characters steal from others
- Violence: characters engage in virtual combat and some physical, real-world violence
- Weapon Use: in-game weaponry; occasional mention and use of weapons in the real world
- Change vs. Tradition
- Good vs. Evil
- Overcoming Adversity
- Romantic Love
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