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Warcross by Marie Lu

BOTTOM LINE: I haven’t been this excited about a new series in a LONG time.

Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction; Action & Adventure
Publication Date: 12 September 2017
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“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 Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. 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.”

My Thoughts: The hype is real, folks. Warcross really is as good as its rabid publicity campaign makes it out to be. The story is fantastic. Our heroine, Emika, kicks ass. The world-building is excellent, with a Ready Player One vibe that is exciting and fresh. It is as engaging a story as you will ever read and worth every second spent reading. The only problem is that it is over too soon, and you are left waiting for the next book.

In Emika, Ms. Lu creates a character behind whom girls of all ages can rally and from whom they can take inspiration. She is fiercely independent, capable, and hard-working. She does what she has to do to survive but maintains a code of ethics while doing so. Plus, she is brilliant and is not afraid to show it. She knows what her strengths are and plays to them through her work as a bounty hunter. Lastly, do I have to mention the fact that she is a hacker/coder? It is as if Ms. Lu took every single frustrating behavior and habit women tend to adopt in order to survive in a male-dominated society and used that to create the perfect female role model, for that is what Emika is.

Don’t get me wrong. Emika is not perfect. She admits to flouting the law at times (see the glitch that drew international fame to her doorstep), and in spite of her efforts, she is barely surviving. She is quick to judge, quick to jump to conclusions, and inclined to work hard by herself rather than work smart with the help of others. Yet, the fact that she is not perfect only enhances her attraction as a role model as she reminds us to take the good with the bad, that life is not a fairy tale, and that all the hard work in the world may not mean easy living. What she does tell us is that it is only when we give up do we lose.

As fabulous as Emika is, with her mad gaming skills and eager bravado, it is the game of Warcross itself that makes the book come alive. The story takes place just far enough in the future to accommodate the newer VR technology which makes playing Warcross believable, but it remains current enough in everything else to create a world in which all readers will feel comfortable. Moreover, Ms. Lu excels at capturing not just the feel of the Warcross Championships but also the games themselves. Her descriptions make it easy to understand exactly what is happening at any given time, no matter how chaotic the scene. She provides a great example of effective scene building that allows readers to be right alongside Emika during the action.

The only disappointment I felt with Warcross is that I was able to predict the big secret well in advance, but I suspect that Ms. Lu made it an obvious choice for a reason. After all, once you understand and know all of the key players in the drama, it changes the dynamic of the group as well as the individual characters’ motivations. Such is the case here. In fact, the dynamic changes in such a way that the idea of bad and good gets turned on its head with no easy answers. Ultimately, Emika must decide for herself which side she wants to take and her reasons for doing so.

Warcross is an impressive story with plenty of girl power to attract even the most jaded of feminists. There is a slight romance story included alongside the action, but it does not detract from the overarching mystery or general adrenaline rush of the story. And what an adrenaline rush it is! Warcross is one of those novels you read quickly the first time because you cannot wait to know what happens but then go back and read it again more slowly to pick up all of the nuggets of insight or just writerly goodness Ms. Lu leaves for you. Plus, reading it multiple times is about the only way to make the wait for the second book more palatable.

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