New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu has done it again. Capturing the hearts and minds of all her faithful (and new!) readers, Warcross is the first novel in a brand-new series that is sure to become a household name. If you didn’t already know how fabulous an author Lu is, or if you’ve never had the extreme pleasure of reading one of her other series (Legend or The Young Elites), you no longer have an excuse. Warcross will draw you in right off the bat—the tagline, the cover art (swoon!), the back-cover summary, and the opening sentence—all are mere teasers to the true magic within the covers.
In a society dominated by technology, virtual reality has become the primary staple in everyday life—if you’re not hooked in, you’re not truly involved with the world. Rainbow-haired Emika Chen is only one of many active participants in the VR world. Eighteen years old and living in New York City, Emika is a bounty hunter struggling to get through the day-to-day and stay afloat. And at the end of the day, nothing beats popping on her Neurolink glasses and connecting to the VR world and Warcross. A game developed by Neurolink creator and billionaire Hideo Tanaka, Warcross was originally designed to be a demonstration of the possibilities inherent to the Neurolink glasses, and to show just how cool virtual reality can be. Warcross unexpectedly exploded on the scene as the hottest new competition, with millions of viewers, gamblers, and participants interacting with each other through the game.
Game! Set! Fight!
Desperate to find a way to scrounge up enough money to pay off her debts, Emika takes a chance on the World Championship game of Warcross—by hacking into it. But before she knows what is happening, she accidentally glitches herself into the game. Horrified and embarrassed, Emika immediately disconnects from the Neurolink, only to be faced with an endless stream of phone calls and text messages—from the Henka Games headquarters. And when Hideo Tanaka himself offers Emika the chance to work for him in Tokyo and investigate a security threat, there is no way she is saying no.
Going from having just $13 in her pocket and over $6000 in debt, Emika suddenly finds herself amidst a world of glitz, glamour, and wealth—a far cry from the dingy studio she shared with her roommate, eating boxed noodles every night. But it’s not all fun and games as she finds herself tunneling deeper into the rabbit hole. Determined to find answers, Emika lands herself in the Darkweb, searching for clues among the Darkcross games—the secret, unofficial Warcross games frequented by gamblers and those looking for a no-holds-barred fight. And as Emika unravels more answers, she finds herself in the middle of something bigger than she ever anticipated—one that threatens every person in this virtual world.
Everyone has a price. Name yours.
While virtual reality is by no means a new concept, Marie Lu has won me over with her VR interpretation in Warcross and the intricate world she has built around it. I thoroughly enjoyed Lu’s incorporation of her own experience in the gaming world as a Flash artist with Disney Interactive Studios, and her appreciation of the gaming industry as a whole. The descriptions and definitions used for Emika’s hacking skills are beautifully done—just enough to give us a sense of realism, without overwhelming us with tech-speak.
In a world filled with strong, feminine heroic characters in many of the best-selling novels available today, Lu took that concept and ran with it. Bridging the gender gap in not just hero stories, but also within the technical and gaming world, Emika is my kind of girl. She’s Badass with a capital B—teaching herself how to code and learning the inner workings of program development is no small feat. And then she takes that to the next level and uses her skills to hack into the world’s largest and most publicized gaming event. This is a stunning representation of the powers of coding and hacking—both the positive sides and the potentially dangerous sides. There are too few powerful females in the tech industry—whether that's on the CEO level or the software engineer level—and while efforts are being made to shift the trend and highlight women in technology, Lu has pushed that concept subtly, yet effectively, and I applaud her for it.
It took my best engineers a week to do what you just did. – Hideo
Then maybe you need better engineers. - Emika
Emika isn’t the only stand out character in Warcross. True to form, Lu has created a group of characters that are as diverse as they are numerous. It always astounds me when authors incorporate several primary characters in a story while maintaining their individual development and uniqueness. The talent behind such an effort is beyond me, and I love seeing how each new character adds to the story with their own personalities. Hideo is delightfully dark and intense, with an element of vulnerability that is unexpected and heartwarming. With so many different teams in the Warcross championships, Lu has successfully hyped up the team rivalries and highlighted some intriguing characters—particularly between the Phoenix Rides and the Demon Brigade. The Phoenix Riders all appealed to me for different reasons, but Hammie was by far my favorite. Her sassy attitude and unfailing desire to help was as endearing as it was humorous (not to mention her mad chess skills!). Roshan is such a sweetheart, and the scenes with Tremaine were beautifully written. I wish we had more time with the Phoenix Riders in general, and I’m hoping the sequel will expand on their stories a bit more than what we saw in Warcross. Not to be outdone, the villain of the story is full of surprises and possesses so many layers that I could hardly keep up with the mood swings—laughing out loud in one chapter, then silently fuming in the next.
Everything in darkness looks like fragments of monsters.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover some Easter eggs hidden within the story. Did anyone else catch the subtle nods to the Legend series? The stories are vastly different, but there were little things here and there that hinted at something from the Legend series, and there were also a few scenes that absolutely had a direct tie-in. Remember in Champion when June heads to Ross City, Antarctica and she sees their superior technology? After being provided with the appropriate VR glasses (Neurolink), June examines the room around her and notices different details.
June, in Ross City
“When I look around the lobby, I notice all sorts of virtual numbers and words—the green bulbous plant in the corner has WATER: +1 hovering over it, while CLEAN: +1 floats above a dark, half-circle side table.”
Emika, in Tokyo
“Around the room, objects have labels hovering over them. Potted Ficus floats above a green plant, along with the words, Water | +1, hinting that I would earn a point if I watered it.”
Not to mention the gamification in general, when it comes to both the world of Warcross and Ross City, Antarctica from Champion.
June, in Ross City
Republic of America
Sept. 22. 2132
Daily Score: 0
Cumulative Score: 0
Emika, in Tokyo
First Time in Tokyo!
+350 Points. Daily Score: +350
You leveled up!
And then when we meet Asher, a player in the Warcross Championship. Talk about a throwback to Day, from the Legion series in this scene!
Then there’s Asher, the team’s captain, who is the farthest from where I’m floating. Originally known only as the younger brother of Daniel Batu Wing, an actor and stuntman, Asher’s now famous in his own right because of Warcross.
I’m not ashamed to admit, I may have squealed when I read that line and caught the subtle reference to Daniel Altan Wing, aka Day, from the Legend series. And even though the gamification in Warcross is pretty much the same as what we saw in Champion, it doesn’t detract from the concept at all in Warcross. It had such a small impact in Champion, whereas it is one of the core concepts in Warcross, which gave me more of a sense of familiarity to a previous story, rather than a feeling of “oh, this has been done before” and having that detract from the concept application in Warcross. It’s a unique tie-in that existing fans of Lu will catch and enjoy, but doesn’t alienate any new readers to her stories.
Ever since I stumbled upon Marie Lu’s Legend series, I’ve been a huge fan. Her books are so full of life and positivity, juxtaposed against a backdrop of a dystopian society. I can’t say enough about the beauty and intrigue evident on every single page of Warcross. I’ve recommended it to all my friends, even giving away one of my copies so the story can be shared. I’ve read it twice myself since release, and I’m pretty positive I’ll have read-through number three under my belt before the end of the year. The sequel can’t come out soon enough (and I’m not just excited for more beautiful cover art)!
Let's go win this.