I cannot keep saying how fantastic Marie Lu and her work is, can I? I cannot tell you how talented she is as a young adult author, starting off from a dystopian adventure trilogy, to a dark fantasy trilogy, and now we begin with a cyberpunk thriller.
In the near-future, Warcross is more than just an advanced virtual-reality game, but a way of life. In only the span of ten years, it has become intricate in almost every way of life. Our main protagonist is June Iparis—I mean Emika Chen—an eighteen year-old hacker-turned-bounty hunter who struggles finding wanted criminals who illegally gamble on Warcross. However, because of competition and bad luck, her debt has grown. Desperate for cash to save herself and her roommate from being evicted from their New York studio, Emika foolishly tries hacking for a million-dollar power-up used in the Warcross Championships—an international Olympics seen by hundreds of millions of Warcross players and competitors. Unfortunately, things go wrong as she’s caught in the act and becomes a worldwide sensation overnight.
Although she’s convinced she’ll be arrested and convicted for the illegal act, Emika suddenly finds herself being asked by Hideo Tanaka—the reclusive and brilliant creator of Warcross—with an amazing offer: to spy on this year’s tournaments and find a security risk in the virtual world’s coding. It is the dream of a lifetime for Emika, but what happens when she discovers something worse than a technical breach?
As you’ve probably guessed, I love Marie Lu as an author. She writes the most incredible characters with the most distinct personalities. While I admit that Emika does have an uncanny resemblance to June Iparis from Marie Lu’s “Legend” trilogy, there are significant differences that make her stand out. One, she comes from a low-income background rather than a lavish, patriotic lifestyle June grew up in. Two, Emika Chen can have a fiery temper when things go wrong while also having a grounded personality when everything can go wrong. As fictional characters go, you actually do believe she is a bounty hunter that knows what she’s doing most of the time.
Whenever I read science fiction stories set in the future, I get tired of a city like New York being either a monstrous metropolis like in “The Thousandth Floor” or a ruined dystopia like in “Legend”. New York is still the same just with Warcross memorabilia on the screens. Warcross’s narrative beautifully incorporates the high-tech wonder of the internet and how a powered cellphone is as rich as oil in the digital age. Marie Lu does a brilliant job of making the novel have a distinct style of cyberpunk that influences her fictional world; people use contact lenses to use Warcross, and visiting sites on the virtual world a la Pokémon GO! You can even record memories, or store them. The Dark Web of Warcross’ virtual world is imagined as a literal simulation of a gritty downtown area—that’s a great idea!
As for the creator of Warcross himself, Hideo Tanaka stands out not just for his cold but likeable personality, but also the fact he’s practically the same age as our protagonist instead of a thirty-something prodigy, which allows us to give the whole romantic subplot between him and Emika more leeway. He actually reminds me of a British/Japanese version of Grand Admiral Thrawn, a calculating man composed of genius and hidden fury that has a plan to everything. And wait until you learn about his little brother, Sasuke.
No, not THAT Sasuke (though I wonder how Marie Lu would do in writing a Naruto fanfic). I’m talking about Sasuke Tanaka, a little boy whose disappearance mentally tortured Hideo to the point he keeps a stored memory of the day he last saw him. Not only that, he uses the memory storage to relive and change the slightest outcomes of Sasuke’s disappearance, like finding him or keeping him from vanishing, leaving himself wondering what could’ve been if not for that fortunate day. Writing like this is just fantastic of Marie Lu, giving us a simple backstory that leads to a character becoming immensely complex and interesting because of this one event.
The relationship between Hideo and Emika is also to admire. What you think would be a mentor/student relationship at the beginning to a bounty hunter/client camaraderie suddenly is seen more as the relationship between two individuals who did everything to escape a mental hell of their pasts. Instead of trying to keep themselves professional, they keep to their ages while also having intelligence to conversations. I like how he doesn’t keep treating her as a subordinate because of his power, but more as an equal whenever they’re alone together.
While a good chunk of the time is focused on Emika hunting the hacker, you do remember the side characters on her team—the Phoenix Riders. Asher is a paraplegic, but resourceful leader that doesn’t take bullshit, Hammie is a smart and brutally honest prodigy, Ren is a DJ-turned-newbie (or wild card as they call them) to Warcross, and Rosan is…uh…okay he’s not that memorable as a character. However, then we have Tremaine, the leader of the rivaling team.
I love this guy. He’s like if Draco Malfoy got obsessed with World of Warcraft; the man’s well-trained but immensely overconfident in himself, constantly underestimates the protagonist, has a spoiled, uptight personality you wanna both smack and laugh at, and is the embodiment of a smart internet troll.
In the end, “Warcross” is a sci-fi lover’s delight, combining the addiction of Minecraft with the dynamic writing of one of my favorite authors. Most of the characters are memorable, Emika stands out as a unique female protagonist in this cyberpunk world, and the action in the Championships and the worlds they take place in are just gigantic and inspiring —that one battle between the Phoenixes and Demons took my breath away! If you have the time, go buy the first book in a new trilogy that’ll suck you into another world.
You can purchase the book here: https://amzn.to/2W5QcdT
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