Sunday 29 October 2017

Warcross (Warcross #1), Marie Lu

"I'm going to win this time"
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. 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. 

* * * * 
4 / 5 

When I was a young teenager I loved the manga 1/2 Prince and then, when I was a little older, I devoured the novelised version of Sword Art Online (SAO). These fostered a love of the idea of a virtual reality, and more specifically of a virtual MMO. Warcross, the titular game, is a peculiar mixture of virtual reality and augmented reality, and is more of a League of Legends type game, but it is based on that same idea that I loved when I was twelve and it was that which made me want to read Warcross.

“Everything's science fiction until someone makes it science fact”

Hideo Tanaka invented Warcross when he was a child and now, as a serious young adult, he is a billionaire. Emika Chen is his exact opposite: a dirt poor bounty hunter and part-time waitress who can't even afford to pay her rent. Their worlds should never have collided, but when Emika hacks her way into the international Warcross Championships (sort of by mistake), she is thrown into the spotlight and offered promptly offered a job as a hacker spy by Hideo himself, who fears that something sinister is afoot in this year's games. Emika joins the Warcross team the Phoenix Riders and has to battle her way to stay in the competition so that she has more opportunities to dig around; the plot balances itself between the action of the Warcross games, a sort of capture-the-flag style fight played across many different imaginative levels, the mystery of the hunt that Emika is on and the conspiracy that surrounds it, and the developing romance between Emika and Hideo.

I love, love, loved the action scenes. The Warcross battles were brilliant, though perhaps a bit lacking in stakes as the reader assumes that the Phoenix Riders will stay in the game so that Emika can do her thing, but I enjoyed the bounty hunting scenes right at the start - I wish there had been more detail on this! The writing was also excellent - I have read and enjoyed Legend and The Young Elites by Marie Lu, but both struck me as a touch immature in their writing and plot - Warcross is still for the teenager, but it is more sophisticated and enthralling. 

"but sometimes, you find yourself in exactly the right position, wielding exactly the right weapon to hit back"

Emika was a stunning character and she is definitely a teenage girl fantasy character: she has rainbow hair, a tattoo sleeve, rides a hoverboard, and is generally quite badass. She has a complicated past and a difficult present, and manages to avoid being pigeonholed into either the "geek girl", the "badass until she sees a cute boy character", or the "tom boy who puts down other girls girl". Unfortunately, whilst Emika is well-developed, the barrage of side-characters are not so well done. Emika's Phoenix Rider team mates are little more than names with distinguishing features and Warcross battle roles; they are diverse and varied, but never managed to endear themselves to me and now, two days after finishing the book, I can barely remember half of their names. 

Our other main character is, of course, Hideo Tanaka. At first, I did enjoy him: he's sharply-dressed, a smooth talker, but also somewhat sensitive. He's a teenage girl's fantasy guy and Marie Lu knows it, and so, more importantly, does Emika. The beginning of their romance is sweet and I enjoyed the text messages between them and the fact that Emika keeps her head on straight, but Hideo just became too bland for me, too much of a stereotype: he's the rich boy with anger management problems (never something I'm fond of in a love interest), he's got the tragic past and the distant but loving parents, and he is, or at least was, a child genius. 

Warcross is imaginative and joyful and I adored Lu's execution of the virtual reality game aspect. The plot towards the end got needlessly complicated and a touch predictable, but it did manage to surprise me, and definitely left me with a lot of questions and a yearning to know more. 

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