Monday, November 27, 2017

Book Review: "Warcross" by Marie Lu

Heck yeah, this was awesome!

My taste in video games has always hewed more toward the classic arcade games—Pac-Man, Asteroids, Space Invaders—and I'll admit, I haven't actually played a video game since my roommates and I had an old Nintendo system freshman year of college. But even though I can't compare the goings-on in Marie Lu's latest book, Warcross, with any first-hand knowledge, that didn't make me like it any less.

"Some people still say that Warcross is just a stupid game. Others say it's a revolution. But for me and millions of others, it's the only foolproof way to forget our troubles."

Warcross is more than a game—it's a worldwide phenomenon. This virtual-reality game has held the world in its thrall for the last 10 years, and it has spawned an empire. While the "official" version of the game is played by teams of highly trained players from around the world who have become celebrities, people play it constantly, rehash old matches, and spend millions on products and other virtual accoutrements related to the game.

Like any game, Warcross has also led to a rise in those seeking to make illegal profits from it, betting on the game illegally. Emika Chen, a teenage hacking wizard, works as a bounty hunter, tracking down those running afoul of the law. But the bounty hunting racket is tremendously competitive, and Emika can barely keep her head above water financially, since she's stuck paying down her late father's gambling debts as well. She's less than 72 hours from being evicted from her apartment and being left with nothing, and nowhere to turn.

With no other alternatives, Emika decides to hack into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships. She expects to sneak in undetected, steal a few things, and sneak back out, with no one the wiser. Instead, she accidentally glitches herself right into the middle of the action for a split second—and then all hell breaks loose. She figures it's just a matter of time before she is arrested, but instead, she gets an invitation from Hideo Tanaka, the handsome, mysterious young billionaire who created Warcross.

Much to Emika's surprise, Hideo summons her to Tokyo, and offers her a job: he wants to put her in the game, as a real contestant, to spy on what he believes is a security breach. Someone is trying to wreak havoc, and Hideo believes Emika is the only one who can solve the problem. In almost no time, Emika goes from being nearly homeless to a true celebrity, whose every move has the tabloids abuzz.

"What must it be like to have a perfect life? To be a superstar beloved by all? To be able to pay your bills on time and buy whatever you want?"

The more Emika becomes immersed in the game, the more she craves the adrenaline rush of both the strategy and the celebrity—not to mention she finds herself becoming more and more drawn to Hideo. As she works to figure out what nefarious plans are in play deep within Warcross' code, she must decide who are her friends and who are her foes, an endeavor which will take her deep into the shadowy virtual underworld. But what she finds is even more sinister than she or Hideo even suspected, and the plot has ramifications for the entire Warcross empire and those involved.

I've read Marie Lu's Legend and Young Elites series, and I've always been impressed both with her storytelling and, essentially, her world-building, as she creates a completely different universe for each of her series of books. Both talents are dazzlingly on display in Warcross, along with some great action, suspense, emotion, and fascinating character development. Her descriptions really brought the game and the world of Warcross to life for me, and I could imagine this will make a really cool movie.

Obviously, the subject matter will rule this book out for some people, but I think it's more than a book about a video game. While I'm not sure I loved the ending (although it's tremendously thought-provoking), I found this moved about as quickly as I'd imagine a video game would, but with far more substance than you'd expect. Marie Lu continues to prove she's a force to be reckoned with, and I'll eagerly await the next book in this series!

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