BWW Review: WARCROSS by Marie Lu
"Everything's science fiction until someone makes it science fact."
~Hideo Tanaka, WARCROSS
WARCROSS by Marie Lu was the first book to give me a book hangover in 2017. I read an advance copy at the tail end of March, only a fourth of the way into the year, and I was seriously up until after 1 a.m. two worknights in a row devouring this book. IT WAS THAT GOOD. I couldn't put it down!!! I read until my eyes drooped, then woke up in the morning, read some more, crammed some more reading into my lunch break, and stayed up again the next night until I'd finished the book. It's currently hanging on as my favorite book of the year, months later.
This is a book that will appeal to readers of many ages. This will be one of those YA books that breaks into the awareness of adult readers as well--adult readers who don't usually read YA. The main characters are older: Emika is 18 and Hideo is 21. That right there loosely places WARCROSS into the New Adult section. (While there are a couple of sensual scenes, the content is still YA appropriate as well!) I'd also recommend this book to everyone who liked READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline, which is an adult novel. If the annual Alex Awards worked in reverse, WARCROSS would definitely make the list as a crossover favorite!
SO LISTEN. It's really hard to talk about this book without spoilers. And I AM going to keep this review spoiler-free. But it means I can't tell you about some of the things I love that Lu did that made this book so awesome for me. And I'm sorry for that, but.... Well, you'll thank me when you go into this book blind and experience the same things!
Do you remember when we were on the brink of Smart Phone/Tablet technology? We didn't quite know that our lives were about to change permanently and that tech as we knew it would be forever altered? Well, in WARCROSS, tech has evolved again thanks to Hideo Tanaka and his invention of NeuroLink glasses. It's more than VR tech. It has a way of implanting into your brain and tricking you into thinking things are truly real, kind of like when you think a dream is real. It's not like VR, where we always know the world around us is fake. About a decade has passed since NeuroLink changed the course of technology as we all currently know it. All NeuroLink glasses come with a little game called WARCROSS that can be played for fun. The game has now reached an all-time high: "90 percent of people ages 12-30 now play on a regular basis, or at least once a week." There are annual World Championships that have Olympics-Level Opening Events and the frenzy of the annual football/baseball Fantasy Drafts.
When Emika Chen accidentally glitches herself into the Opening Night of the Warcross World Championships while exploiting a security flaw, she finds herself an overnight sensation. She's been living on her own struggling to makes ends meet since her father passed away seven years ago. She has no money to pay her rent and is about to be evicted. Desperate to survive, she hacks into Warcross to steal a rare power-up worth enough Notes to keep her afloat when she glitches into the game. The game's creator, Hideo Tanaka, flys her out to Japan the next morning and offers her the job of a lifetime:
Go into the World Championships undercover and figure out who is hacking the game. Emi was a bounty hunter back home, hacking to find gamblers wanted by the police to earn award money and stay afloat. She's good at what she does, and is only the second person ever to find the security flaw that glitches her into the Championships. Now, Hideo wants her to find the other person who has found the flaw and is using it for nefarious purposes. If Emika succeeds, she can walk away with a cool ten million. But she's under constant scrutiny by the media, who has chosen her as their New Favorite, and she has no clue just how dangerous the Truth will be, especially with all eyes turned on her..........
And that summary isn't nearly enough to tell you how good WARCROSS is because it's so much more complex than a small summary can do!!!
The NeuroLink tech is AMAZING. I won't even try to capture it here because I can't. And it's so much more amazing to experience it for yourself. But having lived in Japan, I think Tokyo is the PERFECT setting for "this year's" World Championships because Japan is a world in and of itself when it comes to tech. Think of all the cool anime gadgets and cute things (like cat ears!!) that girls and guys alike aren't ashamed to wear in public. The way the game tech weaves into reality enhances this thriving Tokyo society so much and becomes its heart. The way Lu describes a modern karaoke bar is perfect and I can see it so well. If she has themed cafes or Harajuku Fashion in the second book, I won't be surprised because they would also be a perfect fit for the tech and the world-building!!!
One of the coolest things about WARCROSS is that it read like a mystery. It was more of a thriller than it was "a dystopian novel" or "a fantasy epic." It pumped adrenaline into my veins as I read and had me running alongside Emika to keep up. I'm not normally one for mysteries because I frequently figure things out right away, and while I DID figure some things out here, there were also things that I never saw coming and was completely blind-sided by. WHICH IS AWESOME because it keeps me on my toes!!!
I also really like that Marie Lu has had a completely different tone and style and genre with every new series. Legend was a great trilogy in the oversaturated dystopian genre that still holds up and is on bookshelves, when most other series are gone. The Young Elites was an awesome fantasy with X-Men-like abilities that made you question What Makes a Hero and What Makes a Villain? So much of the way Lu made me think in TYE creeps over into WARCROSS and sucker-punches me when I don't expect it. I cannot WAIT to get my hands on the sequel next year and find out how the story continues to twist and turn, which is how I felt after first reading THE YOUNG ELITES, too! I love that Lu isn't predictable and that she leaves a lot of food for thought. There's so much social commentary, too, and in some ways, this world is scary like our world. I love how Lu captures that reflection even as she builds her own reality for us to slip into. (And if you're not a fan of reading books until the sequels are released, this is an ending that, while it leaves you wanting more, it doesn't have you throwing the book and screaming, either. It ties everything up just enough that there's no need to wait to binge-read both books...though I'll definitely be re-reading this next year right before I pick up the sequel!)