Technology has allowed us to build some kind of refuge on the internet and social media. Online, we can interact, hide, dream, reinvent ourselves—sometimes even with less consequences than we can IRL. But that kind of power and fantasy can come with a price. Tackling the dangers of technology and privacy, Marie Lu’s fast-paced cyberpunk adventure Warcross is a thrilling read that is surprisingly even timelier now than when it first came out seven months ago.
In the not-so-distant future, a popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) called Warcross has taken over the world. Millions are obsessed with it, logging on into a game system that allows them to earn points for nearly everything they do. One of the highlights of the game is the International Warcross Championships, so when down-on-her-luck hacker Emika Chen glitches herself into the opening game, she gets everyone’s attention—including the mysterious game creator Hideo Tanaka, who flies her to Tokyo with a billion-dollar proposition. It turns out that there is plenty about Warcross that is hidden under the surface, and it’s up to Emika to uncover the truth.
On the surface, Emika Chen looks like an average player. Her stats aren’t impressive, which is understandable because she doesn’t spend her every waking moment immersed in the game. But those run-of-the-mill stats aren’t representative of what she can really do—she’s a bounty hunter who uses her hacking skills to take down illegal betters and Warcross violators off-line. Because of the nature of her job, she spends a lot more time in the shadows of the system. Where another author might find it easier to turn a main character like Emika into the Chosen One, gifted with all the right but overlooked qualities to save the world, Marie Lu avoids this by giving limits to what Emika can and can’t do on her own. She may know code, but there’s plenty about reading people and competing in the international Warcross games that are foreign to her. She may be an out-of-the-box thinker, but she can’t solve every puzzle in front of her without running into obstacles. She’s a survivor though. She gets a leg up through the tech and access that Hideo gives her, and I like that her advantages come from different sources instead of being all innate. I think these only serve to make her character richer, because unexplained perfection can be rather boring.
Lu’s world-building is so on-point here. The immersive nature of Warcross comes across even when readers don’t know the first thing about MMORPGs. The tension of competing in the Warcross Championships Because of this larger-than-life video experience, it also feels right that most of the story takes place in Tokyo.
One thing that might turn some readers off is the insta-love element that grows between two key characters. Others may argue that this is unnecessary, but I found that it adds a moral and emotional dilemma to the whole conflict. (Not to mention that I found the guy one of the more intriguing characters in my recent reading list. I’m forgiving that way.)
All in all, Warcross is a page-turner that I think will appeal even to readers who are not traditional fans of science fiction and action-adventures. It’s the first of a planned series though, and waiting for the next installment won’t be as easy as reloading a save point.