YA books with high video game content? Sign me up anytime, anywhere! Warcross promises an extremely fun adventure as we follow the first person POV of Emika Chen, a Chinese-American gamer who has a lot of debt under her name but magnificent coding skills. She stays alive by being a bounty hunter for gamblers of Warcross, the ubiquitous video game that the world relies on. When a surprising glitch she creates captures the eyes of the media and the creator of Warcross, Hideo Tanaka, she finds herself a new bounty job from the creator himself: find out who’s trying to ruin the tournaments.
Warcross was so fun and exhilarating. There’s never a lull in the plot as events are constantly happening. When Emika gets transferred from her run-down apartment in America to the shiny landscapes of Tokyo, she also finds herself with new friends. She’s known as a “wild card” in the game’s tournament. She’s not famous, is only level 26 compared to the level 80+’s of other players, and plays the game through a hacked version. But despite these drawbacks, her intelligence and ambition make her stand out from the other players. Emika finds a home with the other players of her team, the Phoenix Riders. The Phoenix Riders feature characters from all over the world (yay POC’s!), and we see a very small side gay romance occurring within the games as well.
“I’m used to working alone. Even if I told them everything, what good would that really do? Am I really going to drag them into this hunt with me?”
Overall, I thought that Warcross created an awesome main character (yes for Chinese rep!!) and incorporated video game vibes in a Young Adult story perfectly. I know some readers may have some qualms with how the game is explained, but I wasn’t bothered by it at all. I play games lightly (mostly RPG’s and MMORPG’s, and not much anymore), and I thought the way Emika explains the game of Warcross was easy to follow and maximizes both simplicity and excitement. It may not be technically plausible with certain aspects, but I really did not care. Think of it more like lighter video game vibes, so even readers who aren’t gamers can easily understand and enjoy.
Even though my overall impression of Warcross is awesome with two thumbs up, I have a bit of small things to pick with it. The first thing has to do with the length of the book, which is around 345 pages. I’ve read contemporary books that are longer than Warcross thus far in the year. Because of this length, I feel like a lot of things could have been expanded on. For me, the biggest loss is the camaraderie and developing friendship between Emika and her fellow Phoenix Riders. Because she’s trying to balance both the tournament and her bounty job with Hideo, her time with the Phoenix Riders is cut short. There are glimpses of her teammate’s struggles, backgrounds, and relationships, but I was disappointed with how short they were. A lot of things are hinted from Emika’s POV and I feel like I never really got to know them. I hope this is fixed in the sequel though, and that these side characters get more page time!
“Every locked door has a key.
Every problem has a solution.”
My second main problem is the romance. I was superrr ready going into this romance (Hideo is a genius celebrity while Emika is the intelligent nobody), but my main thought when finishing the book was “imbalance.” Hideo remains a mysterious figure throughout the majority of the book because he’s very reticent and hides his feelings well. He had a traumatic event in the past which adds to this shield. Of course, Emika is the only one who can get through it. 😛 My problem with Hideo is that he is introduced as the genius billionaire who can be quite cold at times, and he remains the “genius billionaire” at the end of the book. He hired Emika to capture a supposed criminal, so essentially it’s an employee-boss romance going on. While Lu does take steps to humanize him, I really couldn’t connect as a reader. To me, his character remained flat and I didn’t trust him the whole book. Other than hero worship from Emika’s part, I couldn’t see why she was so enamored of him. Girl you can do better!
The twist that happens at the end is a bit predictable but still manages to capture readers’ attentions with the dramatic and entertaining way it is written. Lu is great at creating suspense to lead up to these twists, even if readers have already guessed it pages ago. There’s a cliffhanger to this one, so you best believe I’m staying for a sequel.
Warcross promises on excitement, action, and a world built around video games. Other than my two problems, I really enjoyed the story overall. I wish I were more onboard with the romance, but hopefully the sequel brings more character development and interaction with not only Hideo, but the rest of the Phoenix Riders and other bounty hunters. If you haven’t picked this book up yet, what are you waiting for?! Lu creates another brilliant novel that will captivate readers with an ambitious main character, morally-ambiguous villains, and a refreshing world that’s bright with technology and color.
Thank you Penguin for sending a review copy!