A fantastic premise, very engagingly written, with a let-down ending.
Warcross hooked me almost at once–Marie Lu is definitely skilled at this! Every book I’ve ever read of hers jumps straight into the action, in such a way that I also care what happens to the characters even though we’re barely introduced. (Hard to do – most YA books jump into life or death action, but I’ve seen it so many times that I still lose interest quickly.) The world immediately reminded me of a cross between Ready Player One and the Hunger Games: there’s a worldwide obsession with the VR game called Warcross, and Emika is a teenage orphan who makes her living as a bounty hunter of those who have racked up debts trading “power-ups” for the Warcross world on the black market. She’s chasing a perpetrator, catches him, but unfairly loses the bounty. Then we find that she’s about to be evicted from her miniscule studio apartment in NYC.
Then, the opening games of Warcross begin, and because she is also a brilliant hacker (generally this stretches imagination for teens, but somehow in her case it was rendered believable), she hacks herself into the game, hoping to steal a very valuable power-up from one of the players. Unfortunately this thrusts her squarely into the worldwide spotlight. She thinks she will be arrested for the stunt, but instead, Hadeo Tanaka, the creator of Warcross flies her to Tokyo in his private jet and offers to hire her as a bounty hunter for him–under cover as a “wildcard,” or previously unknown Warcross player. He tells her little about the person they’re hunting, only that he calls himself Zero. We also don’t know his plans for quite some time.
Emi, meanwhile, has spent most of her life obsessed with Hadeo, who is only two years her elder. This sets up the romance, which is fantastically done, with shades of Cinderella. (So far the story interweaves many of my favorite stories, but in such a unique way that I still don’t totally know what’s going to happen next!)
I was all in, excited to continue the series until the VERY end. Suddenly, the author reveals Zero’s true goal and true identity. Both reveals felt very forced to me, as they involve a big about-face for one of the major relationships in the story, with very little setup. The identity of Zero also felt just so convenient… they were like twists just for the sake of twists. While the reveal did make for interesting food for thought–namely, if people find out that they’ve given up their privacy and their freedom in exchange for technological advances and convenience, will they even care?–the sacrifice to the story was too significant to make me want to continue reading. A good guy has become a bad guy, and with that reveal, my emotional investment has evaporated. Too bad, because the rest of the story was so good!
My rating: ***1/2
Language: none that I can recall
Violence: none to speak of
Sexual content: minor; suggested only, in the main character’s mind
Political content: minor but present; easy to overlook