My major complaint about Warcross is that it was just over too soon. I guess that’s what happens, however, when you read a book in one day because you can’t put it down. Marie Lu’s story of a teenage hacker-turned-bounty-hunter at the end of her rope getting hired by the world’s richest game designer on the eve of the game’s annual championships is simply enthralling.
Before I continue to gush about the story, though, we need to pause for just a moment and appreciate this cover by Cream3D and Theresa Evangelista, because it is 💯. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you just have to stop and enjoy the cover for the cover’s sake. The colours, the use of dimension, the play on the “cross” in Warcross—I love covers that don’t feature people and do cool things with the title, and this ticks both those boxes. It is phenomenal, and even if this book were complete garbage, this cover alone deserves all the awards.
Warcross reminds me a lot of William Gibson—but more so the Blue Ant trilogy than Sprawl. Despite the obvious resemblance the Warcross experience has with cyberspace, it’s more that Hideo and Emika’s relationship—at least at first—reminds me of Hubertus and Cayce. The enigmatic, enormously wealthy patron who is just ahead of the curve hires a young and savvy woman who knows exactly how to do what he needs done. Like Gibson, Lu anticipates how a revolutionary interactive technology might alter not just one facet of society (gaming) but all of our society. It’s not exactly extrapolation, but it is a good, hard look into the ways in which we take up new digital technologies to make our lives easier.
I’m having trouble putting my finger on exactly what it is about this book that got me hooked so quickly. It might be Emika’s incorrigibility. She has gone through a lot in her short life, yet she isn’t bitter. There are times when she might verge on Mary Sueishness, but I think Lu largely avoids this. Emika makes enough mistakes, and it’s clear, especially by the end, that she isn’t going to “save the day”. It might also be the adrenaline-infused pacing of Warcross: literally never a dull moment here. I don’t know if Lu wrote it this way or if an editor took a laser-powered axe to these chapters, but this thing is impressively lean. If it doesn’t advance the plot, it isn’t on the page. The exposition is exquisitely balanced.
The eponymous game and its environment is also stunning. And I say this as someone who doesn’t visualize when reading, so I really have no idea what it looks like. But the description makes this sound like some kind of VR Overwatch, which I think is enough for most people to go on. When you have a story heavily based around sporting scenes like we have here, sometimes I lose track of what’s going on (I’m sorry: I could never really grok the Quidditch action in Harry Potter). But this reminded me a little of Ender’s Game. Maybe it helped that Emika always had ulterior missions while in the game.
I wish I could give Warcross five stars, because I really did love it that much. Alas, the ending disappointed me ever so slightly. Firstly, it was super predictable. I figured out who Zero was fairly early on. That alone wouldn’t be a dealbreaker. Secondly, the revelations around the NeuroLink were also predictable. The moment Emika explained how it worked, way back at the beginning of the book, I put it down for a moment and swallowed, because I knew exactly where this was going, and it’s the thing about brain–computer interfaces that most freaks me out. If we get them working in my lifetime, I’m definitely going to be the dinosaur who refuses to put one into his brain. (The difficulty, of course, is that if we introduce them via wearables like the glasses here, then maybe I won’t even realize it until it’s too late.) Finally, the secondary characters could have used some more development. This is a minor quibble—Lu makes some attempts at this—but that leanness I mentioned earlier cuts both ways, and sometimes it felt like it was just all-Emika’s story, all the time.
If anything, I quite respect Lu’s decisions around the ending, and in particular, the way it changes things between Emika and Hideo. Their romance felt like the weakest and least welcome subplot in this book, and for a large portion, I was just kind of wishing it wasn’t happening—it felt so contrived. I’m shipping Emika/Hammie. Nevertheless, I admit that the romance makes a tragic kind of sense given the revelations at the end.
As this is apparently the first in a series, Lu has positioned the characters for an intriguing second act. I’ll be there for it. Critiques aside, Warcross was such a blast that I made extra time in my day to finish it all immediately. I just didn’t want to leave this universe of Lu’s. I wanted to watch Emika be a smart hacker, a brilliant coder, a cool-headed gamer, and a savvy super-spy. This is an exhilarating and exciting journey, and it’s one I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys books about virtual reality, gaming competitions, or girls who code (to kick ass).