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  • Writer's pictureA. Murphy

'Warcross' by Marie Lu

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

[Warning: Major Spoilers]

When I first picked up a copy of Warcross in my local Waterstones it was part of a massive pile I had collected over the course of an hour. I had had a long run of mediocre reads that left me wholly unsatisfied. I needed a good, thrilling fix. In truth I only bought Warcross because there was a recommendation from Leigh Bardugo, author of Six of Crows, on the back cover. If one of my favourite authors ever gives this book the thumbs up then it must be pretty decent book right?

Boy I was not prepared for the thrill ride that was Warcross.

Virtual reality has taken the world by storm becoming a massive part of everyday life, and nothing is bigger than Warcross. A game based entirely in virtual reality, everyone plays and everyone watches. So when young hacker and bounty hunter Emika Chen hacks herself into the opening game of the championships she becomes famous overnight. The next day Emika is swept off to Japan to meet Warcross creator and famous billionaire Hideo Tanaka. He needs a spy in this years Warcross championship and Emika's unique combination of skills makes her perfect for the job. Suddenly Emika finds herself caught up in a plot that could have major consequences for the virtual world and those who use it across the globe.

Although Warcross jumps straight into the action with Emika on the hunt for a criminal, the writing feels slightly off. There is slightly too much of "This happened...then this happened...this is my past" but I still loved the world I was surrounded by. It was so easy to slip into and understand, and that's exactly what a writer wants to achieve when they create a new world. It felt real, and more than that it felt possible. If virtual reality had become easily accessible to the public then I have no doubt that his is what the world would look like, including the increased crime.

Additionally Lu is very clever in getting us on Emika's side early on. After a thrilling chase Emika catches her man and we the audience celebrate on her behalf, she's going to get that money she really needs, she can buy food, pay her rent so she isn't evicted. There's a split second of joy then it gets snatched away. Emika gets ripped off on a technicality. We feel so much anger and indignation on her behalf it's a great way to build a relationship between the protagonist and the reader. This is where things began to heat up, the story really begins.

Losing out on that bounty means that Emika is more desperate than ever. She has thirteen dollars to her name and is about to be homeless. This is what pushes Emika to do something really stupid. She hacks into the opening game of the Warcross championships attempting to steal a rare game item. I physically cringed at what she was doing. I knew it was going to go wrong and it was probably the dumbest thing to do ever. I was sat on the train muttering "Don't do it don't do it don't do it." under my breath knowing full well she was going to do it. I had to stop myself scolding this fictional character out loud.

The next moment we go from Emika's life of poverty to the high life of Tokyo. A city where virtual reality is built into every building. Emika is sent to hunt down Zero, a hacker with a plot to disrupt the championship games. There is no way I can delve more into the plot without spoiling the entire book. It's an intriguing plot that kept me on my toes. I thought I had guessed the ending several times, even going so far as to tell my mother that I had guessed Zero's identity. I was wrong with each guess, the plot twist completely threw me and I was left wanting so much more.

In fact my only complaint is that I wanted more. I wanted to see more of the actual Warcross gameplay. after experiencing one I wanted to read them all. But they were all kind of glossed over until the climax, and the ones we did see were over too fast. I also wanted to see more of Ren. Even though he was a minor villain there to remind Emika about the constant threat of Zero, I would have liked to have more interactions between the two of them. There was all of one private conversation and while it was layered with subtle threats and pointed questions, Ren was whisked away too soon. But it really speaks about the quality of a book when the one complaint is that there wasn't enough of it.

Image taken from

Lu handles some big issues in this book in an excellent. Emika's poverty in the opening of the book is a wonderful example of this. It may be a dystopian world full of amazing technology but there are still poor people, and Emika is one of those people. Sure, she has things like a phone and an electric skateboard, things that many people consider luxuries. There will be some person (who considers themselves an expert) saying "Well if she's poor then how come she has all these fancy things like a mobile phone and an electric skateboard?" a look of smugness on their face. That person thinks they've made an airtight argument that no one can possibly come back from. Well for starters, the technology she does have isn't exactly top notch. Straight away we are shown that her phone is cracked and is clearly on its last legs. "But the skateboard..." they say. The skateboard is barely working either and she needs it to work. How on earth is she supposed to get around the city to chase down criminals without one? Maybe she bought it when she was better off and she's held onto it? "But she wastes money on rainbow hair dye!" Yeah, so? Her hair is part of her identity. Poor people are allowed to have nice things! It makes her happy, just because she's poor doesn't mean she has to miserable all the time.

Lu also tackles the idea of free will head on at the end of the book. [Major spoiler warning]

It is revealed that Hideo Tanaka, creator of Warcross and Emika's love interest, is planning on adjusting the Neurolink technology he created to control those who use it. The tech would register any violent intent and then stop it in its tracks. This would put an end to 90% of crime. This new tech could prevent murders, rape, kidnappings, surely it's a good thing? Emika argues that it's taking away free will and therefore very wrong. Still it poses an interesting question. I myself was faced with quiet the dilemma. I couldn't help but agree with Hideo on some levels. He could put an end to some truly disgusting and unforgiveable crimes, he could save lives, prevent millions of lives being ruined. It isn't an all controlling technology either, it only comes into effect when the person is planning to commit a crime. Other than that people would be free to live their regular lives. On the other hand I partially agree with Emika, it is wrong to control people's actions. Hideo should not have ultimate power over everyone in the world. But crime has gotten so bad that there needs to be a drastic solution. It left me feeling torn, not knowing which was the right side to choose. It was great.

Warcross is a fantastic trip into the near future. It's real, and amazing, and well worth the read. If you have a chance to read it, I thoroughly recommend you do so. I will be waiting with baited breath for the sequel Wildcard, ready to dive back into Lu's virtual world.

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