YA Weekend Audio: Warcross by Marie Lu
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of Warcross
Publisher: Listening Library (September 12, 2017)
Length: 11 hrs and 46 mins
Narrator: Nancy Wu
Although it didn’t take me long to realize I probably wasn’t going to enjoy Warcross *as much* as most of the rave reviews, I still had a really good time with this one. The book’s greatest strength was definitely its fast-paced action and its ability to entertain for hours, which almost makes up for the story’s predictability and derivative premise.
Warcross stars Emika Chen, an eighteen-year-old hacker struggling to make ends meet. Despite doing everything she can to scrape together a living—including moonlighting as a bounty hunter and selling illicitly acquired gaming power ups on the black market—she’s still thousands of dollars in debt and in danger of being evicted because she’s months behind on her rental payment. Like many others, Emika’s only form of escape is her neural link that allows her to immerse herself in a virtual reality world where she can forget all about the troubles of real life—at least for a little while. These days, everyone is talking about Warcross, a competitive game which has taken the world by storm. Originally developed a decade ago by the then thirteen-year-old prodigy named Hideo Tanaka (who also created the technology to make the neural net possible), Warcross has exploded in popularity in the years since its launch, spawning professional teams and even an international competition that hundreds of millions tune in each year to watch.
So on the eve of the Warcross Championships games, Emika links in along with the rest of the world to watch the opening ceremonies, but inside her mind she is hatching up an insane plan. In her hours of studying the Warcross code, she has discovered a glitch which would enable her to swipe a power-up from right under the players’ noses, and the money she could get from selling a prize like that would be the end of all her financial troubles. However, something goes terribly wrong during her hack, and suddenly, Emika’s identity is revealed to the world. Strangely though, instead of being arrested immediately, Emika has become a celebrity overnight and even receives a call from the billionaire Hideo Tanaka himself, making her an offer she can’t refuse. It appears someone is trying to ruin his company by targeting this year’s Warcross Championships, and Hideo strongly suspects an inside job. Now he needs a spy with Emika’s talents to infiltrate the games and live among the players to find out who the culprit is.
I’ll admit, it took me a while to get into Warcross, mainly because it also took me a long time to warm up to the protagonist, and not least because I think gamers who use hacks and cheats are the scum of the earth. The entire basis of the plot pretty much hinged upon Emika making some catastrophically dumb decisions at the beginning, and I found it hard to believe that such an otherwise savvy young woman would behave so irrationally and impulsively after years of being able to maintain a low profile. I dislike ham-handed plot developments, especially those that go against a character’s nature and are done solely to push the story along.
Fortunately, things looked up after this introductory phase. To her credit, Marie Lu does know how to keep a reader entertained, though from past experience with her work, I’ve noticed how she seems unable to help herself when it comes to loading up her stories with YA tropes and clichés. Warcross comes complete with characters that play to conventions, from a down-on-her-luck but exceptionally talented protagonist who can somehow outsmart the world’s best programmers, to the angsty love interest who reads like a “YA book boyfriend” checklist (Fabulously wealthy? Piercing eyes? Swoony accent? Hideo’s got you covered!) There’s nothing at all groundbreaking about the world either, being your rather typical dystopian-flavored future with hints of Ready Player One. The story was also predictable and I saw the “twist” ending coming a mile away.
But like I said, I still had a good time. Despite its heavy reliance on genre tropes, the book’s high octane action and thrills help compensate for the story’s predictability and shortfalls in the innovation department. I’m also a sucker for books that have a gaming angle, and I was fascinated by the dynamic descriptions of the championship matches as well as the darker side of the Warcross world. The atmosphere is just so intense and hectic that it’s not hard to get sucked in and cheer for Emika’s team even when you know exactly how things are going to play out.
Bottom line, Warcross didn’t really blow me away, but I can recognize a fun book when I see one. Readers of YA fiction and fans of Marie Lu should be happy with it at least, and it’s also a perfectly fine escape if you’re looking for an exciting adventure.
Audiobook Comments: The Warcross audiobook is narrated by Nancy Wu, whose performance was decent enough, though I thought she sounded a little too mature to be an ideal Emika. She was also inconsistent with her voices, especially for Hideo (who didn’t really sound British like he was supposed to) and her accents would occasionally flip on and off. Other than those quibbles, however, it was a good listen and the inconsistencies didn’t affect my enjoyment overly much.