My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I didn’t know too much about the premise before I started the book beyond frequent comparisons to Ready Player One and it being about a hacker/gamer – which I think was a good thing. I didn’t go into it with any expectations (especially because I have never read Ready Player one) and came out fantastically entertained.
The world in which we find ourselves is a more advanced version of the one that we are familiar with. Virtual or augmented reality has made a technological leap due to the creation of Hideo Tanaka. The sleeker AR/VR glasses make the experience more user-friendly and the game Warcross has exploded across the globe. Each year there are Warcross Championships, which pit teams of the best players (and some wild cards) against one another.
Although Emika is a gamer and hacker she is forced to turn to a life of bounty hunting to support herself, and even that is not enough. She is days away from being kicked out of her apartment and with $13 to her name, she takes the biggest risk of her life and hacks the Warcross Championships. This one act flips her entire world upside down and sets the rest of the story in motion.
Emika is a very relatable character, despite her criminal record, incredible hacking skills, and ingenuity. She has an incredible love for her father, a strong backbone and the tenacity to do what is necessary. Emika’s character has a nice balance so that she is not incompetent, but she is also not the perfect chosen one, she is an incredible hacker, but she is not infallible, etc.
Hideo, on the other hand, is a genius and innovator. At first glance, he seems aloof and professional, but there is a real person with emotions once you get to know him. I really enjoyed watching him open up over the course of the book and get more of his backstory. Lu brilliantly weaves the stories into both character’s narratives so that we are able to see the events and people that made them who they are today.
The story was fast-paced and the Warcross games were so vibrantly described that it felt as if you were genuinely watching them. The world was slowly but surely populated, from the buildings and city streets we may be familiar with to the addition of virtual reality advertisements and signage, an underground black market, and more.
Even the game of Warcross itself was a really interesting aspect of the story. Although the game seems simple, there are limitless ways to manipulate and change the game as it is being played. It is an intense game similar to Capture the Flag, in that teams must capture the other’s artifact but power-ups, changing landscapes and team members with special skills make the game infinitely more enjoyable to read about.
While the ending likely won’t be a complete surprise, the overall motivations and events that lead up to the final pages will hit you hard. You’re so invested in the characters and the world that any reveals will make you wonder (and need to know) what happens next. I definitely didn’t want to leave the world that Lu had built, so I am incredibly pleased that there will be more books in this series. There is so much that she can add to the story, the world and I can’t wait to see where she goes with it next.
I highly recommend this book to young adult/teen readers even you don’t consider yourself a gamer or think you will relate. This is a very accessible book that many will enjoy (plus that cover is gorgeous, right?)