In this future world, Hideo Tanaka, 21, invented the game of Warcross when he was only thirteen. Now, global surveys show that 90 percent of people aged 12-30 play on a regular basis. The official Warcross Championships attract more than 200 million viewers, and Hideo is very, very rich.
One of the Warcross fans is Emika (“Emi”) Chen, an 18-year-old “bounty hunter” in New York City. Bounty hunters chase petty criminals in return for monetary rewards from the NYPD. There is fierce competition among hunters, so Emi isn’t always successful. But Emi needs money badly; she is behind on her rent and can barely afford to eat. She decides to take a chance to get rich quick during the Warcross Championships; she hacks into a game to steal a valuable game piece for resale. But she doesn’t anticipate that she will actually insert herself into the game, with the whole world watching.
Thus she comes to the notice of Hideo himself who tries to contact her, but she avoids the outside world at first. She fears for her future – will she go to jail? But Hideo only wants to offer her a job. He has been plagued by someone messing with the Warcross code, and thinks Emi just may be talented enough to help him find the culprit. He has her enter the “wild card” draft for extra players, and Asher Wing, the team leader from whom she stole, selects her; he too knows talent when he sees it.
Emi trains for the games with Asher’s team, and, operating sub rosa on Hideo’s behalf, she simultaneously investigates a bad guy Hideo calls “Zero.” Meeting with Hideo for periodic progress reports, she gets to know Hideo, gradually breaking down the walls he keeps around him and his private life.
But as Emi comes closer to finding Zero, we encounter a number of twists and turns in the plot. Suddenly Emi, so adept in “alternate” worlds, doesn’t know what is real anymore, nor what is true. The book ends with the promise that the story will continue.
Discussion: While I am not into gaming at all, Lu manages to make the games impressively appealing and understandable, situating much of the action and tension effectively inside them. The ethical issue that stymies Emi is one that will be recognizable to those who follow politics today: can you take a chance passing rules and laws that may sound good in theory, but in the wrong hands might give too much power to people with evil intent?
Evaluation: The twists weren’t so opaque that most readers won’t guess them, but that doesn’t detract much from the story’s overall appeal. The characters are interesting, well-written and multi-dimensional, and of course there is romance as well, in case gaming isn’t enough to hold your attention. My only complaint is one common to (mostly young adult) novels with physical encounters – what is with the male character always “growling” when the female “bites” him? I could see it in vampire novels, but …. Maybe my own experience is just too limited….
Nevertheless, I look forward to the next “installment” in the series!
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2017