When I was at BookExpo this year, I received a copy of Wildcard from a wonderful blogger who was also waiting for a copy of Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan. She hadn’t yet read Warcross so she rehomed her copy of Wildcard by Marie Lu to me. So sweet!
The Warcross Duology is an accessible YA cyberpunk story. Readers won’t need to know the intricacies of coding but is firmly entrenched in a colourful, vibrant augmented-reality world.
Warcross the game itself is a hybrid between Sword Art Online settings and Quidditch-style roles and rules. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the game itself. If I had read Warcross without Wildcard to back it up right away, I would have been underwhelmed. Despite the narrative being structured on how interesting it was to watch Warcross being played, I could only think of how Kirito in Sword Art Online Season One (mild spoiler ahead but, c’mon, it’s been out forever) completely unravels Kayaba Akihito’s plot by realizing how boring it is to watch someone else playing a VRMMORPG instead of you playing it yourself.
For a mystery novel set up, Warcross by itself wasn’t very balanced in its structure. It was hard to see where things were going and the skewed weight of the narrative made it less satisfying to come to the cliffhanger ending. So if you read Warcross and was slightly underwhelmed but loved the world, Wildcard is here to win you over.
Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo’s new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she’s always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.
Determined to put a stop to Hideo’s grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone’s put a bounty on Emika’s head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn’t all that he seems–and his protection comes at a price.
Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?
- Characters of colour. Especially, a non-white male romantic lead. Especially, an Asian male romantic lead. WHY DOES THIS NOT HAPPEN MORE?
- Assassins (Mmmhmm.)
- Multiple, relatable villain motivations (in a YA? Unheard of!)
- Complicated emotions (in a YA? No shit, Sherlock. But really. Complicated depth, betrayals, and enduring feelings abound)
- Gay characters with a complicated relationship
- Non-binary representation with a receptive narrator
- More glitches to hack
I liked Emika’s character. Is she a little bit of a Mary Sue? Sure, she is a deceptively good player and a skilled hacker. But what I love is how she was established in Warcross. Emika’s foundation to life with coding representing freedom and success makes the story compelling. Her sense of self is rooted in a way that many YA characters aren’t. Emika is all Emika has to rely on, and that shows in the story and how Emika’s emotional core guides her in where she should go, what she should do, and how she can get there. While a lot of the story revolves around learning to rely on others, she does not lose sight of who she is and where that who came from. Her formative narrative holds up really well in the adventure she goes on.
In the past, when I read Marie Lu, I wasn’t fully on board with her narratives for a specific reason. While I love the graphic-novel feel of her narratives–something I also employ in my writing–Lu can be prone to head-hopping or conveniently drifting away from her literary narrator. In the Warcross Duology stories she addressed this issue with the concept of Memories: recorded data to create memories that can be shared between people. I was really glad to see an accepted means–one that didn’t jerk a reader out of the story–by which these perspectives could be brought into the story while still shared with the reader to give a depth of story to render other characters more complicated and relatable.
The only real issue I have in Wildcard and Warcross are the timelines. The speed of adoption for Neurolink could be plausible based on such fun things like the Pokemon Go craze. But the continued adoption from that point makes me question a lot. It’s very easy for characters to adopt anonymous faces with the AR gear and yet no one is without the gear–or has it turned off–to know when someone is doing such a thing in the real world. Maybe I’m just extremely jealous of the battery life of the technology. Another timeline issue: the speed of the legal system at the end of the book (is that vague enough?) was astoundingly fast and puzzling. I understand wanting to wrap up a book quickly but that was a little ridiculous. It gave me enough discomfort as a reader that I could identify other issues of the narrative that had thrown off my sense of the timeline and made me analyze it.