Warcross, by Marie Lu

I end up reading a lot of young adult books every year. The standout ones cross the line into good adult reading because of a dedication to character and plotting. Then there are others that, for one reason or another, fail to jump the gap.

In the case of Warcross the main problem involves a fairly tired basic idea and a plot twist that doesn’t quite pan out. In the book, Warcross is a game that is the centerpiece of new immersive technology developed by a computer prodigy named Hideo Tanaka who started at age 11. It’s now 10 years later and the game has only increased in popularity. More than VR the glasses for this game technology a sensory experience as if stepping into another dimension.

Emika Chen is now 21, the same age as Tanaka, and is tangentially involved in Warcross. She’s a player but she is also working as a bounty hunter who tracks down illegal Warcross gamblers. This is about the only job she has available to her because she can work on her own doing freelance work. As a teen in school she did some computer hacking that led to a conviction that remains on her record. Though she has considerable programming talent of her own the black mark makes her generally unemployable in the field she knows best.

During the annual worldwide tournament, an event that is followed by millions, she decides to try a hack of the game based on a security flaw she’s found. When she does execute it the maneuver ends up blacking out the entire game. Instead of getting in trouble Emika receives an invitation to Tokyo from Tanaka. On their first meeting she is able to display her keen eye for flawed software. Tanaka is so impressed that he offers her a huge amount of money to participate in the tournament and help find a player who is trying to infiltrate the game’s software. This puts Emika into a dangerous situation in which she has to try to defeat what seems to be a murderous worldwide plot. She also learns of new hardware being developed by Tanaka that could be more dangerous than the plot she’s been hired to fight.

There are some interesting and touching passages related to Emika’s family (dead but lovingly remembered) and Tanaka’s (living a simple life despite their son’s wealth). However, one of the problems with a story in which much of the action takes place within a video game is that it takes place within a video game. Someone nearly drowning is only virtually drowning and if they don’t manage to get air the worst that happens is that they use up one of their lives. Most of the people Emika has to compete against in the game feel like stock characters a la Hunger Games with not much more purpose than to give her antagonists. There’s a bit of romance between Emika and Tanaka, but that burns out when she begins to understand the new product he’s working on.

All in all a not very satisfying book for adults and maybe passably interesting for the target audience. Not as bad as some game-related plots that  have popped up recently but not really terrific as a whole.