Wildcard, by Marie Lu (Review)

by Marie Lu

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: September 18, 2018


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?



*Minor spoilers included in this review.*

Oh, Wildcard,  I wanted to like you. I gave Warcross a three star review, so it was solid but not super impressive in my eyes, but I was intrigued enough by the end to want to continue the series. I should not have bothered.

Let me start with the positive; this book is trying to do a lot of interesting stuff thematically. Through Hideo’s character, Lu explores how practically limitless power, unresolved past trauma, and technology can intersect with disastrous consequences. The abuse of power through advanced tech is not a remotely new theme in sci-fi, but Wu’s futuristic society in this series does provide an interesting platform to explore it.

Also, Emika mentions her “rainbow hair” probably at least 50% less in this book than she did in the first one, so that was a plus. (Seriously, that phrase was used so often in Warcross that I think it may forever make my eye twitch when I hear it.)

That being said, I had a lot of problems with this book. Complex villains are good, but I wasn’t super thrilled about how Hideo’s character arc was handled, particularly in relation to Emika. She is horrified by what he’s done but can’t seem to shake her feelings for him. I’m not into the dynamic there; if you’re into shipping Kylo Ren and Rey, you’ll probably like it a lot more than I did. Emika spends a lot of time sympathizing with Hideo and thinking about how the loss of his brother has driven him down the path to becoming essentially a super villain. People die due to Hideo’s manipulation of the tech he’s tricked them into using. We all lose people, buddy. Most of us don’t resort to attempting mind control over the entire population of the earth over it.

Overall, it just feels like Wu wants us to view Hideo as a redeemable character, and I don’t see him that way at all. Your mileage may vary.

But on a broader note, I just had a hard time connecting with any of the characters in this at all. They all felt a bit flat and I had trouble keeping Emika’s teammates straight for a good bit of the book. Even Emika never really jumped off the page for me, and she’s the protagonist. She seems like she sometimes veers into that “bland MC who can’t be too much of a character because the author wants you to be able to picture yourself in their role” kind of territory.

Wildcard also features one major plot twist, and maybe it’s a product of being outside of the target audience for YA novels, but it did not take me remotely by surprise. It was an interesting development, but it seems like Lu was laying on the foreshadowing a bit too thick for it to have the punch that she wanted it to.

Finally, it feels very disconnected from the book that came before it in a way I can’t quite articulate. A lot of other reviewers have stated that they almost felt like it took place in a separate universe from the first installment, and I can definitely understand that assessment. Warcross as a game also plays a much smaller role in this book, and I think that also contributes to a totally different vibe.

Basically, there was a lot of potential in this book, but it felt a bit squandered. I don’t know if Lu is planning another installment of this series, but regardless, I’m saying goodbye forever to Emika and her rainbow colored hair.

Purchase links

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Thank you for reading! What’s your favorite story that explores the relationships between power, technology, and morality? Let’s discuss in the comments!


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Review – Warcross, by Marie Lu

by Marie Lu

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Length: 353 Pages

Release date: September 12, 2017

Publisher:Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers


For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life.

The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.



Warcross was kind of a frustrating read for me, because I like a lot of what Lu was trying to do, but some of her narrative choices and her writing style got under my skin. (This is nit-picky, but as an example, this book contains the ridiculously cliché phrase “I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding” at least twice. Emika also mentions her “rainbow-colored hair” more times than I could count.) Maybe I should go easier on the writing style when it comes to YA novels, but I feel like one can write simply enough for the genre while still writing well, and this novel did not accomplish that.

The worldbuilding also felt somewhat sloppy in some respects. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on in regards to the virtual reality technology, but the descriptions felt inconsistent. For example, Warcross is a specific game that comes with the VR glasses that exist in this novel, but there seems to be no distinction drawn between playing that specific game and using the glasses in any other manner; it’s all “playing Warcross.” This feels like an intentional narrative choice rather than a slip-up (maybe to emphasize how integral the game has become in everyday life) but it just ended up feeling muddled to me.

The romance subplot was exhausting to read. Hideo Tanaka enters the story like a YA-appropriate Christian Grey; none of the BDSM, but all of the brooding, lack of boundaries, and super hefty power imbalance. I can’t talk about my feelings about him in any depth without getting into spoiler territory, but I will say I liked where Tanaka’s story seems to be leading for the second book and lot more than I liked slogging through the shallow romance in this one.

Time for the obligatory Ready Player One comparisons. I’m of the unpopular opinion that Ready Player One is terrible (sorry, guys) and despite my issues with Warcross, I think I preferred it to Ready Player One. There is one thing I think Ready Player One does better, and that is in developing the real world well enough that it becomes obvious to the reader why a lot of people would prefer to spend their time in the Oasis. After finishing Warcross, I feel like I don’t know much about the real world in that novel outside of “there’s, like, a lot of crime.” However, Warcross makes a lot more of an effort for diversity and also doesn’t commit the crime of spending pages at a time on pop culture references that are clearly only for the author’s own amusement. Warcross also feels like it’s going to articulate a much more coherent moral message than Ready Player One ever managed to do, although that remains to be seen in Wildcard. 

Warcross is an engaging and fast-paced novel with a likable protagonist, an interesting (if somewhat underdeveloped) setting, and a plot twist that will have you reaching for the second book. So while I didn’t love this, I’ll definitely be reading Wildcard soon.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read Warcross? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
What’s your favorite novel where video games play an important role?


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