Hijinks in Virtual Reality || Warcross Review

Initial Thoughts:

*SOBBING UNCONTROLLABLY* I FEEL SO BETRAYED AND YET AND YET. Ugh, this is the Darkling all over again except with video games and virtual reality!

I’m gonna need a moment to gather my thoughts.


WARCROSS

by Marie Lu
GP Putnam’s Sons, September 2017
YA science fiction, cyberpunk
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies

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.

Forgive this digression

Before I get into the review, let me tell you about this video game series called Dragon Age. I promise you I’m going somewhere with this, so bear with me.

The Dragon Age franchise is near and dear to my heart solely because of how fantastic the character stories and overall plot have been revealed through gameplay. Roleplaying games tend to do this, and at a certain point, DA got me invested enough to actually care about the characters.

Even when they rip your heart out into pieces. Like Anders did in Dragon Age 2. Like Fen’Fucking’Harel did in Dragon Age: Inquisition. And I sit there watching cutscenes with the realization that as much as I detested the actions these characters were programmed to do, I still thought to myself: “Dammit, these characters are not EVIL. They’re not entirely wrong. They’re ANTI-HEROES LIKE BATMAN AND I WANT THEM SLAPPED INTO SEEING SENSE. I WANT THEM REDEEMED IN THE SEQUELS.”

Hawke, sometimes even you’re a better character than I am.

So that’s where I stand with characters who seek to change the world and make it worse instead. That’s chaotic good at its finest. Damn the rules when you’re the best to judge, right?

Dread Wolf take you, Solas. AR LATH MA, VHENAN.

WTF does any of this have to do with WARCROSS, you say?

Everything.

It has everything to do with Warcross, because this is exactly the same feeling I went through as I read the book; from squealing at virtual reality immersion to swooning over billionaire Japanese boys to crying from the betrayal of everything–of which I actually SAW coming but the results still hurt all the same.

This book was a gamer geek girl’s playground. I cannot stress that anymore than it already has been. It’s as if Marie Lu read Ready Player One and thought: “Huh, not enough girls partaking in their geekdom. Let’s throw these badasses in and see what happens when we have this many nerds together in the world!” And then she immediately moved the setting to hyper-futuristic Tokyo. And then she threw diverse characters into the mix, including a Chinese-American main character, a formidable boy in a wheelchair, two gay characters, and a Japanese love interest. (Boy, that Hideo Tanaka though. Yowza.) Oh, and she doesn’t just stop there. She pretty much threw us into a world that any Fortnite or Sword Art Online fan would appreciate if not love.

Speaking of…I really should actually watch Sword Art Online at some point.

The world is pretty much Lu’s sandbox, and she made it that way by writing a book with so much hanging on virtual reality. One of the major attributes of Warcross is the game Warcross. People play Warcross internationally, and its popularity is so high that becoming an overnight sensation is a big. effing. deal.

This is where Emika Chen comes in. Down on her luck and about to be evicted from the only life she knows, she pulls a stunt that gets her noticed by millions of people, including the inventor of the virtual NeuroLink and the Warcross game, Hideo Tanaka. Instead of getting arrested, Hideo offers her a job that puts her undercover as a Wild Card–a player drafted into the Warcross tournament–in order to hunt down Zero, an expert hacker of the Dark World. Of course, hijinks happen and Emika goes in way over her head, but what kind of heroine would she be if she just backed down from anything dangerous, amiright?

Also, this is seriously my mental image of Hideo Tanaka. And if you’ve heard Shota Matsuda speak a bit of English, you’ll hear a slight accent there. I just… *turns into a puddle*

Hem. So where was I? Oh, yes, this book. You can definitely tell it’s everything Marie Lu loved thrown in along with the kitchen sink. The book is action-filled, from the beginning to the end, though I will say there was a lull to plot somewhere between Emika’s sojourn in the Dark World and finally meeting Zero. While I did adore the romantic interludes, I was kind of bummed at the lack of character development or growth in anyone. As much as I loved having the insight into Emika and Hideo’s characters, this still didn’t really help my understanding in character motives.

**SPOILER ALERT** Honestly, the whole effing villain arc could have been solved if Zero had revealed himself a long, LONG time ago instead of letting all this shit play out. **END SPOILER**

Also, that cliffhanger ending is going to kill me. Particularly because Marie Lu actually used CLIFFS in one scene and I just. Absolutely. DIED.

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This is the first Marie Lu book I’ve read, believe it or not, so I’m going to have to add everything else she’s written into my TBR to peruse later.

4 out of 5 cookies! Damn those cliffhanger endings and chaotic good characters!

This book counts as part of my Beat the Backlist challenge.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

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Mini Reviews: Annihilation, Station Eleven

Another set of reviews! I’ve been back to listening to a lot of audiobooks lately, and I’m so glad that my library has a lot more to offer now, so there it is!

I haven’t watched the movie that was spurred on by the book, but the book was pretty short and weird.

I actually enjoyed Station Eleven, which pleased me, because I didn’t have many expectations going into the book.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

Love in the Multiverse || A Thousand Pieces of You Review

Initial Thoughts: 

Well this was cute.


A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU

by Claudia Gray
Harper Teen, November 2014
Science fiction, young adult, romance
Rated: 3 / 5 cookies

Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their groundbreaking achievements. Their most astonishing invention, called the Firebird, allows users to jump into multiple universes—and promises to revolutionize science forever. But then Marguerite’s father is murdered, and the killer—her parent’s handsome, enigmatic assistant Paul— escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.

Marguerite refuses to let the man who destroyed her family go free. So she races after Paul through different universes, always leaping into another version of herself. But she also meets alternate versions of the people she knows—including Paul, whose life entangles with hers in increasingly familiar ways. Before long she begins to question Paul’s guilt—as well as her own heart. And soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is far more sinister than she expected.

That cover though

Okay, so can we talk about the cover just a wee bit? Because how could anyone not talk about the gorgeousness of it? Seriously, I would have picked it up out of a bookstore just because of the colors alone. That said, yes, this is definitely me judging the book by its cover, and normally I let the premise and the title take me along the ride. But this? Claudia Gray was blessed with the cover gods.

Now that that’s over with…

Dammit, romance

Again, this is probably another case where I didn’t read the book jacket summary in its entirety, and most of what I’d known about this book was that it dealt with the multiverse. And, honestly, I already said “hell yes” to the fact that this book has a multiverse.

So…kind of like Dark Matter right? Except for young adults and a less complicated explanation of how the multiverse works?

Well…ah, who was I kidding. It’s a young adult book, so it reads like a young adult book, with young adult problems.

Let’s backtrack a bit before I start raving about things first. Marguerite Caine is the daughter of two famous and brilliant scientists. In her world, she is sort of the black sheep of the family–while her brain isn’t completely out of left field, Marguerite chose to follow the artistic route rather than her family’s scientific calling. Hard to imagine, considering her parents are the inventors of the Firebird, a multi-dimensional traveling device that becomes the focal point–and the plot-mover–of the book.

The book itself opens up rather well, to be honest. It starts out with enough action and contemplation to get me interested. Heck, when Marguerite spends most of the first chapter filled with hate and planning to kill some guy named Paul, I was like, “DO TELL, MARGUERITE. WHY YOU MURDEROUS?”

Honestly, Marguerite’s resolve to kill Paul made me wish she’d gone through it like Uma did. Just saying.

So Marguerite–with the help of Theo, her-other-love-interest-but-that-is-honestly-mostly-arbitrary-because-seriously-nothing-comes-out-of-it-at-all–travels several parallel dimensions in search of Paul in order to exact vengeance for a murder he supposedly committed. Let’s all just blatantly trust our narrator, because of course she’s got all the facts and information, the logically, scientifically-minded girl that she is. Oh, wait, she doesn’t have all the facts. But nevermind because this being a YA, the guy she’s chasing will probably managed to be the same guy she’s going to fall in love with. I mean, the title is A Thousand Pieces of You. If that’s not romantic, I don’t know what is.

Which brings me to the brass tacks. This book is predominantly a romance. Yes, it has a wonderful backdrop and several worlds that I could see expanded rather well in future installments. Yes, it has an awesome plot-driven premise that boils down into some crazy conspiracy that is much bigger than I’d imagined. But also yes, it’s a romance with a love triangle. A frelling. Love. Triangle. Not only is it a love triangle, but both guys were pretty much the same archetype of a typical romantic interest: geeky, hot, intense, and overprotective. The only difference between Theo and Paul are that one’s more sociable than the other and one’s just a wee bit smarter.

Sigh.

It didn’t help that Marguerite was probably the least interesting character to me. Sophia would have been a great POV. Katya would have been a great POV. Josie would have been a great POV. Instead, the perspective fell on a girl who just happened to become a special snowflake due to circumstance (BECAUSE SHE DOES BECOME A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE). Instead, we get someone–whose sole reason for multi-dimensional travel is vengeance–who gets sidetracked because she fell in love with the guy she’s been chasing. I mean, Marguerite, seriously, remember the time when you adamantly believed Paul was a murderer? Yeah…

That being said, I will say I enjoyed the book. I had listened to the audiobook version of this book, which was fantastic because of the different accents performed by the narrator. I also particularly loved that the multiverses were varied and rather interesting in their changes. Claudia Gray gave not just one world, but several, and that in itself is worth a lot of kudos. My favorite dimension has got to be the Russian world, which took up a chunk of the book. A lot of the characters in this dimension got fleshed out, and I would definitely read a sequel that returns to this world later on. The love affair between Marguerite and Paul was certainly more palatable with Russian accents in tow, and I’m kind of glad for this (also, sue me, I have a weakness for my “the princess and the guardsman fall in love” trope).

All in all, A Thousand Pieces of You is not a book without its fair share of faults. The love story was predictable, and it gets cheesy from time to time. Marguerite as a character could have been better written. There were still a lot of questions I would have loved to have answers for, and the multidimensional travel explanations were definitely lackluster in comparison to another multiverse book I’d loved (Dark Matter).

But while the book had elements I didn’t like, I thought the story picked up quite a bit once the truth about the conspiracy was fully revealed. I ended up listening to the audiobook really quickly, I was never really bored, and I adored every single time Henry and Sophia were iterated in each dimension. I’d totally read the rest of the trilogy because I’d love to see more of these characters show up again.

3 out of 5 cookies! I’d recommend this book because cover, Russia, and multiverse. Yeah.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

Empress of a Thousand Skies || Review

Initial Thoughts: 

For something that’s set up for a duology, there is much to tie up plot-wise. Not surprising for a space opera per se, but I thought a few things could have been resolved already. Also, way too many random coincidences used to move the plot. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…anyway, some good parts, some bad, I’m still on the fence mostly on this book.


EMPRESS OF A THOUSAND SKIES

by Rhoda Belleza
Razorbill, February 2017
Young adult, science fiction
Rated: 3 / 5 cookies

The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, Rhee has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne – and her revenge.

Alyosha is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.

The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding – even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee’s name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.

In a galaxy far, far away…

Cue the whole Star Wars opening sequence for when you read the book jacket summary. I swear to you the overall effect makes it even more dramatic. And, believe you me, this entire thing takes a turn for the drama. But such is a space opera, amiright?

But seriously, can we talk about this whole memory cube business first?

So in this world/galaxy, er, thing, most people are wired into a memory cube, which pretty much holds what I’m assuming is a database of their personal experiences. Because of Rhee’s flashbacks, it seems like an equivalent of a perfect recollection, one which she could go back to over and over again. So when that gets unplugged, most memories are essentially wiped out. And this is a universal thing. I wonder how much of this is hackable and easily attained/rewritten because the whole thing is largely online…

I shudder to think.

Having perfect recall and being able to go back to a memory over and over again is both a blessing and a curse, imo.

But I digress. My point is there’s a lot about this technology that was interesting to me, and I would have loved to have seen it unfold. In fact, Alyosha and Kara’s subplot kind of touches on this conspiracy about the memory cubes, which is probably why I found their POV the second most enjoyable scenes to listen to, the first being the fast-paced, high-risk chase taking place with Vin and Aly.

That being said, a lot of the story hinged on kismet and character ignorance. Several times, Aly and Rhee escape their conflicts unscathed because of a set of coincidences that were set in motion before they even entered the scene. Several times, the characters do stupid things and they still manage to survive (Aly crashing in a spaceship after a high-risk chase, Rhee dropping a pill and getting herself and Dahlen nearly killed). In one particular scene, it just so happens that both characters meet eye-to-eye for a hot second and then suddenly, everything escalates. I just…where’s the buildup? Where’s the danger? Why are the characters so. frelling. dumb?!

No, seriously. These characters had way too many issues that could have been solved if they weren’t so stupid and self-obsessed. The main villain was predictable, boring, and honestly, sounded like the equivalent of a Mary Sue if villains could be characterized as Mary Sues. Rhee, as the only survivor of the Kalusian dynasty, is supposed to have been taught to take over the throne of an empire, yet I in no way thought of her as anyone who would be fitting to take over a throne. The beginning of the book pretty much starts a few days before her coronation, and yeah, okay, shit happens, and we have explosions and death, and mo’ money, mo’ problems, but from the get-go, Rhiannon was the most aggravatingly ignorant girl ever. She reminded me of another YA girl-ruler who I completely despised because all that education and preparation amounted to absolutely nadand in the end do we really want to trust someone like that in a seat of power?

You’d think perfect recall would allow Rhee to dwell on memories and analyze the minutiae of human interaction and facial expressions. You’d think she’d pick up on facial cues through that recall. Instead, she spends the entire last few years thinking about shanking the guy she THINKS killed her family. Without proof. Without any other evidence other than the fact that she has a memory of her father’s adviser arguing vehemently against peace. And because the guy was so against her father’s policies, it’s clear that he TOTALLY DID IT.

Spoilers, he didn’t. Oopsie daisy? And does Rhee learn? Not in the slightest.

I could probably list a few other things that bothered me about this so-called empress, but I’m so over it, and I want to move on to better things.

Alyosha’s arc was definitely the most interesting to read. While Rhee’s journey was focused on the overarching galactic politics (peace versus war, an empire in arrears, a princess looking for revenge, and a madman trying to frame the wrong person), Aly’s had the most human-interest. Besides the memory cube technology, what I thought Belleza did well on was her touching upon race and racism in the galaxy. The Wraetan are looked down upon, and it mostly has to do with the coloring of their skin. When Rhee’s ship explodes before reaching her coronation ceremony, all the blame goes to Aly, a Wraetan who is blamed because of course it would be a dark-skinned Wraetan who would want to kill off Kalusian royalty. This aspect continues to be brought up throughout the book, and Aly has to constantly deal with not only escape, but survival. Easier said than done when most of the empire is out there to kill him…

Overall, a lot of what the characters did bugged me. A lot of the events made me roll my eyes because of course it would happen that way. I did greatly appreciate the interesting twist with the technology, and I liked the inclusion of different race dynamics in the story. I also liked that this was a space opera, because then lots of different characters and plots within plots within plots. There were a lot of loose ends that still needed to be tied up, however, and Belleza could have kept her story a little less convoluted. That said, I actually am keen to read the next book, if only to find out more on the whole memory cube plot.

3 out of 5 cookies! And honestly, this whole “the two fugitives must join together” thing on Goodreads is another blurb gone wrong. The two main characters never actually meet each other in the book, so um. Yeah.


Did you read this book? What did you think?

Mini Reviews: Interstellar Cinderella, She Captains

Because I’m all about women powah! From women mechanics in space to female crossdressing pirate captains, girls totally run the world. And thensome.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?