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.


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?


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?


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?

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.


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?

Words and Wordsmiths || The List Review

Initial Thoughts:

This seems to be leading up to an overall big picture story, which means sequels. Yay. (Make note I also groaned.) It was a simple, middle grade read about a dystopia pulling from Biblical and Bradburyan (that’s totally a word now…) inspiration, and I did love the concept of a wordsmith collecting and protecting words.


by Patricia Forde
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August 2017
Children’s science fiction, dystopian
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.

The Word According to Noa

I think at some point people compared this book to a children’s version of 1984 and The Giver. Okay, it sort of is, and I sort of see it. I thought the better analogy might have been Fahrenheit 451 meets The Bible and they both walk into a bar called 1984. Though for children.


In the end, the comparisons are all really just trying to say that the world is screwed up, and instead of making it better, some jerk at the top makes things much worse, and the poor people at the bottom have to make do or rise up.

Which is really how the book starts. As readers, we are introduced to Letta, an apprentice wordsmith in Ark. As wordsmiths, Benjamin and Letta are tasked locating and storing words from the outside world. Their main directive, however, is to provide words to the people of Ark, though provision is allowed to only a sanction of 500 words. List-speak is the appropriate form of conversation between people, and with 500 meager words, you can only imagine how that is going to turn out. I mean, abstract ideas don’t even come into play here. I don’t think could survive this world…

Freedom. Music. Feelings. Were they things they could live without?

So yeah, how does Letta, a wordsmith–or better yet, anyone–survive without words, with only just a List?

The book itself is a quick read and follows a story after the events of an ecological disaster. There’s a lot of worldbuilding involved, with inspiration being pulled from the Bible of all places. The Melting–which sounds like the worst-case scenario of global warming–has caused the world to overflood, destroying buildings and cities like nobody’s business. Amidst this disaster comes John Noa, who builds a city called Ark (like the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark, if you didn’t pick up on it already), and saves many inhabitants from the apocalyptic disaster. He does, however, impose unreasonable rules for living in the area. And, throughout the story, it is clear how much he hates words (even though he likes speaking them, the hypocrite).

It’s easy to see where this is going, and as a children’s book, you expect it to go in the direction it does. Letta is a girl who grows up in the shadow of Ark, and does not question John Noa’s rules until her mentor goes missing. From there, she meet cutes a rebel artist/musician/Desecrator boy (which is kind of adorable, heh) and nurses him to a point where he owes a great debt to her. Then she meets a couple other hippie Desecrators and suddenly she is finding that the world is so much more than the safety and wordlessness of Ark.

She had been in awe of John Noa before, looked up to him as the man who had saved the planet. She had grown up on stories of his great valor, his clever thinking, his vision. Now she knew that none of that was real. John Noa was a bully. That thought made her brave. He might be a very clever bully, but he was still a bully.

So she rebels, too.

From what I read, the book seems to gear itself to a sequel, though one can read this as a standalone if you’re okay with how things are resolved (which, come to think of it, I’m not. Not really). There’s still the matter of Letta’s parentage as well as the question of what happens to Ark. There’s still a lot of words to be found and collected and shared. There’s still a lot of obnoxious gavvers that need boots up their rear ends–hem hem. And then of course there’s also the matter of Marlo. But I suppose that’s another story for another day.

3.5 out of 5 cookies! It was a good, fun read, and definitely a welcome one amidst my pile of YA literature, haha.

Have you read this book? What did you think?