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Last Updated on November 21, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 709

Marie Lu’s Warcross is a popular young adult novel set in a cyberpunk reimagination of New York. The title refers to a pop culture sensation that took the world by storm: Warcross, a virtual reality game accessed via a pair of Neuro Link glasses. In the game, players battle for hierarchy, power-ups, and Artifacts. Some players take the game more seriously than others: there is an underground betting syndicate wherein players and fans can bet on the game. Concerned by this insidious development, the makers of Warcross hire bounty hunters responsible for catching players involved in gambling. 

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One such bounty hunter is Emika Chen, a recently-orphaned eighteen-year-old girl who began to work as a bounty hunter after her father's death. Emika is a successful bounty hunter; her desperation and dire financial straights lead her to take immense risks, which often pay off. In both appearance and personality, Emika is colorful and vibrant: she has rainbow hair and is covered in tattoos. Early in the novel, Emika notices that a rare power-up appeared during the first round of the first International Warcross Tournament. Determined to snag the power-up and sell it for a quick profit, Emika makes a risky choice and manipulates the game’s code. While attempting to hack into the tournament and snag the power-up, Emika accidentally glitches herself into the game. 

The next thing Emika knows, she is competing in the games alongside a befuddled group of competitors who do not understand who she is or from where she came. Her presence throws off the match, and Emika fears her mistake will have dire consequences. Instead, she rises to international stardom, and the secretive creator of the game, Hideo Tanaka, invites her to visit him at his headquarters in Tokyo. The mysterious billionaire tells her that her antics impressed him, and he wishes to employ her as an undercover agent in the game. Emika, stunned by his offer, accepts. Tanaka tasks her with tracking down an elusive hacker named Zero, whom he suspects to be a competitor in the tournament. To get closer to the other competitors, Emika signs up for the games as a wildcard candidate and is chosen by Team Phoenix Riders. 

Emika quickly discovers that one of her teammates, DJ Ren, has ties to the Dark World—a virtual place where people place bets on Warcross and conduct other illegal activities. She attempts to investigate DJ Ren’s connection to the Dark World and Zero by following her teammate during a match. While Emika traces her teammate's footsteps, Zero appears. He warns her against investigating further and offers her a chance to change sides and work against Tanaka. Emika, who has begun to develop feelings for the secretive billionaire, rejects his offer. Zero leaks photos of Emika and Tanaka together to the press, and the news of their blossoming romance rattles the Warcross community. Emika’s teammates, blindsided by the news, press her for details, but before she can answer, their quarters explode. 

Upon waking up in the hospital, Emika learns of her disqualification from the tournament. Tanaka visits and tells her their deal is complete; he pays her the offered bounty and terminates their official relationship. However, Emika cannot stop herself from investigating further and uncovers Zero’s plot to disrupt the finals. She glitches into the gameplay yet again, stopping Zero’s plan and leading Team Phoenix Riders to win the tournament. Her victory is dampened by the arrival of Zero, who warns her of Tanaka’s plans and the insidious nature of Warcross. Rattled by the interaction, Emika seeks out Tanaka, who tells her that the technology used to play Warcross is capable of controlling the players’ brains even after the game has ended. 

Emika is shattered by the revelation, so she calls a meeting with several other players. During the meeting, she learns Zero’s true identity. Zero’s name is Sasuke, and he is Hideo Tanaka’s long-lost brother. Aware of what his brother’s game is capable of, Sasuke requests Emika’s help to take it down. The novel ends as Emika stands at a crossroads, uncertain of how to cope with the insidious revelations about Warcross and Hideo Tanaka, a man she once cared for deeply.

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