Wildcard by Marie Lu Review
Just a warning about this book: If you haven’t read Warcross (and what are you waiting for?) do not read this novel yet. You start right where the last book left off. There is no time jump and there is no back story explanation.
Warcross took us into a not so far off universe in which a video game designer found a way to hack the human brain to experience the game in a dream-like state. Besides the actual game, which is now a prominent sport that has overtaken all sporting events (Olympics, World Cup, etc) in terms of renown, the users also encounter a realm outside their own struggles. They can adjust their avatar to anything they prefer, frequent places they would never have the money to visit otherwise, and get lost in the virtual experience.
Similar to the Oasis from Ready Player One, the virtual space has taken over peoples’ physical lives. They are never without their “lenses” which act a a portal to the software, even interacting with the physical world in many cases.
Emika Chen, the main character, hacks into the world tournament of the game, catching the attention of Hideo, the designer of the program. He recruits Emika to join one of the most famous teams as a cover while she tracks down a hacker that has been messing with their systems.
While working for him, Emika falls for Hideo and he reveals that his brother was kidnapped as a small child.
When Emika comes in contact with the hacker, “Zero”, she discovers that he is Hideo’s little brother.
Hideo, unaware of the turn of events, then releases an algorithm that shifts the weight of the entire world.
And THAT is where Wildcard starts. People are now rendered incapable of committing crimes and they are turning themselves in to authorities in droves. Sounds like a good thing right? In fact, it’s easy to see where Hideo’s motivation comes from. Devastated over the loss of his brother nearly twenty years ago, a life free of crime sounds like paradise.
But anytime someone attempts to strip freewill from humanity, there are consequences they do not expect. Here it is thousands committing suicide since they cannot live with the thought of their unlawful acts.
Now the tables have turned and Emika must stop Hideo before he can release the algorithm to every set of lenses (including hers) and the suicides continue.
To do so, she must fall into an unlikely team with Zero, Hideo’s brother and former hacker, and his Dark Coats. In doing so she learns more about his past, what actually happened with his kidnapping, and the reason Zero is so set on stopping Hideo.
All of your favorite Phoenix Rider characters are back in action in this sequel, although we do not see too much of them. But during the scenes where they are involved, we learn more about their background as well as see Emika's transformation from a loner to someone who can depend on her friends.
The pacing of the book during the first half was pretty slow, even without any backstory. I was a bit lost in the timeline. There's a ton of things happening, but nothing ever really moves the story along until a little past halfway through where the MAJOR twist leaves you reeling.
I almost started to hope for some sort of romantic connection between Zero and Emika just to have this book be the complete inverse of the last, but the author nips that in the bud pretty quickly. So if that's what you are going in for, you will be disappointed. Emika is still head over heels for Hideo, even though he is on some "take over the world" kick at the moment.
I've read other reviews that say that this book wasn't needed for the story, and technically I can see that. It does seem like one story arc that was broken down into two different parts. But I think that splitting it into two books gave us an opportunity to get more details and allowed for Marie Lu's magnificent world building that she is known for.