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?
Warnings: gun violence, human experimentation, child abuse, depersonalization
The sequel to Warcross definitely came to up the stakes and be more badass than it, and for me, it succeeded. The book picks off where Warcross ended, with Emika and the Phoenix Riders knowing about Hideo’s plans, and Emika herself holding the secret of Zero’s identity (that reveal had shocked me in the previous book, and I wondered about what his motivations were) and now, with days until the closing of the Warcross tournament, time is running out for Emika to stop Hideo’s plan from full integration. Already in the beginning of the novel, the effects of his algorithm are seen in the reduced crime around the world as well as the criminals surrendering for past crimes. Emika knows the effects are good, but she doesn’t agree with the method, and so she is recruited by a sketchy hacker group led by Zero. Unfortunately for her, they too, have many shady secrets of their own, and she is thrust into a moral dilemma.
In Wildcard, the gaming is not as much of a central topic, as is the quest to stop the algorithm from full integration. So, a lot of the book is her and her allies/friends figuring out things, making plans, spying, and stuff. Emika is told she is in a prime position to get close to Hideo and disrupt his NeuroLink algorithm from the inside, but her residual feelings for him confuse her. She wants to save him from doing irreparable damage to the world, and also stay far away from the possibility of falling for him again. Meanwhile, she is also learning things about Zero, slowly, and wondering what had happened to him all those years ago for him to not even have a flicker of warmth towards Hideo. We got back into the past for quite a stretch as we look through Sasuke’s memories, and god, those were heart-breaking moments. Emika is thus caught between saving the world, saving Sasuke, and saving Hideo.
Even without the gaming aspects, this book still has a lot of action. The tech part is further expanded in non-gaming areas, as Emika uses it for discreet communication, learning new and dangerous ways to hack people, the sharing of memories – it truly brought out the ways the NeuroLink changed this futuristic world, and it also then tears it down to show its cracks. This time around, the background characters AKA The Pheonix Riders got more pagetime, and we get backstories for many of them; this was vastly preferable to Warcross, where they were mostly insignificant and blended into the background. The excitement builds as we get closer to the closing ceremony, and then there’s a whole big mission that had me cheering so hard (I did miss the game aspects of the book, now that I think about it).
In mood, I would say it is more darker than Warcross? It has higher stakes, more danger, and uses a wider scope of its setting. The romance gets more intense for this one, too, which is surprising considering the main couple are at odds for a major part of the novel; it does focus on the secondary couples’ romance, too, which was a good bonus. There are moral and ethical questions arising from the plot, with the ‘ends justify the means’ mentality clashing against ‘one person shouldn’t have all that power’. A minor arc about letting go, moving on, and about the construct of a personality were very well done. I just wish the antagonist (the other one) had more depth to them, than just greed for power.
P.S. Awesome narrator for the audiobook. Wu’s voices for the different characters and their accents were well done (I don’t know why Hideo and Sasuke had British accents, though, considering they grew up in Japan?) and one thing I was particularly happy with was the proper pronunciation of the places mentioned. (Let’s just say I read another novel set in Japan that had a narrator who butchered the names of Tokyo locations).
Overall, it is a fitting sequel and a wonderful conclusion.
Is it diverse? Protagonist is of Japanese descent, the love interest is Japanese. There are many diverse secondary characters, including queer POC characters, and a new non-binary character. Also, this is written by a WOC author.
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