War: what is it good for? I’ll be honest, I’m pretty solidly anti-war. However, I’m not anti-books about war. Or, more accurately, I’m not against books with war in the title. Both of these books, Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo and Warcross by Marie Lu, are two such books that have come out this year. Today, because I don’t have too much to say on either, I will be doing mini-reviews for each. And so, here are my thoughts on two of my most anticipated books of the year.
Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
Official Summary: She will become one of the world’s greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning.
Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world.
Alia just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.
Together, Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. If they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.
My Thoughts: Despite being very well-written, I didn’t love this book as much as I’d hoped. I didn’t connect to any of the characters, the plot was just okay, and the big twist at the end strained incredulity. I don’t know if writing for an already existing character hindered Leigh, but this was not her best work.
The characters, though diverse, just didn’t pop off the page for me. For the most part, they were developed very well. I just couldn’t connect. Diana, despite Leigh’s best efforts, seemed too perfect and infallible. Alia was interesting, but often her actions were dictated by Diana or her brother Jason. Jason’s “his way or the highway” attitude was often unbearable. Nim simply didn’t get enough page time. Theo was gross and annoying and I had no idea why Alia liked him. However, all the characters developed in logical ways (with one glaring exception). It felt like everything was technically right, but didn’t pack that emotional punch.
However, as I said, there was lots of diversity. Pretty much all the women on Themyscira are implied to be queer. Alia and Jason are mixed race with visibly darker skin. Nim is Indian, a lesbian, and fat. (She was also my favorite.) This added depth to the characters, and yet I still couldn’t connect.
The plot was all right, but not nearly as exciting as the plots in Leigh’s previous works. And maybe that’s part of the problem. I kept mentally comparing this book to Six of Crows and the Grisha trilogy. But, when you’ve been so inventive in the past, going more simplistic is a larger let down.
I had a problem with the twist, mostly because the foreshadowing was flimsy at best. The character at the center of the twist seemed to do a total personality 180. I just wish that had been built up better, if that was the way Leigh wanted to go.
Overall, I liked the book but didn’t love it. It was well-written and diverse, but I felt like it held me at arm’s length. I’m sad to say this was not Leigh’s best work and it makes me worry about any future non-Grishaverse projects.
My Rating: 3/5
Warcross by Marie Lu
Official Summary: For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. 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.
My Thoughts: This book gave me faith in YA literature again. For about a month prior to reading it, I’d been feeling burned out on YA. It was beginning to feel predictable and I was having trouble connecting. But this book turned all that around. It had great characters, a solid plot, and a steamy romance. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book winds up on my year-end favorites list.
While only Emika and Hideo were truly developed, the full cast of characters was still very intriguing. (It also seems like they’ll play a bigger role in the next book.) Emika is rebellious and daring, but also knows when to hold back and be cautious. She trusts very few, so you’re lucky if you’re one of the few. Hideo is powerful, yet boyish. While he’s often serious, he also has a good sense of humor. He would do anything to rectify the mistakes of his past. Aside from them (both East Asian- Hideo Japanese and Emika—I believe— part Chinese), we also have a diverse cast of characters I can’t wait to read more about. Asher is disabled and uses a wheelchair; Hammie is Latinx; Roshan is Indian and queer; Tremaine is also queer. They are a very supportive group and I can’t wait to read more about them.
Much of the world-building was attached to the plot, as Warcross is pretty much the center of this universe. At first glance, the plot seems simple, but there’s so much more to it. I’d been partially spoiled about the twist, but I still didn’t see it going the way it did. And I’ll say this much: that twist was the best direction Marie could’ve taken her plot. It creates shades of gray and removes the traditional hero vs. villain dynamic. This series has the potential to be Marie’s best yet based on the conflict alone.
While I didn’t like the romance at first, once it progressed in full force I was completely on board. Emika and Hideo have the best flirty banter. It’s beautiful watching them slowly open up to each other and let each other in. They never go farther than making out, but it’s so hot and sensual. Despite everything, I’m still rooting for those crazy kids.
Marie is at her best when she writes about antiheroes and morally gray circumstances. She’s really able to pull apart aspects of society and make you question your own beliefs. I am very eager to continue on with this series.
My Rating: 5/5
Have you read either of these books? Do you have any thoughts to share? Let me know in the comments!