What happened to the country is not entirely clear. Now, though, there are Darklings, which are much like vampires, and Bastets, half-cat creatures that can kill Darklings. Was there some sort of war that created these creatures? I don't know. On top of that, there are also Wraths, Darklings driven mad by a disease until they are nothing but hunger.
Humans, horrified by these monsters in their midst have taken over, having defeated the Darklings in a brutal war. They segregated the Darklings into camps behind high walls, killing any who escape. They have forbidden relationships between humans and Darklings, meaning that only a few twin-bloods like Ash exist. The Darklings' venom, conveyed by a bite, does not kill; instead, it serves as a powerful narcotic, the Haze, to which many humans are addicted.
Purian Rose, who we don't really get to meet, looms in the background. He is the leader of the United Sentry States, a totalitarian government bent on keeping the Darklings down or, even better, killing them all. Really, though, Purian Rose is a cult leader. He has even created a religion to himself. Warning: if your leader makes a religion based around himself, it's time for the straitjacket.
The opening scene sets the tone for Black City and may make many readers uncomfortable. Ash, the hero of the piece, peddles his wares (aka Haze...and pleasure) to a young girl. She has some drug in her system already, which is against his rules, and he leaves her in the streets. He meets Natalie, the daughter of the Emissary who caught him in the act. He threatens her death and leaves. The rest of the book I would say is not quite as shocking as the opening, but, if it upsets you, you may not wish to continue.
As is very popular these days, Black City is told from the perspectives of Ash and Natalie. While I like Richards' writing, I had difficulty discerning which character I was reading at any given time if they were in the same location. I really just didn't get a sense of them from the writing itself. For one thing, Natalie seemed a lot more silly and girly from Ash's perspective than her narration conveyed. They just really read the same to me. There are chapter headings with their names, but if I forgot whose chapter I was in I had to rely on them seeing or thinking about the other one to clear things up for me. Also, it didn't help that they occasionally didn't alternate chapters.
As such, I wasn't bonded to the characters. I really just did not have a feel for them at all. Is Natalie the way she felt from Ash's perspective or how she is in her narration? I really just don't know. Ash, too, I have trouble getting a feel for, as that opening scene seemed a bit out of character for how he acts for most of the rest of the novel. Perhaps I'm supposed to see this as Natalie's affect on him, but I didn't really get that impression. Their romance really was pretty meh to me. It was so obviously coming, and I didn't find the build up or the fruition especially satisfying.
The most interesting aspect to the romance was actually the love triangle which appears along the way. I won't tell you what happens, but I can say that it opens up some philosophical questions about the nature of love that I found fascinating. I only wish more had been done with this, because these questions seemed much too easily dismissed. There should have been some more navel-gazing as a result, but that really wouldn't have gone with the epic true love angle Richards is going for.
I enjoyed reading Black City, although I was not pleased about the animal that died. Richards' writing held a lot of appeal and the world was interesting, though I would have appreciated more back story. I do plan to continue on with this series. If you like really dark tales and true love stories, Black City will be perfect for you.