As Black City began, and Natalie moved back to a city recently ravaged by war, where ash still fell freely from the sky and the cinder stone of burnt and crumbling buildings smouldered from the once-hot flames, I grew more and more interested about her world. Even more interesting were the parallels between Black City and World War II – Darklings being forced to live in segregated ghettos, run rampant with poverty, disease and starvation; Darkling concentration camps, where they were forced into the Barren State and scorched from the heat of the sun (no sparkly vamps here!); and cyanide pills as a means of quick death when faced with public crucification.
But even as I grew more interested with Black City’s world-building, I couldn’t quite figure out where I was supposed to be. Is Black City located in what used to be the United States? Or is it supposed to be a different world completely? Had Darklings always existed or did they arrive with the war? Prior to the war, did Darklings and humans live peacefully together? Or were they always at odds? Who started the war? Was there an uprising because humans no longer wanted to be treated as food? I was really hoping for some more history surrounding Darklings and their origins, and was quite put-off when I only got the tiniest of morsels to sate my thirst for information.
But my issues with the world-building paled in comparison to the issues I had with the erratic characters and the forced romance.
I didn’t grow to like any of Black City’s characters. From the beginning, Ash was a jerk. He was moody and cruel for little-to-no reason, and walked around with a rather large chip on his shoulder. I might have empathised with his situation if I had had a better understanding of his upbringing, but as the history surrounding the Darklings and their place among humans was never really explained, I couldn’t understand his contempt for the world he so desperately wanted to fit in to. Natalie was arrogant, using her status as Sentry when it was convenient, yet complaining about the responsibilities that came with it when it got in the way of something she wanted. She was self-centered, watching Day carry an armful of textbooks while she walked empty handed, complaining about her aching feet from the long walk. And she was entitled, inviting herself over to Day’s house for dinner and not once commenting on feeling any guilt for eating the food Day’s father struggled to put on the table. Neither character type was one I found myself relating to. But suddenly, they both changed.
Even after having spent their first few interactions hating each other, with the realization that they were Blood Mates, the bitter Ash disappeared, and the arrogant Natalie all but evaporated. Proclamations of love and eternity were thrown around, and claims about finally finding happiness were made. They then walked away from the only two friends either of them had known, angry with them for not supporting their forbidden relationship. Then they spend a lot of their time together questioning their feelings for each other, wondering if it’s only the Blood Mate connection keeping them together, since both of them comment on barely knowing one another. Other than the literal sparks they feel when kissing, some so strongly they’re physically pushed apart, I felt no chemistry between them. How could I? They literally went from hating each other on one page, to professing their eternal love for each other on the next. I actually skipped back a few pages to see what I had missed because the leap was so sudden.
"I bite my lip. It is a lot to take in. When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t even sure Ash liked me and now he’s telling me we’re Blood Mates. Things are moving so fast, any normal girl would be running for the hills…"
"It’s a relief in many ways, to know what I’m feeling for Ash is more than just a crush, that it’s something beautiful, that we’re destined to be together."
Ugh, it was all just too much.
But there was also the little things that I noticed, quite often, in Black City that bothered me. Like the amount of times Natalie left her house, and entered the “frigid cold” with no mention of having grabbed a jacket on her way out the door. Or how often Natalie complained about having a permanent bodyguard, only to be able to come and go as she pleased when it was convenient for the plot for her to be alone. How Natalie’s mother was overbearing for a few chapters, and then conspicuously absent while Natalie consorted with the enemy. And the made up swear word – frag – literally gave me uncomfortable shivers every time it was used.
So, what started off quite promising, quickly escalated into something I struggled to finish. The last few chapters of Black City became exciting again, as the focus shifted away from the romance and back to the political drama, but by then I just didn’t care.