Black City (Black City #1)Featured
In a city where humans and Darklings are now separated by a high wall and tensions between the two races still simmer after a terrible war, sixteen-year-olds Ash Fisher, a half-blood Darkling, and Natalie Buchanan, a human and the daughter of the Emissary, meet and do the unthinkable--they fall in love. Bonded by a mysterious connection that causes Ash's long-dormant heart to beat, Ash and Natalie first deny and then struggle to fight their forbidden feelings for each other, knowing if they're caught, they'll be executed--but their feelings are too strong.
When Ash and Natalie then find themselves at the center of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to pull the humans and Darklings back into war, they must make hard choices that could result in both their deaths.
I found myself very drawn to the premise of this book. I thought about the book while I wasn't reading it and was eager to return to the pages. For me, that was enough to overcome some flaws and make this a book I'd recommend and one whose sequel I'm interested to read.
The writing is grim and gritty in places, and the first scene definitely sets a slightly shocking tone for younger or more sensitive readers. As I am a fan of grim and gritty, this didn't bother me, and I was eager to explore the world of Black City and the fascinating set-up of Darklings (which are basically vampiric creatures) who lost what amounted to a civil war against the humans and are now segregated behind barrier walls inside each state. There are some compelling questions about race and classicism, when to speak out against a steady decline in personal freedoms, and the true nature of enduring love.
I really enjoyed the character of Ash, the boy POV who shares narrating duties with his love interest, Natalie. Ash is smart, damaged, and torn between the human world, where he's been raised, and the Darking world of his mother. Ash is a twin-blood, a child of a human and a Darkling, and is the only twin-blood he knows of since relationships between humans and Darklings are now forbidden. I found his struggle to understand his own nature and the natures of others, and his fight to figure out the difference between being a survivor and being a hero, very compelling. He is what made this story work for me.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The world building left me confused in places, and that's a shame because I am a fan of this premise. I was never clear on where the Darklings came from (Is this an alternate history U.S.? Did something happen to create Darklings?). I was also confused a few times on the descriptions of Black City (There's a scene where fires are referenced as if they're still burning, but I have no idea where those fires came from.) and a few of the political hi-jinks going on weren't fully explained or felt like they came out of nowhere.
I also felt like we skipped a few of the most crucial and most interesting scenes. There's an important arrest, and a scene where people are fighting, and a few others where one chapter ends with a bit of a cliffhanger (Perfect for drawing the reader into the next chapter!) but then we skip the good stuff and jump forward a few days in time to the next scene. I felt a bit cheated as a reader because these scenes were part of the big payoff I'd been waiting for. I'd love to read all the good bits, the action, the arrests, the battles etc. and not have them summarized for me later.
Black City has a very compelling premise and some fascinating characters. The story isn't afraid to tackle some difficult race, class, and socio-economic issues within the framework of a dark, gritty story that, despite a few flaws, kept me turning pages until the end.
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.
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.
I loved the characters. Being in Natalie and Ash's heads was quite the journey from sympathizing with them and wanting to hug them to wanting to give them a Gibbs' clipboard to the back of the head for acting silly and not doing what I want them to.
As for the plot, it had such depth, I was constantly gasping and being blindsided by what came next. There were a few points where I thought that the characters were just doing things as a plot device, but there constantly was a deeper reason, things that I never would have guessed and never thought up.
The ending wrapped up the first book well, and gave me a sense of satisfaction while at the same time leaving me craving more and *needing* that next book in my hands now.
While Black City does have vampires, Elizabeth gave it a take like I haven't read before, and it really seemed like a new paranormal creature rather than your standard vampire. Ash is a halfling, and his sense of disconnect and longing to just be a part of one species, the human or the Darkling is palpable. Ms. Richards gave him life and conflict, and I was wholeheartedly pulling for him, and longing for him to find his place in this dark world.
Another thing that sold me on this story was watching Natalie grow into her own. I appreciated how she learned to stand up for herself and those that she loved even if she didn't start out that way.
The relationship between Natalie and Ash was filled with tension but I loved both their emotional and physical attraction. There were moments where I questioned everything but Elizabeth has the gift of storytelling and of crafting a romance that left me sighing.
The fighter spirit of Ash and Natalie as well as the light and spark of hope and defiance that they set into this world fraught with politics, segregation, violence and self centeredness.
I want, no NEED more of Ash and Natalie's love and adventures in Black City.
Bottom line: Loved this story! Great characters, fast plot and new take on vampires.
And I loved the first hundred pages or so of Black City. There was political scandal, romance, intrigue, and I loved learning about the world Elizabeth Richards built. New worlds are some of my favourite things and there’s so many rules and customs in Black City – and I loved learning them.
But then some of the characters in Black City really started to annoy me a bit. I couldn’t understand why people kept fighting with each other for no reason and there was this weird, obnoxious love triangle and some stuff dealing with soul mates (blood mates) and it really took me out of the awesome world Elizabeth Richards built.
But then the ending of Black City got crazy again, which I liked.
Despite my mixed feelings on Black City, I feel like it’s one of those books that I need to reread. Now that I know that the romance/love triangle plays a huge role in the middle of Black City, I have to wonder if I’ll enjoy it more – rather than just being thrown by it like I was the first time.
Basically – Black City wasn’t the book for me. But if you like vampires with an interesting backstory, and some crazy dystopian world building, I do recommend giving Black City a shot. Elizabeth Richards definitely knows how to bring you into a new place with her words.
Oh, and just a warning – there is cat death ahead.
Review originally posted on my blog http://hobbitsies.net/2012/11/black-city-by-elizabeth-richards/