Publication Date: November 13, 2012
Type: ARC, won
A dark and tender post-apocalyptic love story set in the aftermath of a bloody war
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.
Similarly to its fellow Breathless Read, Origin, Black City had a lot to love and a lot to hate. There were a number of things I enjoyed, and a number of things that put a bit of a damper on my reading experience.
It certainly wasn't a bad read. Some of the concepts were exceptionally unique; despite having many marks of a typical dystopian or vampire novel, Richards took a new spin on a lot of the classics, and I enjoyed watching her world unfold. The treatment of the Darklings was strongly reminiscent of the Holocaust, but the differences between these two events raised quite a few moral questions. Because the Darklings are a legitimate threat, does that in any way excuse the despicable treatment? Do you want the walls to come down, knowing it could end in a human massacre?
There were also a few very genuine moments that touched me, quite unexpectedly. Oftentimes these occurred between family members, which was perhaps even better; there aren't enough complex familial relationships in a lot of YA fiction today.
And, deep matters aside, one of the greatest things about Black City is that it's what reviewers like to call "intensely readable." Despite the plot not really picking up until about two thirds of the way in, I never found myself bored. I wanted to read on, wanted to unravel the mysteries and see what would happen next in this dark, horrifying world.
Unfortunately, despite its readability, Black City was still a let down in more ways than one. The writing could best be described as . . . amateur. It's somewhat understandable, considering this is Richards's debut novel, and there's definitely potential--throughout the novel, there were the occasional flashes of brilliance. But the overall quality of writing was lower than I expect from a published novel.
And that leads to my second issue, which is that the characters simply weren't real or likable. Both their dialogue and actions were awkward and cheesy, more like caricatures than three-dimensional, believable people. Not even likable caricatures at that. They were at turns bratty, petty, idiotic, cruel, and a bunch of other negative adjectives that I'm too lazy to list. I don't mind flawed characters when it's acknowledged that they aren't exactly the greatest of people, but I was supposed to believe that these guys were just the shit, and I couldn't buy it.
Despite my troubles with the characterization, if the romance--the main plot of the novel--had developed nicely, over a logical period of time, I might have learned to love them. Unfortunately, the dreaded insta-love struck once again in the form of--wait for it--soul mates. (Soul mates, Blood Mates, close enough.) The time-tested excuse for a complete lack of any real connection or chemistry. At one point, Ash tries to give a dramatic speech about why he really loves Natalie, y'know, for her, and all he can come up with are her annoying/endearing physical habits, because there is absolutely nothing between them but mystical lust and pretty words.
While most of this review would seem to indicate a strong distaste for the novel, the fact of the matter is that, when it comes down to it, I enjoyed this book. Some parts of it irritated me to no end, but it was a quick, entertaining read, and I know many will like it far more than I. Three stars for enjoyment.