Black City by Elizabeth Richards.
Black City #1.
Page Count: 374.
Published: November 13, 2012.
Published by: G.P. Putnam's Sons BYR.
Source: Won an ARC from Fiona Paul during the Venom Twitter Party.
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.
Black City has vampires (called Darklings). I am so not a vampire person. I still thought it was a great story. Point for Elizabeth Richards!
This was really an interesting book. There was a lot of world-building to set up, which some people may have trouble keeping straight but which I actually enjoyed. I appreciated the way Richards created an intricate and complicated world with some real depth. This made it easy to get swept up in the politics of it all because there was a lot to the ongoing conflict to consider. I also thought Richards did an excellent job of explaining and justifying her rules to her world. When something scientific or biological about the story is revealed, she doesn't just write it in and expect the readers to accept it. She gives reasons and explains how things work, then follows these rules later on, even surprising readers with their implications. She also drops little hints along the way that come back to be part of major plot points and I have to commend her on the skill with which she wove that together. I do want to note that some of the scenes are very harsh and quite graphic. Richards seems to have taken a no-holds barred approach which I appreciate because it demonstrates the true cruelty of the world they live in, but I still found a scene or two a little hard to read.
Despite the intricate world, the characters and their struggles do manage to take control of the story. I really enjoyed that there was a lot more to most of the important characters than it seemed at first. As the story went on I felt like not only were the characters growing but that they were also constantly continuing to reveal parts of themselves to other characters and to me. It was an excellent reminder not to take everyone at face value. While Natalie starts out frustratingly privileged and naive, she learns over time to open her eyes to the things going on around her and to other people's realities and this made her grow into a likeable character by the end. Ash begins the story very closed off, angry, and defensive, with good reason, but also grows throughout the book to become an interesting and complex character. They are both still not without their faults, though, which makes them seem all the more realistic. It is a balance that Richards has worked out quite well.
Something I thought was interesting with this one was the parallels I noticed to other popular works. The love story between Natalie and Ash was, I thought, very much an homage to Romeo and Juliet. There was a lot that felt familiar from the classic story, including the lovers being from opposing sides in society and even a balcony scene. However, I do not see Romeo and Juliet as a genuine love story. It is a prime example of the insta-love that everyone hates in YA. Black City, though a bit insta-lovey, gives a real reason for the initial connection that then grows into a genuine relationship, so I actually really appreciated their love story. They're also not "the perfect couple" once they get together. There are moments of doubt and uncertainty on both sides, as well as some rocky moments where I worried for their future together. This served not to be unnecessary drama but to show that relationships aren't perfect and I loved that there was a strong representation of that. Still, I got swept up in their relationship and definitely support them as a couple.
The other parallel I noticed was with Harry Potter, and it comes in the form of a character named Gregory. He holds the same hatred and disgust for anything remotely Darkling as Draco Malfoy does for anything not pure-blood wizard. They have a couple similar moments and it was interesting to see where they were similar and where they differed. In the end, though, I think Gregory outdoes Malfoy with his actions.
Overall I was very impressed with the depth and honesty presented in Black City. There was real and interesting world building and flawed characters that grow but do not become perfect. There were so many shades of grey when it came to good and bad that my opinions were constantly shifting. It was a thoughtful and very enjoyable novel.