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Black City by Elizabeth Richards

Black City
by Elizabeth Richards

Black City

By: Elizabeth Richards

Release Date: November 13, 2012

Rating: 3 Stars

Summary: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.

Review:

Umm … what a weird book. Vampires. Dystopian. Religious motifs. Obvious parallels to the Berlin Wall, segregation, racial tensions, and even ethnic cleansing. It’s a lot to take in, but Black City sort of works because I really didn’t expect much more than just a conventional mishmash of vampire and dystopian tropes based on a run of the mill Romeo and Juliet premise, but in fact Elizabeth Richards has really written something that’s actually a bit more complicated.

Part of it though is Richards doesn’t really take the time to explain the backstory, I’m dropped right into the middle of the plot with chapters alternating between Natalie’s and Ash’s points of view. Personally, I like Richards’s approach because I have to work at figuring out exactly what these characters are talking about, although it can be a bit infuriating at first not knowing exactly what’s going on. But basically, Black City takes place in a world where humans and several kinds of vampires, called Darklings, coexist, except Darklings obviously need to feed on human blood so they produce this addictive drug from their venom in order to get willing blood donors in it for the high. The Black City version of the United States obviously doesn’t want all its citizens getting high all the time, so a few years before the events of the book there’s this religious reformation that brings to power this leader who decides to trap the Darklings either in ghettos or ship them off to concentration camps. The Darklings clearly weren’t going to willingly go along with that plan, so they start a revolt that’s violently put down and Black City now takes place in this postwar city with Darklings still stuck in their ghetto and the rest of the city divided between supporters of continued persecution and Darkling sympathizers.

That said, I really like how Richards has written her story in a way that’s not at all black and white, both sides can legitimately claim to be doing the right thing, even if it’s obvious what Natalie’s mother is doing is horrifically wrong. The premise is what I would imagine a natural progression of a society in a mixed vampire and human world would be, so while I can’t condone Natalie’s mom’s methods, the question of how to fix all these problems remains, because, yes, Darklings are being horribly mistreated, but as you’ll see, they’re not entirely innocent either. That’s actually the only reason I put up with Natalie and Ash’s relationship, because otherwise it’s really a generic ‘I hate you at first sight but secretly feel different’ type deal, but with the added backdrop of Darkling and human tensions, the two of them become slightly more bearable. However, I’m not exactly convinced that Richards has struck the right balance between Darklings as dangerous menace and innocent victims, the Darklings are starving yes but in order to give credence to the worst of the accusations against them, or maybe just to make Ash seem like a potentially dangerous monster, they end up doing stuff (view spoiler)[like killing innocent people (hide spoiler)] that just doesn’t sit right with me, like shades of gray gone too far. Heck, I’d support keeping them in that ghetto if I knew what they were doing in there, and that the Darkling sympathizers don’t even acknowledge that Darklings can be that dangerous just makes them seem more than a little naïve and foolish in my book. Just the problem with their addictive venom would’ve been enough for me to understand where the Sentry government is coming from.

As for Natalie and Ash themselves, a big problem with books written with alternating points of view is that the guy and girl characters tend to sound alike, and unfortunately, that’s a problem here too. For me, the only noticeable difference is Ash swears while Natalie is way too uptight for that, but it’s really not enough to set them apart. Oh, and beyond their ‘I hate you until now I like you’ problem, I swear there are scenes that are entirely reminiscent of Twilight, down to a triangle with fellow half Darkling Evangeline and Ash having to pick between human or Darkling society. But enough of the time Richards does add enough shades of gray, Ash being a drug dealer to support his family, getting his best friend Beetle hooked on drugs, contributing to the death of a classmate, that for the most part the Ash and Natalie drama was tolerable, and some stuff, like Ash eventually falling into the ‘he’s a dangerous monster the innocent girl should stay away from’ trope, actually worked as a smaller part of the bigger Darkling place in human society picture.

My biggest problem though is the religious aspects really didn’t work for me. I don’t have a problem with ambiguous world building where it works, but the use of crucifixes as punishment stuck out like a sore thumb because this didn’t strike me as an overly religious book and I just don’t see how the one aspect ties into the rest of the story. And the ending only leaves me even more confused. Other than that, there are quite a few plot holes, I have to point out security at Natalie’s house seriously sucks, an intruder can break into the place the same way, not once, but twice, even though her mom’s such a big shot. After what happens the first time, somebody really needs to be fired. And the treatment of half Darklings is really inconsistent, there’s a scene with another half Darkling kid, not Evangeline, and compared to what Ash has to go through it doesn’t really add up.

But overall, despite the plot holes and flawed characters, I like Black City because Richards could’ve written a much more conventional book without tackling the implications of the world she’s created, but she’s done it and the result is far more interesting.
Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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