Black City is a book that’s been on my radar for a LONG time. It’s actually one of the titles I chose for the TBR Pile Challenge, so I was excited when it won the poll for Book Twirps’ May read-along. While I didn’t love this like I was hoping, I did enjoy it well enough that I’ll certainly be checking out Phoenix once it’s released. Continue reading my review below, and if you’d like to sign up for the June read-along book – Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – you can do that here!
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 been on my radar since early 2012, well before its release. The folks who were lucky enough to get early ARCs were all raving about it, and at that point I was still interested in reading books about vampires. Admittedly, my interest in vampires has waned a bit since then, but nonetheless I was pretty excited to finally have a reason to read this book, since it had been sitting on my shelves (or rather, in a giant pile in my bedroom) since its November release. The cover definitely played a factor in my interest – I mean, just look at it! – but I found the story itself to not quite live up to the gorgeous packaging.
At its heart, Black City is a book involving a forbidden romance. Yes, there is a dystopian world, and the city the characters live in is falling down around them. But at its heart, this is a romance between Natalie, whose mother is the Emissary in charge of the city, and Ash, a twin-blood Darkling, or vampire. Mixing the two races is expressly forbidden, and in fact, Ash is considered property, not a person. In Black City is a ghetto that houses all the other Darklings, but because Ash’s father is human, Ash is allowed to remain outside of the ghetto walls.
As someone who is a sucker for forbidden romances – even if I’m oftentimes disappointed – I was hard-pressed NOT to pick this book up. And there were so many aspects of this book that I really and truly enjoyed. The world-building is phenomenal; the depictions of Black City are amazingly bleak, with the ash raining down around everyone from the burned out buildings, the laborers who are struggling to survive in this less than hospitable landscape, and the giant walls of the ghetto rising up over the landscape in the distance. There’s also a lot of political intrigue, in the form of plots that Natalie’s mother has put into play, and the very scary leader, Purian Rose, who seems to have an eye on everything and has turned into a cult leader who preaches purity of blood. I got a very large Holocaust-vibe from this book, particularly when it’s mentioned that Darklings were rounded up and sent to concentration camps in the Barrenlands. While this world is dark and bleak and horrifying, I found it to be extremely compelling.
The biggest problem with Black City for me personally was, unfortunately, the romance. I wasn’t completely sold on Ash and Natalie’s connection, and considering that their romance plays such a huge role in the overall story, this caused some issues for me. I was more interested in Ash and Natalie’s personal growth, as opposed to their feelings. I did like watching Natalie become stronger and more determined to do what she felt was right, and likewise enjoyed watching Ash’s growth into someone who was tired of being pushed around. But the romance itself seemed very typical YA paranormal to me, adding nothing new to what I’ve already read in other stories. Considering all the things that were done so wonderfully in this book, I just found the romance to really fall flat.
Nonetheless, the events at the end of Black City have guaranteed that I’ll pick up the sequel, Phoenix. The political aspects of the world have really ratcheted up, including an appearance by Purian Rose that doesn’t bode well for anyone. I look forward to more development of the romance – make me feel something, please! – and more personal growth for both Ash and Natalie. I think they can become quite the powerhouse couple if things are done the way I’m wishing!