Kate's Reviews > Black City

Black City by Elizabeth  Richards
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it was ok
bookshelves: 2012, young-adult, arc, dystopia-and-post-apocalypse

** spoiler alert ** Disclaimer: My spoiler cut means business. I’m not going to spell out the plot, but reading this review will definitely spoil some of the twists of this plot if you haven’t read it yet.

Further Disclaimer: I picked up a copy of this book at BEA, so I’m reviewing based on an ARC.

I read Black City pretty stoked and 100% ready to love it. The cover is pretty and I’d heard the concept was a neat take on the supernatural craze that has swept up so much of YA. For the first 160 or so pages of this book, I was into it. Really into it. Could not think of anything else into it.

I liked that the characters were flawed in a way that made sense with how they were brought up. I liked that both Ash and Natalie had their prejudices and were ignorant about the other’s life. I thought the world building was fascinating, so much so that I looked past the random and somewhat excessive use of exclamation points and the weird Britishisms that crept in from time to time. I thought that there were some cool stories hanging out in the background, the kind that would help a trilogy make sense. The background cast was interesting, and they all had histories and personalities that made them more than stereotypes of the role they were in.

I thought that the atmosphere of the first 160 pages of this book was stunning. It was moody and dark and mysterious. There were things I wanted to know more about (like the breakdown of the regions being governed), but I was confident that we’d keep getting subtle context clues and not suddenly have a history lesson info dump randomly one chapter. In short, the beginning of this book was everything I’d hoped it would be and then some, which is why what happened around page 160 was such a colossal letdown.

What was most frustrating about this book to me was that we had the potential to really see two characters get to know each other. Ash and Natalie were from two COMPLETELY different worlds (hell, two completely different species), and the only things they knew were the stereotypes that each of their social complained of. Natalie was spoiled by the luxury she lived in (for all of the problems that came with it) and Ash’s problems had turned him into a detached jerk. And it made sense - perfect sense! - that these two characters would turn a physical attraction and a fascination into something more grown up and awesome. I would have been so down with THAT story that I’d be crying with joy as I told y’all about it.

But...no. Instalove. Instalove in the most awkward and random and out of nowhere manner. I expected there to be an element of Fate and Destiny because this is a fantasy novel and, honestly, I would be bummed if that element were totally absent. But even I didn’t expect it to the degree it happened. After that point, I felt like Black City turned into a completely different, not nearly as awesome book. Suddenly Natalie, who up until this point has shown a fair amount of open mindedness and common sense, ignores everything she knows about Ash and turns her back on her (only) friend because her (only) friend doesn’t like him (with good reason, had everything Ash let said friend believe turn out to be true). She doesn’t question the feeling. We’re suddenly thrown into this whole “You have literally awakened my heart so I have forgotten everything that came before.”

For 100 pages, I was ready to tear my hair out. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened. I wanted the Black City of the first 160 pages back. And then...the twist. In theory, the twist should have turned the whole instalove aspect on its head. (view spoiler) I started to get my hopes up again. Ash (and to a lesser extent Natalie) suddenly has to question whether this instalove is real and the difficulties of a relationship with Natalie. Once again, we are back to a plotland I want to roll around in and never leave.

In order to decide if what he feels is real, Ash needs to make out (view spoiler). I was with him. This is a confusing time! You are confused! Make bad choices and make reader-me happy with some delicious conflict! Natalie sees and obviously she reacts just as I want her to react which is basically, “I understand and all, but screw you.”

But that plot, for me, didn’t sustain itself. Ash starts thinking and realizes, no, he DOES in fact love Natalie for who she is. This is where my problems came back and then some. Ash has admitted, as has Natalie, that they know very little of each other. They are clearly attracted to each other. They are clearly interested in finding out more. But he LOVES her. And why? Because of the way she clacks mints against her teeth and because of her bravery (and one more reason ala mints that I can’t remember). So, two of those reasons are automatically silly. Bravery. Ok. That makes sense. Only as a reader, I had seen only a few instances of Natalie being brave. The very start of the novel and once more. I had, however, seen several instances of her not being brave. Of her being scared and succumbing to that fear (which is something I actually really liked about her character).

In the end, instalove prevails, only without the supernatural element. I tried to argue myself out of feeling this way about the love story of this book. They are teenagers, I told myself. They are young and stupid and they don’t know what love is! But we’re told that they do. We’re told that they’re in love. The Romeo and Juliet risk everything kind of love.

And maybe in the end, my intense problem with the love story in this book is that I am the type of reader who does not find Romeo and Juliet at all romantic; who found it, rather, to be a story of passion but not of great love. Who found it to be the story of what happens when passion rules every aspect of your life. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy for a reason. Only I know I’m not going to get that kind of payoff in this series because Ash and Natalie are very likely going to end up together. Which would be fine if I understood why; if this book went beyond the passion.

Even with all that said, if the world building of the first 160 pages had been sustained, I might have given this three stars. I thought the idea of this book was that awesome, but the idea faltered along with the love story. Too many things happened. There were, as I said above, enough subplots in this book to span at lest another installment of the series, but they all played out in a mere 340 or so pages. A LOT of things happened in this book. I felt like every time I turned the page, some new, crazy action was rushing at me. In some places, this worked very well. In others, it happened at the end of a chapter and the next chapter was several days later. It made the pacing a bit of a rollercoaster, but not an awesome kind. I kept start-stop-start-stopping, and it started to get frustrating the further into the book we got because more and more things just kept piling on.

Finally, and I hate to do this, but there were, for me, some similarities - both obvious and less so) to other YA series that have been out for a while and are very popular. And it isn’t fair, in some ways, that every time two characters sit next to each other in a class and the lights go down for a movie and they feel a spark that you think instantly of Twilight. But you do, because that was one of the defining moments in that book; it was a memorable scene, love it or hate it. I’m not saying no YA author should ever use that plot moment again, I’m just saying that as a reader, it’s in my brain. More importantly, Black City is a book about semi-vampires (I say semi, because they are definitely like vampires but they’re also not, which, see paragraph one, is one of the things I enjoyed). Not Twilight vampires, no (though these vampires DO have venom, which is not something I recall reading anywhere but Twilight), but vampires all the same, which means the audience is going to be similar. There were other things, too, like the villains use of a red rose ala President Snow from The Hunger Games. As I said, I know this isn’t necessarily a fair thing to point out, but I noticed it so I put it here with that caveat.

Overall, Black City has oodles of potential. So much potential. Elizabeth Richards obviously has some seriously boss imaginings going on in her brain. That potential, though, is what makes this review so hard to write. I wanted desperately to love this book. I was loving this book. The middle, though, is a mess. The “meat” of the love story is a mess. It’s scattered and jumps around which means that the plot ends up scattered and jumping around. All of the awesome backstories and worldbuilding get completely swept up by the instalove tornado.

In the end, I just didn’t enjoy this book. Will I read the sequel? Yes. Because Elizabeth Richards DOES have boss imaginings going on in her brain, and I think this series is salvageable. Hell, this book was an ARC so maybe changes will still happen. For me, without those changes, Black City, though it started with a spark, fizzled to a dud.

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Reading Progress

June 24, 2012 – Shelved
July 11, 2012 – Started Reading
July 11, 2012 –
page 35
July 11, 2012 –
page 91
24.33% "I'm really enjoying this one a lot, especially because the two main characters are total pills in a way that makes perfect sense for the lives they've lived."
July 12, 2012 –
page 164
43.85% "This book is really exclamation point happy."
July 13, 2012 –
page 267
71.39% "I went from loooving this book to hating it in about a sentence. Sigh. :-("
July 13, 2012 –
page 267
71.39% "See, this plot twist? Kind of awesome. But the 100 pages that came before it kind of render it moot."
July 13, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012
July 13, 2012 – Shelved as: young-adult
July 13, 2012 – Shelved as: arc
July 13, 2012 – Finished Reading
July 18, 2012 – Shelved as: dystopia-and-post-apocalypse

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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Casey (caseydillabooks) Totally took the words right out of my mouth with the whole twilight/president snow thing! Plus when she's running to him at the end (end of new moon) and hospital epilogue (end of twilight) plus when Natalie tells Gregory [? I think] that she can decide the right sort of friends (Harry potter)
And even the world building was like a supernatural mimic of WWII with more of a high school feel. War stories are usually relentlessly horrible! It just felt unoriginal
I was really disappointed ):

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