I really enjoyed Black City, but I feel like I shouldn’t have. It has some major flaws and can be a bit absurd at times (especially the last third of the book), yet I just couldn’t put it down.
The thing about Black City is that the action never stops. This is both a positive and a negative. On the one hand, it kept me from getting bored, grabbing my attention from the very beginning and racing ahead so quickly that I found it hard to keep up at times. On the other hand, the very fact that you can’t keep up makes the book overwhelming. Richards packs her book with so many twists, turns, and “oh my!” moments that the story comes off as a tad sensational. To demonstrate, my thoughts while reading went a little like this: “Wait, did he just…did she just….wow, didn’t see that coming! Or that! Or that! Is this really happening right now? What if…oh my. Oh my! OK, really? This is getting a bit silly. OK, I’m taking a break. Really, I’m going to take a break. Right after this…oh my! OH MY!”
I wish that were an exaggeration. I really do.
There’s almost too much going on at once. Forbidden love, revolution, epidemics, family secrets, drugs, parallels to the Holocaust and the U.S. civil rights movements – it’s a lot to take in. There are times when it feels like Richards is going for the shock and awe factor rather than allowing the plot to follow a more natural, believable course. I found myself cringing every now and then at the ludicrous turn of events.
That being said, I can’t deny the fact that I really did have like reading Black City. There are two reasons for this – the romance and the fascinating customs of the vampires, or Darklings as they are called in this story.
Many of the reviews I’ve read of Black City accuse Richards of creating an insta-romance between Natalie and Ash, but I actually don’t think the attraction between them is that sudden or far-fetched. The two have spent their young lives essentially isolated, Natalie because she is the daughter of a high-ranking governmental official and Ash because he is a half-breed, neither fully human nor fully Darkling. As a result, they are independent, lonely, and curious about the areas of life with which they have little experience. It’s no wonder that they’re so intrigued by one another after their first meeting. Despite initial distrust and even a degree of dislike, they can’t help feeling drawn to one another by the very fact that they are so dissimilar; they’re attracted by each other’s exoticism. Heck, I would’ve felt the same way if I were in their shoes. Ash is mysterious and sexy (I’m always a sucker for the bad boys) and Natalie possesses tremendous courage and strength of spirit. She starts off a bit spoiled and naïve but experiences a great deal of growth throughout the novel, making it easy to see why Ash falls for her.
Romance isn’t the only appealing part of Dark City. As I mentioned earlier, there are many parallels between the treatment of the Darklings and the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust, as well as of blacks during the U.S. civil rights movement. This initially struck me as a risky move on Richards’ part, and I’m still not sure I’m entirely comfortable with the idea of comparing the situation of blood-sucking fantasy creatures with the very real, very horrific plight of real people throughout history. Still, the themes of prejudice, segregation, and injustice do make Richards’ story more thought-provoking and add a degree of depth to the novel.
Darklings are treated as second-class citizens at best and animals at worst. Many have been relocated to concentration camps in the wilderness, and those who are fortunate enough to escape the relocation are forced to live in squalid ghettos with inadequate food supplies and few rights. The only Darklings living outside of the ghettos and concentration camps are those who work as servants to human families, and in order to do so they must wear identification bracelets and undergo the surgical removal of their fangs.
The Darklings’ culture and physiology is even more interesting than their political situation. Authors of vampire fiction are often quite creative when deciding which attributes to bestow upon their bloodsuckers, and Richards is no exception. Soul sharing, blood mating, and production of a drug-like venom are just a few of the interesting traits that Darklings possess, and reading about these things makes for a very cool experience.
All in all, Black City captured my attention and didn’t let it go. For that reason, I recommend giving this book a try, flaws and all.