Black City by Elizabeth Richards
Book 1 of Black City
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.
Oh. My. God.
I thought perhaps that I might be just on a preternaturally long Good Book Streak after last weekend's reading bender (that I still haven't written all reviews for). I thought that I could do no wrong and that, finally, my book sense was getting finely tuned and that I could TELL which books were good.
WRONG! So very, very wrong.
This book is bad on just about every level that a book is able to bad at. Characters? G'ah! Plot? Yikes! Worldbuilding? Oy!
There's just so much going on here that makes my brain itch I'm not even sure where to start. I have EIGHT pages of notes on why this book is bad.
Oh - There are spoilers here. Read on at your own risk.
This is a world where there are two races: humans and Darklings. Darklings are tall, strong and have super senses. They feed on blood and are vulnerable to sunlight. There are several subspecies. Some of them have wings.
Then there are humans. They are...human. They largely control the government and have guns. Somehow this means that they have corralled the Darklings into ghettos. They force the Darklings living outside of the ghetto to wear identifying armbands. They are led by a dubiously charismatic leader named Purian Rose whose likeness is everywhere and wants racial segregation and racial purity.
In case the Holocaust parallels aren't punching you in the face at this point, there is even a part where part of the propaganda says "work sets you free."
Everyone in this book is at least one of the following:
A) An idiot
B) A terrorist
C) A jerk
D) A milquetoast waste of air
Let's start with Natalie:
She has a terrible relationship with her mother, which I think is the root cause of most of her stupidity. She sneaks away from her bodyguard all the time, which inevitably gets her in some sort of danger or potential danger. Every. Single. Time. Her mother is clearly involved in something shady as hell and it takes the entire book for her to figure it out, even though it's jumping up and down screaming "I'm here! I'm the evil! Right here!"
She has the confidence to walk around in a proven-dangerous city. She falls in instalove [insert vomiting noises here] with a twin-blood Darkling. But as soon as he wants to spend a little time with another twin-blood (he's never met one before), she she falls to pieces.
He's supposed to be a good guy who makes tough choices. I get that. I can even overlook the fact that he's an uneasy blend of "drug dealer" and "male prostitute" (His "clients" get sexual pleasure from his interactions, so how it that not prostitution?) But really he comes across as a jerk who has occasional non-douchebag moments. He's cutting and condescending to Natalie pretty much from the time they meet until they run into one another and he's nice to Natalie's Darkling-slave and suddenly he's a "nice guy." Um, no. That's not how it works.
On the same page he says that humans are awful because they won't do anything for anyone else if it affects their comfort...and then he carries at a lavish Darkling-hosted party while most Darklings are starving outside.
Natalie's mother: (Bigger spoilers here)
I don't remember her name. In my notes, I just called her Mommy Dearest. She has two daughters: Polly and Natalie. She has stated, point blank, to Natalie's face that Polly is her favorite. Here's the thing, though. At one point her family was threatened and the thugs said they were going to torture one daughter that she chose or kill both. So she tells them to "take Polly." Polly logically gets emotional and physical scars and becomes a part-time vegetable, full-time recluse. The reason she chose her favorite daughter? Because Polly's father is a powerful man (not her husband) and HE ordered this attack. He doesn't know that Polly is his daughter, of course, but she's doing it to get revenge on him. To top off this ridiculous asshattery, she blames Natalie to her face because Natalie didn't run away as quickly as she was supposed to.
Oh, and Mommy Dearest is involved in a chemical warfare, biological terrorism and attempted genocide.
Mommy Dearest for Mother of the Year!!
Apart from having two of the stupidest names I've seen in fiction for a while, I don't know what to do with these guys. Day is Natalie's friend-of-convenience and Beetle is Ash's. They are both principled...when it's convenient for the plot. They are really flexible...when it's convenient for the plot. They have pointless arguments with each other and Natalie/Ash but immediately come around as soon as one trivial piece of information comes.
Beetle finds out about Natalie and Ash in "love" and is rightly freaked out because this is a capital crime. Ash says "Dude, she's my Blood Mate."
Knowing that this doesn't change a damn thing and that they will still be tortured and executed if caught, Beetle responds with: "Oh. I didn't know."
And that's the end of it. Suddenly the friends are totally fine with these people risking their lives. It's this Romeo-and-Juliet, us-against-the-world crap like this that makes me think teenagers are far dumber than they actually are.
In fact, as long as we're on the subject, let's talk about Stupid Concepts in Black City. This might take a while.
Ash's hair moves on its own, "searching for blood." He can't wear hats, because his moving hair makes them fall off. It has nerve endings, apparently, because at one point while they're making out, Natalie messes with his hair, leading to:
Because they were making out, and Natalie was touching his weird-ass not-really-hair-with-nerve-endings, Ash "loses control" and bites Natalie. She gets pissed, rightfully so, and tells him off. He apologizes and she's pretty much says "Okay, then." And then she spends the next page rationalizing it saying "it was partly my fault because I got him worked up."
NO NO NO.
This is never, ever okay. Blaming the victim is never, ever okay. Having the victim blame herself - and supporting it in the text - is never okay. I understand that this is not actual real-life rape, but the metaphor is so clearly obviously there that I really wanted to stop reading right then. In the end, though, this is smoothed over because Ash and Natalie are:
There is some infodump disguised as folklore early in the book. Basically: Humans have one functioning heart. Darklings have two - but one only beats in the presence of their Blood Mate. Twin-bloods (human-Darkling hybrids) have one heart...but it doesn't beat. Twin-bloods' cells are oxygenated by a symbiotic bacteria. (Good morning, pseudo-science!)
Okay. So the idea that your heart will only beat for your one true love is and adaptation of a well-used trope. I get it. Here's the where it get really, really stupid.
Natalie had a heart transplant when she was younger. Where did this heart come from? Not a human who died in a motorcycle accident like normal people (helmets on at all times, people), but from a twin-blood mad scientist Mommy Dearest tortured. Of course, removing a living being's heart would normally kill them, but a twin-blood doesn't NEED a heart, see, because of the symbiotic bacteria (and authorial contrivance).
Okay, so the victim is still alive. When they figure this out, Ash realizes that the twin-blood was supposed to be his Blood Mate instead of Natalie and he's all torn up about this.
This is the second point when I almost quit reading.
Several questions immediately spring to mind.
1. Organ transplants require careful blood type matching, etc. Can a hybrid possibly have the same blood type as a human?
2. I thought these are different species. You can't just shove a cow's heart into a sheep's chest and expect everything to work fine. Does science not work in this universe?
3. Is is the person or the heart that makes a Blood Mate? Because right now it sounds like it's the physical, bleeding organ that makes the bond.
4. If Natalie had her heart removed and placed in Ash's hands, would he still try to rape it?
5. This is stupid. It's not a question; I just felt it needed to be said.
At one point, Evangeline (heart-robbery victim) and Ash are talking about Darklings' dwindling survival. Evangeline mentions that twin-bloods are going extinct. I feel it worth mentioning that it's the Darklings that are at risk from starvation and genocide, etc. But she and Ash are concerned about the hybrids. At this point I had to laugh. It would be like someone saying "We only have horses and donkeys! Mules are going extinct! If only there were something we could do!" It seems like humans and Darklings are more than willing to get it on, just as long as they won't get torture-murdered for it. This just reinforces my idea that everyone in this universe is an idiot.
At one point a main character catches on super dramatic fire. This fire leaves scars on arms and chest but doesn't touch the hair. Because that's how fire on your chest would totally behave. It doesn't scar facial tissue or make the character hideous. Because fire is our friend and it would never hurt us.
The mental giants that built Black City built it out of black stone, giving it its name. Fine. The thing is that Cinderstone BURNS at high temperatures. And then the authority fire-bombed their own city. I would love to be in the city planning meeting that approved that one:
"I have an idea! Let's build a city out of anthracite coal."
"Wouldn't that burn?"
"Only if someone tries to light it on fire."
"Well, that will never happen. Approved!"
Okay. There are so many more things that I could write about. But I think I'm done. It hurts too much.
I would give this book 1 star, but I actually enjoyed writing this review and making my list of WTF things.