Goodreads: Black City
Series: Black City #1
Goodreads 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: Black City has an attention-grabbing premise. It is set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world where Darklings (*coughvampirescough*) are segregated from humans because of their race. The two main characters, obviously, must first recognize their prejudices and then work to overcome the injustices and cruelty enacted by the government of their world. Deep themes and some kick-ass action? It sounds like the ultimate YA read. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver, and generally gives the impression of Twlight in a more interesting setting.
One major parallel between Twilight and Black City is the problematic romance. It is insta-love. There is a love triangle (albeit an unbelievable one). Ash is not as good of a boyfriend as Natalie blindly believes. The first two statements barely need elaboration. The third will need some defense.
(Minor spoilers in this paragraph about their relationship.) Ash is a drug dealer. That alone should send Natalie running. Instead, however, she rationalizes and defends it. She states that she is willing to accept the bad of Ash’s character with his good because she loves him. Now, recognizing that your boyfriend is human (er, half-human) and therefore flawed is one thing, a good thing. Expecting perfection is also bad for relationships. Yet suggesting he need not change major bad habits is dangerous. Couples, recognizing that neither of them is perfect, should help each other to become the best people they can be, instead of excusing negative qualities entirely. Natalie is setting a poor example for teens. Also, in case this was unclear, Ash deals drugs!
(Minor spoilers in this paragraph about their relationship). If that is not enough, Ash is sort of a cheater. He sees one other girl, recognizes he has a physical attraction to her, and is ready to run to her. How…endearing? Richards seems to be attempting to portray some inner struggle that Ash endures (which is clear once you read the book), but she fails. Ash does not struggle. He never tries to push the other girl away at all, but instead welcomes her touch in the name of “discovering which girl he is really attracted to.” It seems to be his opinion that your soul mate is whichever person you have the best time kissing, with her personality being irrelevant. This philosophy gets in the way of my personal interpretation of Ash’s being a kind person and a good boyfriend.
Black City also suffers from the quality of its writing. Individual sentences are fine; Richards clearly does have a wonderful command of the English writing. The overall construction of the novel, however, is flawed. Richards attempts to cram a lot of action into Black City—but very little of it is particularly exciting. In the first place, nothing unexpected happens. Even minor details click into place exactly the way a reader would envision them. There is not an excessive amount of foreshadowing that enables readers to predict plot events, but once plot events do occur, the immediate reaction is not surprise but a shrugged Yeah, that would happen. Secondly, so much happens that none of it is given the time it deserves in build-up, event, or aftermath. In Chapter 17 alone I made note of a sudden romance, a sudden fight, and a sudden death. This was anomaly in that usually each “major” occurrence—such as a dramatic rift between friends—lasts for one or two whole chapters.
The world behind all this events does not fare much better. Black City sounds like a fascinating place, but its history is unclear. To start, whether this novel is set in a future version of our world or in some alternate universe where there is also a United (Sentry) States is unclear. (In Nameless by Lili St. Crow, for example, there are vampiric creatures who suddenly appeared in what was previously our world. The same could be true of Black City, but it is a mystery.) Next, the history of the Darklings is underdeveloped. Readers do learn that the enforced segregation is very recent, having occurred during Natalie’s lifetime. But how did Darklings and humans live together before then? Richards implies it was fairly peaceful—but then later states that if segregation were to end, Darklings would need to find a way to eat besides drugging and feeding on humans. I dislike sounding as if I would be on the racist government’s side in this novel, but if the modus operandi for Darklings had always been to attack, drug, and drain humans, I understand their dislike and fear. In minor details, the word “fragg” as a curse can be annoying (I dislike invented profanity in general, so no offense to Black City), and the fact that Ash’s fangs tend to throb whenever he is angry or amorous is funny and maybe unnecessary. The parallel drawn to male genitals here made me mildly uncomfortable, especially for something that served little purpose.
I dislike having to write such a negative for Black City. I very honestly believed it had potential, first from the summary and second from the fact that Penguin had decided to publish it even though the vampire trend is very close to dead. I trust editors, and they clearly see something special and innovative about Black City. In the end, I just did not see it, too. However, there are a lot of very positive reviews for this book, and if paranormal romance and vampires is something you as a reader really love, this book could work for you. If you like Twilight, especially, I think this has many of the same characteristics—but better.
Published: November 13, 2012
Goodreads: Eden’s Root
Series: Eden’s Root Trilogy #1
Source: Received from author
Summary: Before his death, thirteen-year-old Fi Kelly’s father warns her of an impending global crisis and encourages her to train so that she and her family can survive. Faced with a food shortage and the knowledge that one of her family has already contracted the deadly Sickness, Fi strikes out into the wilderness in a desperate attempt to lead those she loves to safety. The world, however, has descended into chaos and it will take all of Fi’s resourcefulness and strength to ensure her family arrives.
Review: Though Eden’s Root is based on the premise of a global food shortage caused by the irresponsible application of science, the story spends little time on this aspect, choosing instead to focus on the characters and their relationships. Each member of Fi’s family proves both lovable and likeable, and the way they consciously make an effort to interact with each other respectfully and meaningfully sets this book apart from other angsty offerings. The characters drive the story and a desire to see their fates will keep readers turning pages.
Initially the amount of caring people left in a world literally falling apart before their eyes seems implausible. Cold logic, after all, suggests that the majority would place their own needs before those of others. Even Fi’s father leaves his girl with directions to learn to lie, steal, and fight if she wants to stay alive. He makes her promise she will save no one but her mother and sister. However, Fisher reminds readers that tragedy sometimes brings out the best in people. Although violence and panic predictably erupt when the world population realizes a catastrophe has occurred, many of the survivors recognize that they truly need each other. They put aside their differences sometimes to work together, sometimes simply because they are tired of the bloodshed. Fisher balances expertly between pessimism and optimism in her characterization, offering a world that is diverse and real.
The main characters exemplify this commitment to diversity as Fisher collects a group varied in age, race, and ability. She notes how each person contributes to the family and is valued, even if they do not possess the same skills. Though a post-apocalyptic world might seem to favor the young and the fit, especially those able to fight, the family celebrates all talents and contributions. Older members who cannot hunt or raid offer knowledge, childcare, or simply the rare ability to keep peace in a large, weary group. Younger members might know how to orienteer or they might simply offer a cheerful disposition. The family recognizes the intrinsic value of each person even as they ironically enact Food Laws allotting more sustenance to those they believe have the greater likelihood of surviving.
The one main flaw in characterization turns out to be the protagonist Fi. Her father entrusts her with the incredible responsibility of leading her family across the wilderness during post-apocalyptic madness when she is only thirteen. Fortunately, Fi proves an expert in martial arts and marksmanship and has a natural capacity for directing others that persuades a large group including adults to place themselves unquestioningly into her care. Quite simply, I didn’t buy it. Increasing Fi’s age by a few years and giving her some more time to train would make all the difference. Some tension over the family leadership when the journey becomes rough would also make the story more realistic.
Some editing to fix various grammar mistakes and to streamline the plot would improve the story immensely. Overall, however, Eden’s Root presents itself as a careful and professional work. The intriguing premised combined with the likeable characters will make readers eager to get their hands on the next installment.
Series: The Chemical Garden #1
Goodreads Summary: By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape–before her time runs out? Together with one of Linden’s servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?
Review: The story of Wither is built around an intriguing, disturbing premise. In the future, people die, without fail, in their early twenties, and humanity is left in a desperate race to find a cure before the entire population disappears. Readers will be drawn in from the first pages, wondering how the scenario will play out.
Most of the story, however, is not focused on this search for a miracle. Instead, it closely follows protagonist Rhine as she is sucked into the alien world of the wealthy, who are eager to spend fortunes on stunning home illusions and parties in an attempt to enjoy their lives while they last. DeStefano’s depiction of the luxurious world is imaginative and captivating, as tempting to readers as it is to Rhine. She must continuously struggle against the life that has been forced upon her, always remember that beyond the endless gardens and orange grove and course for miniature gulf, that she once had a different home, one with family if without wealth.
She begins to find, however, that it may be possible to build a different sort of family. One with her sister wives and the servants, if not with the House Governor, her husband, whom she is determined to hate. The relationships that develop between the girls are complex, sometimes strained but sometimes moving. The fact that they are in a polygamous relationship can occasionally escape the reader’s memory because they spend so much time together trying to be friends. This is doubtless the result of a concerted effort by DeStefano to soften an incredibly creepy plot aspect. Her other main endeavor to make the polygamy palatable is evident in Rhine’s consistent refusal to actually have intercourse with her husband. Nonetheless, their strange sister wife relationship to each other and to their husband is disturbing.
It may honestly be the most disturbing facet of the book. In many ways, DeStefano fails to deliver on her dystopian/post apocalyptic ideas, and her world ends up inconsistent. For instance, readers may wonder why, if women are in such high demand, they are frequently murdered. Or why women must be kidnapped to be brides. Or why only the upper classes are eager to reproduce. Or why no one bothers with education anymore if they really want to find a cure. Or even what purpose it serves to the plot for North America to be the only continent left in existence. (Perhaps this is supposed to be an easy solution to the question of how everyone in the world, including very poor countries, would have all turned to genetic engineering so quickly?) Answers are not forthcoming, and the lack of explanations makes Wither less believable and therefore less powerful.
The level of potential fear is also diminished by the fact that there is absolutely no hint as to what evil deeds Rhine’s father-in-law is supposedly up to in the basement. He is doing something—he is murderous and controlling and has corpses he of people he claims had been cremated—but without an idea of what his experiments are (besides the fact that they must evil), readers cannot be overly concerned about them. One can only imagine that the whole mystery will be cleared up later in the series, but by the ending of the Wither, it seems though an interesting plot turn will have to occur for that reveal even to happen.
Wither is unique and rather fascinating. It is filled with a cast of strong and unforgettable characters. Its most obvious characteristic, however, is its failure to live up to its own potential. The plotline, concept, and relationships are enough to lead readers to the sequel Fever—after all, who wants to leave a story without discovering whether the human race survives?—but there are so many ways by which readers could have been made even more eager to find out what happens.
*Posted for the Catch Wither Fever event hosted by The Overstuffed Bookcase and The Daily Bookmark.
Goodreads: The Pearl Wars
Series: Skyship Academy #1
Summary: The population left on a devastated Earth have retreated to the Chosen cities, where they can control the temperature and live in comfort. The cities, however, require massive amounts of energy to function and, with natural resources depleted, the people must rely on the objects they call Pearls for power. The Pearls fall from the sky and must be collected in order for the Earth to use them. A faction, however, has separated from Earth in protest of the increasingly dictatorial nature of politics and the increasing number of secrets kept from the people. They live in Skyships above the Earth and also require Pearls in order to live. Skyship agent Jesse Fisher’s job is to collect Pearls before the agents on Earth can, but when he discovers a hidden ability to control the Pearls, he will find himself running both from those on Earth and from the very people he used to trust.
Review: Nick James’s debut novel takes the reader on an exciting adventure through a fascinating world full of intrigue and danger. From the high-tech Skyships and Chosen cities to the burned-out Fringe towns, James realizes a world of political and emotional complexity sure to draw in even skeptical readers. A generous amount of action including explosions, chase scenes, and undercover operations closes the trap, keeping the audience on the edges of their seats and completely absorbed in Jame’s fast-paced narrative. If some feared The Pearl Wars would prove a typical “boy book,” however, full of thrills but lacking in depth, a surprise ending destroys that notion. A shocking revelation ensures that the characters realize that every choice they make in the future will have vast moral implications, not only for themselves, but for the world.
Goodreads: The Scorch Trials
Series: Maze Runner Trilogy #2
Note: The summary may contain spoilers if you have not finished The Maze Runner.
Summary: Thomas and the other Gladers thought they had found safety after escaping from the Maze. The world outside, however, has suffered immensely. Sun flares have burned the earth making it almost uninhabitable and a mysterious disease known as the Flare infects people, turning them into zombie-like creatures who go insane before their inevitable death. WICKED, the group responsible for placing Thomas and the others in the Glade, fights to find a cheap cure, but their methods are questionable. The group orders the boys to cross the Scorch, the most devastated part of the planet, in two weeks’ time. The Gladers long to free themselves from the control of WICKED, but have no choice but to do as they are told if they want even a chance at survival.
Review: Dashner brings to The Scorch Trials all the action, excitement, and mystery of The Maze Runner. The stakes, however, are higher as the boys have left the relative safety of the Glade, where they understood the rules and the danger. Now they must face unknown factors in their mission to cross a barren wasteland where the only people left suffer from the Flare. Suspense builds as the Gladers struggle to understand their role in the race for a cure and try to determine whether or not they will ever truly gain freedom from WICKED. Betrayals and the stirrings of love add to the emotional drama. However, in the end, Dashner relies on the same techniques to keep the readers guessing at the true nature of WICKED, leading to a sense that he is merely playing with the audience at this point. Thomas and the other Gladers have enough information about WICKED to deduce their goal; the real question is not what WICKED is doing, but whether or not they are justified in doing it the way they are. The trilogy has much potential to raise important questions about ethics and morality, and whether or not the ends can ever justify the means, but Dashner has yet to suggest he means to address them. If the trilogy is ever to rise above a merely entertaining story, it must tear itself away from the action to address the human elements.
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Goodreads: The Maze Runner
Series: Maze Runner Trilogy #1
Summary: Thomas wakes up in an elevator remembering nothing but his first name. When the doors open, he finds himself surrounded by a pack of boys who call themselves the Gladers, and who all arrived in the same place just as he did. They formed a community within the four walls that protect them from the surrounding Maze and the monsters it contains—giant mechanical horrors known as Grievers. Each day the boys send out a series of runners into the Maze in the hopes that they will find a way out. When a girl arrives in the elevator, however, bearing the message that she is the very last, the boys realize that they only have a few days to decode the secret of the Maze and find their way home—or they will all perish.
Review: The Maze Runner clearly markets itself as a “boy book” with its emphasis on action and minimal attention to characterization. Each of the characters falls fairly neatly into a type, allowing readers to feel acquainted with them without the need for drawn-out interactions or analyses. This allows the author to focus on the mystery of the Glade and the surrounding Maze, which he does superbly by immersing the readers in the same confusion felt by Thomas. Readers see events unfold through his eyes with no accompanying explanations by the narrator. They feel the same disorientation by being thrown into a strange place, the same feeling of being an outsider when they struggle to understand the slang used by the Gladers. The experience can prove frustrating at times, but it does keep suspense up. In the end, even readers not strictly in love with Dashner’s writing will probably continue the series just to learn how it all ends.