Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: Phoenix by Elizabeth Richards


Author: Elizabeth Richards
Release: June 4th 2013
Genre: Dystopian, Paranormal, YA
#2 in the Black City trilogy
Series: Black City (#1), Wings (#3)


Ash and Natalie are just starting to build a life together when things in the United Sentry States go from bad to worse. Ash and Natalie find themselves at the center of turmoil when dictator Purian Rose threatens Natalie’s life unless Ash votes in favor of Rose’s Law—a law that will send Darklings and other dissenters to a deadly concentration camp known as the Tenth.

When Ash can’t bring himself to trade Natalie’s life for those of millions of Darklings, her fate is sealed. Enter Elijah Theroux, the handsome Bastet boy Natalie once saved from her mother’s labs, where he’d been experimented on and tortured. It was his venom the Sentry used to create the lethal Golden Haze, the heart of the government conspiracy that led to Black City’s uprising and Ash’s rebirth as the Phoenix, the face of the rebellion. Elijah is back and Ash doesn’t like him; it’s clear he’s taken with Natalie, and Ash fears she may have feelings for him as well.

But Elijah also may have the answer to taking down Purian Rose for good—a powerful weapon called the Ora. Ash, Natalie and Elijah just have to escape Black City undetected to find it. But fleeing the city and finding this weapon (if it even exists) are easier said than done, and the quest could tear Ash and Natalie apart, even pushing them into the arms of others.


Dammit, Richards! What have you done?

What I remember from Black City: blah blah blah relationship drama blah teen angst, oh and a bit of minor plot with somewhat nice world building but that's just a bit of a sideplot because RELATIONSHIPS ARE EVERYTHING.

Yeah, while I did unfairly give it 3 stars in my review, I think it's more 2 stars. So this is really a huge improvement from Black City, and a very pleasant surprise.

My theory? I think Richards sat down and thought: "Hey, how can I best profit from the growing YA trend nowadays? Oh, I know: It definitely has to be Dystopian. I mean, between The Hunger Games and Divergent, what could go wrong? Everyone loves Dystopian! Besides that, I'll have to add something paranormal to it, because everyone loves that, too. How can I do that with as little work on my part as possible? I know, I'll take some mythical creature everyone knows, like vampires, and just give them a new name. Great! Now I just need some teeny tiny plot so I can pretend I have something other than the love triangle (or, even better, rectangle!) to focus on! Maybe something with rebellion, everyone loves those, right? Oookay, here's my book!"

And now, with Phoenix, I think she was just like, "Lol fuck it I'm doing it like this now! I'm not gonna care about all that other shit. I'm gonna give them a real story!"

So, yeah, the plot is actually finally moving forward in this sequel. Things are moving up in the rebellion department, there are more than enough riots our heroes participate in and there are a lot of really good action scenes, with buildings erupting into flames, stuff being bombed and blown up and people killed. This book is way more serious and bleak than its predecessor and I enjoyed that the ridiculousness has been taken down a notch. Or two, or three notches.

Of course, the relationship angst is still playing an important role, it's just - thankfully! - not the whole focus of the story anymore. I liked it. The characters, most of them, actually put their duty and the uprisings before their own drama, worrying about possibly failing relationships later. I liked that. Plus, the romance thing was more subdued now. Whenever there was angsting about that, it wasn't nearly as laughable anymore as in the first installment, thank the Heavens. I could actually relate to what the characters were worrying about and understand why they might feel that way. 

But that's just really another thing this book has surprised me with: The characters. Everyone except for Natalie maybe, got tons better. Especially Ash, I'm so impressed with him. This guy pushed what he was feeling aside for the greater good, not risking the whole mission just because his girl isn't taking his hand. He handled everything maturely, especially the whole Elijah/Natalie thing, not downright harming, threatening or doing whatever to Elijah, but rather, just having a man-to-man conversation and all that. I'm amazed, Ash. When did you grow up like this? Not only is he getting so much better at the relationship stuff, but also at all the other stuff. He makes great decisions, all of which I fully endorsed, and he puts on a brave face for everyone else even though he's breaking inside. And still, he's a very human and down-to-earth character, not being afraid to show his very human emotions once in a while. This guy here was really fleshed out and developed so nicely, I'm left to wonder why Richards didn't give him this much depth already in the first novel.

Natalie, though... Ugh. I can't count on one hand how many times Natalie was like, "Oh no, we have to save them!" and either Elijah or Ash would always be like, "No, we can't risk it," which was, might I add, always the best approach, because you simply can't save everyone. Alas, Natalie doesn't seem to get that even after the hundredth time and it simply annoyed me after a while. Add to that that she had to be saved constantly, even though supposedly she'd had some training in basic survival skills and can handle a sword. Damn, girl. But, she too isn't always blinded by her emotions and can act outside of them. Her grief and anger towards, ahem, someone's death was also very raw and human, which made me a bit sympathetic towards her. However, she screws up majorly a lot of times throughout the course of the novel, and she irked me a bit. I'm not really feeling that antagonistic towards her, though, which surprised me a bit, too. Now, Elijah, our new guy here, is simply a fucking douche with no personality. What Natalie's semi-attraction towards him is, is never seen to me nor do I even want to see it. He's a dick that doesn't do anything in this novel besides be the roadblock in the romance department, console Natalie every now and then and ... oh yeah, be a source of information at the beginning to get the plot rolling. I mean, okay, that is kind of important, but still — I still want an explanation for why he has absolutely no personality outside of "massive jerk". Even Natalie gets her characterization, whatever may you do with that, so where is his half-assed character arc?

Humph. Writing. Some scenes were ridiculously written, there's one scene where Ash is taking a bath in the adjacent room to his and Natalie's bedroom, while she's changing. Suddenly, Ash flings himself out of the tub for absolutely no reason, to stand in the doorway for Natalie to flush over his exposed body and then run to her and kiss her... Uhhh, alrighty then! However, I think she has also improved her writing style quite a bit since Black City, her descriptions coming across much clearer and her action scenes being way better (or maybe that's just because there are much more in this novel). The POVs still sound very similar, though, and it's occurred more than once that I was reading Ash's chapter and thought I was reading Natalie's, and vice versa. That is a problem, Richards, one you have to work on for the future. But other than that, the writing's completely fine.

All in all, I'm really happy that this turned out to be way better than I expected. Perhaps that is actually why I liked it so much, because I was expecting something terrible? I don't know, but I thought it was pretty good. I enjoyed it. I think now I'm definitely going to read Wings, and not only for the pretty cover.

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