Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Black Key by Amy Ewing

I've been sitting here for several moments trying to figure out how to begin this review. The Lone City is such a weird YA trilogy: it's dark, and yet not dark enough; it makes genuine attempts to be gritty, but is bogged down by cliche and tepid romance; it appears to be a fantasy novel, yet the world-building is so terrible that it could just as easily be a drastically different version of our world. In short, The Lone City is the perfect storm of things that I don't generally like in YA, and especially NOT in YA fantasy, and by all rights, I should have figuratively thrown this book out the window (figuratively, because I read it on my laptop, woo).

And yet, by some miracle, The Lone City was...okay.

THE JEWEL was confusing and shallow, but was dark enough that I thought there might be something to the world-building. It raised more questions than it answered, however, so my expectations for book two went up. THE WHITE ROSE answered some of my questions, but raised a whole host of new ones and took the world-building in the complete opposite direction of what I thought the author was setting it up for. Suddenly, I wasn't looking at a dystopian future, but a bizarre alternate universe fantasy world, apparently.


Book three, THE BLACK KEY, was fair game. I decided that I just wasn't going to have any expectations; this time, I was just going to sit back and try to enjoy this crazy, crazy little ride.


Violet used to be a surrogate - an empty vessel for the rich upper class to impregnate and then kill when they were done with her. Except, all surrogates have magical powers. And it turns out that these magical powers are far more potent than anyone bothered to tell them, and are linked to the land. Because, as it turns out, the royal class are invaders in this world; the surrogates are the original inhabitants - "the Paladins" - who were enslaved and then exploited by the invaders.

At the end of the last book, it's revealed that Violet's preteen sister has been impregnated by Violet's ex-owner, so she and the other Paladins devise a plan to not only take The Jewel by force and free all the surrogates, but also to rescue Violet's sister. Violet's love interest, Ash, goes on to stage the rebellion while Violet poses as a lady-in-waiting inside her old house for reconnaissance. The clock for their grand coup is ticking down. All they need are the last few pieces of the puzzle.

The world-building was never fully resolved (or if it was, I missed it). We know that the royals are exploitative pieces of sh*t, but the middle classes weren't really explained. It's sort of implied that Paladin powers can skip a generation, which is why Violet's mom didn't have any, so I guess we're just supposed to assume that everyone who isn't royalty is a "native" inhabitant who was then subjugated by outsiders. We also never really found out where the invaders came from, why they can't get pregnant, and why the hell they have cars. (I'm still hung up on that getaway car from THE WHITE ROSE. It makes me think that, like THE SELECTION, this world might be a futuristic version of our world, but again, since the world-building was so badly done, I can't be sure.)

I felt the pregnancy thing with Hazel was a cop-out, but mostly I was relieved that a preteen hadn't actually been impregnated against her will because that would have been awful. I decided I hated Violet again in this book, because all she does is a) whine, b) blow cover, and c) make stupid and selfish decisions. When she's going undercover under the name "Imogen" she actually falls for it when someone tries to trick her by saying, "Violet?" Add to that the fact that she can't stop smirking at people and glaring at Carnelian (her "rival" for Ash), and it's amazing she wasn't discovered from page one of this ridiculous plan. But going back to cop-outs, in the conclusion of this book there are two glaring ones that I literally could not believe.

Cop-out #1: This whole plan has been building up to getting revenge against the people who exploited them. Violet has it in for The Duchess, who killed one of her friends, almost got her love interest killed, and then kidnapped her younger sister. At the end of the book, she has the opportunity to use her powers to kill The Duchess - in fact, The Duchess even challenges her to do it - and Violet actually says, "I could, but I'm not gonna." (Maybe not in those exact words, but it was close.)

I'm sorry, but WHAT?

Cop-out #2: Violet went undercover to save her sister. She knows that her sister was kidnapped because of her. She's constantly talking about how much she loves her sister. But when she thinks she might have to choose between her sister - who she's known and allegedly loved for years - and this boy she just met but has decided she loves for some reason, Violet literally freezes in place and does nothing, while thinking (again, not in these exact words, but close), "I can't make this choice!"

B*tch, I don't see a Kellogg's label on your forehead, so you cannot POSSIBLY be cereal.

But don't worry, Violet doesn't have to make any hard choices at the end, because Raven - who has undergone much more terrible things at the hands of the royal class - kills The Duchess and saves both Ash and Hazel, so Violet doesn't have to decide between her sister and her insta-love. I couldn't help but feel like the author wanted to keep Violet a "nice" person, and thought that Violet wouldn't be able to be "nice" anymore if she had a murder under her belt, however deserved. There was a lot of cognitive dissonance and back-tracking, with Violet deciding things like, "Oh hey, Carnelian isn't a bad person after all, even though she tried to steal my boyfriend (whom I technically stole from her...) because she totally saved my boyfriend for me so I wouldn't have to lift a finger! Wow, what a great gal!" It led to some serious character inconsistencies, and I lost whatever respect for her character that I reluctantly gained over the last two books. I've decided she's a spoiled twit.

The Lone City is a strange trilogy. I can't say it's one of the best I've read, but it was engaging enough that I couldn't put it down and never really felt bored. Some readers might be annoyed by Violet's selfishness and confused by the world-building, but it's different enough that they'll probably be grudgingly fascinated by it, like I was. If The Lone City is anything, it's definitely unique.

1.5 out of 5 stars


  1. Thank you for reading this so I didn't have to. I couldn't get past THE WHITE ROSE but was mildly curious about the end--not enough to read the thing, but still, now I know!

    1. Happy to help! I know that feeling. If you commit to a series long enough, you feel obligated to see it to the end.


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