'Shadow City' by Francesca Flores is the second book in The City of Diamond and Steel duology. As is becoming a habit for me, I actually haven't yet gotten to read Diamond City.. the first of the pair, but that never really stops me from hitting the ground running with a read.
Aina Solis is our proverbial eyes and ears for this journey. A former assassin, she's wrested control of a criminal empire from her former boss, Kohl.. and she and her friends have been running it ever since. Regardless of the fact she defeated him and the two always had a legitimately toxic connection, she has trouble shaking feelings for him.
Even though she believes one of them will eventually end up killing the other, she ends up working with him against a mutual enemy known as Bautix, an old army general ousted when Aina revealed his corruption.
There are so many players in the game, many of whom have their own agendas, even if you think you have a good grasp on their true intentions.. you find yourself questioning those beliefs. Interestingly enough, that puts you on the same level as those aforementioned players because they too are constantly questioning the intentions of those around them. It's one big chess match.
The diamond-blood magic system is limited in scope, but very creative and I'm curious to go back and see if it's more or less diverse in the debut. While the author doesn't weigh us down with the assassin's poison tactics, she does play with the concoctions enough to make them interesting as well and between those abilities and her hand-to-hand combat, Aina is a well-rounded.. strong.. female lead.
Action sequences are well-written, featuring cohesive streamlined battles that include multiple characters without feeling like a laundry list of names and events. There's barely any downtime in the book, as most of the time someone is either fighting for their life.. someone else's.. or there's some kind of emotional upheaval happening. Sometimes more than one of the above at a time.
I found the tense pseudo-triangle between Aina, Kohl, and Teo to be fascinating. Not only was I not sure for awhile who.. if anyone.. she would end up with, I couldn't even decide who I'd like to see her choose. And frankly, after all was decided.. I still questioned whether or not I was pleased with the results.
Flores did make me tear up a bit.. just once.. and I'm pretty sure she'll get most of us in the same spot. I was terribly invested at that point and my heart was absolutely shattered.. but for the most part, it's just a fast-moving story with a lot riding on the line for everyone.
Well worth the read!