Francesca Flores’ debut YA fantasy Diamond City presents a violent industrial steampunk world through the cold-blooded eyes of the city’s greatest assassin, where industrialists and magic users are at odds and crooked gangs rule the streets.
This book’s fantastic premise is centered on a poor orphan girl, who is given the chance to fight and become a kickass assassin to escape the clutches of poverty by the top gang in the city. Her name is Aina Solis. The world she lives in is cutthroat, with diamonds being a valued commodity on the black market for magic, while at the same time being valued as a status symbol for the rich. People are constantly arrested and die for these precious stones. One day, Aina is given a hit job with a bounty so large that it will allow her to be free to start her own her own tradehouse and get out from underneath her cruel and cold boss’ heel. This job could change everything.
Unfortunately, with such an promising premise, the writing did not meet my expectations, mired by shallow characters and a jarring pace.
Aina is an unlikeable character, which is not a bad thing when done well. However, while Aina’s cold, unhindered ability to kill people without thinking twice felt fresh from the stereotypical female protagonist, she kept herself too distant from the reader. I could not empathize or understand her feelings. One moment she’s dark and brooding while easily snapping someone’s neck, and the next she’s squealing out of fear of a little spider. When she joked, it just felt forced and cringe-worthy. Also, her attraction to her abusive, psychopathic boss Kohl is definitely Stockholm syndrome.
Oh and let’s not forget to talk about the love square we got going on here! Aina does not have one or two love interests, but three! Yes, three. Kohl, Teo, and Ryuu all seem to be attracted to this girl, and while there is not a single kiss throughout the whole novel, the sexual tension is real. Sadly, Teo and Ryuu are lacking in significant character development. So, I didn’t feel invested in any of the relationships.
Now, the pacing of the novel also struggled. I had this constant sense of whiplash. There were no transitions between current events and Aina’s flashbacks. Also, during fight scenes, one moment Aina would be at the opposite end of the room with a gun aimed at her face, and the next sentence she would be twisting the guy’s wrist and slamming him into the ground. (FYI, teleportation is not a magical power in this world.) Overall, Diamond City has a lot of potential that just falls short of being something truly great. Yet, if you enjoy steampunk cities and icy assassins, then you may enjoy this story!