****FINAL RATING: 4.25 STARS****CATCHALLI loved Black City, so I was extremely eager to dive into Phoenix. I was nervous, though, too, because of some things in the blurb. Despite my hesitation, however, once I picked it up I simply couldn't put it down. It was fresh and fast-paced, and a wholly satisfying sequel to the first book. Everything about it was gorgeous to the point where I really can't have many complaints, and the cast of characters was as sparkling as I expected.THE HEROASHAsh is just as sexy as I remember him in this book, and yet he somehow also becomes more layered. He is torn between wanting to do what is right between doing what he really wants to do at times, and it's a very realistic struggle to watch him go through. He can be really dense about some things, but he's also smart. There's a lot of love in his heart, and he's such a caring person even though he doesn't always know how to show it.THE HEROINENATALIEI have mixed feelings about Natalie, to be honest. Part of me really likes her, but the other part of me wants to smack her for being such an idiot. I get where her feelings are coming from, but she goes about acting on them in what I think is absolutely the wrong way. She has good intentions, but one plan in particular that she enacts is really stupid and just ticked me off. A lot.THE PLOTPlot-wise, I may have preferred Black City a tiny bit more, but Phoenix still had an awesome plot. Also, the development was better, even if only marginally. This isn't a bad things, however, because Black City also boasted wonderful development. There wasn't necessarily marked improvement, but it didn't deteriorate either.I like how the rebellion is more of a central focus in this one. It wasn't fully developed in book one, because it was more about uncovering evidence and that sort of thing. This book has more meat to it. It moves forward a to more, and there's way more going on. I also would argue that it becomes much more intense.There's more at stake in this book, so everything has bigger strings attached to it. There's no simple answer because no matter what Natalie and Ash choose to do, someone loses. They cannot have everything even though they might like to, and they're forced to realize that they won't always be able to save everyone.Overall, I think Phoenix had a more gripping plot than Black City did. We see more than enough of a particular villain, and there are new ones who show up. There's a death that I definitely did not expect, and though it made me gasp for breath, I do think it really contributed to the plot. It made things move forward, and provided more motive as well.THE ROMANCEI love this romance, to be honest. It's hot and it's passionate, but it can also be very sweet and protective. There are numerous misunderstandings that drove me insane, but they did keep me riveted. Ash and Natalie's love story is a very unique one, and it only develops further here. There are other people in the picture, but the romance her can only ever be about the two of them for me. The development was fantastic, and there were some truly heartbreaking scenes.THE WRITINGElizabeth is wonderfully talented, and there's real growth clear in the voices of her characters. They're still not quite distinct enough from each other for my tastes, but I'm definitely starting to understand more the differences between them. I like her descriptive sequences but she still struggles a bit in the characters' thoughts. There are times when Natalie and Ash are monologuing to themselves and I'm just kind of like "Yeah, no one thinks to themselves like that."THE ENDINGThe ending absolutely murdered me. I realize this probably sounds like a very harsh choice of words, but I am actually completely serious. I died. It should be illegal to end a book this way. I literally flipped the pages back and forth over and over again as if that would make more text appear. It was a cruel, albeit clever, way to end the book. You have no choice but to want more.WRAPUPPhoenix was a fabulous sequel with a killer plot, and I'm definitely dying to see book three. Elizabeth Richards might be a little bit evil, but I am still definitely a fan for life. I cannot wait to see how this all ends and what comes next. If you liked book one, you and Phoenix will get along just fine. If you haven't tried Black City but you don't mind another fun dystopian, give it a shot.FINE.Find more of my reviews on Sparkles and Lightning!