The one consistency I’ve found across the reviews for Ninth City Burning, whether it was 1 star or 5 stars, is that J. Patrick Black used a range of science fiction icons that his inspiration. This certainly isn’t a bad thing, and I didn’t feel it took anything away from the story. Instead of reiterating those icons, he molded them to fit his plot. That’s just good authorship if you ask me.
I’m going to be blunt with my overall criticism – it’s confusing. A real quick overview of the plot: Valentine’s Day, aliens attack using technology we’ve never seen before. Five hundred years later we’re in a stalemate against them, but we’ve harnessed their technology so we can hold our own against them. This is where people are making
comparisons. Similar to Star Wars, certain people have a “force” they are able to yield as a weapon. Blacks calls it thelemity and backs it all up with science. There is an academy to train kids for a lifetime of military service, much like Ender’s Game (others cite Harry Potter and Hogwarts but I don’t agree completely with that connection). We’ve created giant suits of armor (Pacific Rim by Tel Toro, anyone, anyone), while in space and bouncing between portals. There is also mention of Starship Troopers and Red Rising, all for good reason.
Lately I’ve been obsessing over the “question” character. Many times it’s the main character but side characters work as well. The fastest way for the author to get relevant information to the reader is for one or more characters to know even less of what is going on than the reader, so as that character asks questions, the reader learns along with them. Sometimes there are good question characters, frustratingly slow question characters, or even wrong characters to be asking questions. The lack of information and sometimes outright wrong information coming from the characters was frustrating. I didn’t have a full grasp of the story until halfway through because it simply wasn’t given to me.
Black uses a rotating cast of POVs and each of them are at a different level of in the “know.” With the extensive world building Black needed to do, I’m not sure this was the right narration technique. Rae and Naomi are part of a “wandering” community that haven’t encountered the alien war and don’t believe it’s happening. Torro lives in a settlement working long hours in various factories that send their goods to the “front.” The settlement communities romanticize the war because they need volunteers to go fight, but no one comes back from the front, so these citizens often argue amongst themselves what is actually happening. Jax and Kizabel and Vinneas are a little higher on the food chain and have seen some of the fighting first hand. They help to explain the basic intro information to start with. Then there is a scene with Torro as he is going through training where an officer sits down the new troops and tells them the truth of what’s been going on for the last 500 years. It was the first time I felt like I finally understood what had been happening. Even with Torro growing up in the settlement, knowing and believing this war has been happening, he has been fed misleading information his whole life (which he shared with the reader).
This way of getting information across made for a confusing story. Even when all fo the information was revealed, I didn’t have that satisfactory feeling as everything clicked into place. I felt lied to, like the citizens of the settlements had been lied to.
Ninth City Burning is the start of a trilogy. Series often fall prey to the beginning of the story being mostly world building, and it ends just as the epic battle is about to take place. I’m pleased to say Black didn’t fall pretty to this typical blunder. We get a battle at the end and promise of an even more epic battle to come. I think Black has a lot going for himself with this story. Even as confused as I was in the beginning, I was invested in the characters. Black has all the space in the world to show us where he can take this story, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it only gets better from here.
By: Emily Coleman
Thank you Blogging for Books for the ARC of Ninth City Burning.