Ninth City Burning – J. Patrick Black

About the Book

Centuries of war with aliens threaten the future of human civilization on earth in this gripping, epic science fiction debut…

We never saw them coming.

Entire cities disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing but dust and rubble. When an alien race came to make Earth theirs, they brought with them a weapon we had no way to fight, a universe-altering force known as thelemity. It seemed nothing could stop it—until we discovered we could wield the power too.

Five hundred years later, the Earth is locked in a grinding war of attrition. The talented few capable of bending thelemity to their will are trained in elite military academies, destined for the front lines. Those who refused to support the war have been exiled to the wilds of a ruined Earth.

But the enemy’s tactics are changing, and Earth’s defenders are about to discover this centuries-old war has only just begun. As a terrible new onslaught looms, heroes will rise from unlikely quarters, and fight back.

544 pages (hardcover)
Published on September 6, 2016
Published by Ace
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent in exchange for an honest review by the publisher.

Ninth City Burning is one of those interesting novels that is part social experiment, part young adult, part adult, set in a science fiction world roughly 500 years into the future. It’s incredibly well done, and shows a shocking amount of creativity, especially in the world building.

The first thing you should be aware of is that this book is told from multiple first person perspectives – seven, if I remember correctly. Black does a great job at making all of their voices different so none of them really blend into each other. My one complaint in this department is that the word “like” is used way too much in the Torro chapters, it did get quite distracting after a while. That being said, each character is uniquely themselves, and it’s interesting to see how these seemingly diverse storylines merge together.

The world is quite creative. There is a war against an alien race. Precincts are in charge of producing the goods and supplies for the war. An alternative energy has been found that allows humans to control an incredible amount of power. Unincorporated tribes sort of roam the globe living a nomadic life largely forgotten by everyone else. It’s a bloody way of life, and they spend most of it fighting it out with the other unincorporated tribes they meet. And, lucky us, we have perspective characters with unique insights into just about every aspect of everything I listed in this paragraph.

The plot is pretty dynamic, and it gets going quickly. It’s interesting how well Black wove together so many different aspects of this novel, and how quickly he managed to do it. Most of the characters are pretty young – it seems like seventeen is the median age (again, if my memory is correct). That breathed some fresh air into the novel, and I enjoyed how their youth seemed to infuse the plot with a bit more energy, which in turn made the book feel a bit less cynical than I’d probably expect with an older cast. That being said, this book did feel a bit like a YA novel. That’s really not a bad thing, but readers who aren’t really into that should be aware.

Ninth City Burning is surprisingly layered. History plays a very important role here, and Black seems to know exactly how to measure out how much information he gives readers, and when he gives it. Some readers might be able to pick out where things are going early on, but that doesn’t really take away from enjoying the book. There is quite a buildup as the book progresses. It becomes obvious that not everything is as it seems, and it’s not really all revealed by the end of this book. It left me hanging, and while that usually bothers me, it worked here – it makes me even more excited to read the next book in the series.

Black has a knack for knowing when to let things go. The book’s natural progression and flow was really wonderful. I never felt like he hung onto any one scene for too long, or breezed through any important parts too quickly. And more importantly, I never really felt like Black was doing something obvious to keep me from seeing the man behind the curtain (ie: I never felt like he was saying “Hey, look over there!” which is an obvious distraction from important things happening over here…). So basically, the incredibly creative world building mixed with the flawless pacing really made this novel work for me.

So, is everything perfect in Ninth City Burning? No. But is this book incredibly enjoyable? Hell yeah. This book is creative, and rather shocking, and so delightfully engrossing. It reads like a sort of YA/new adult hybrid, but that’s not a bad thing in the least. In fact, I enjoyed the youthful enthusiasm that really permeated the pages of this book. Black is a fantastic writer with some real skill. This book, series, and author should be watched.


4/5 stars


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