Ninth City Burning Review & Giveaway

A cross between Star Wars and Ender's Game, Black's debut novel is a fun start to a promising new science fiction series.

We’re giving away five signed copies of the new science fiction novel Ninth City Burningby J. Patrick Black. 

Here’s how to enter:

1. Follow @DenofGeekUS on Twitter.

2. Tweet a link to this article with #DoGNinthCity.

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1. Follow @DenofGeekUS on Twitter.

2. RT one of our Tweets about this giveaway with #DoGNinthCity.

The giveaway will end on September 13th at 11:59pm. We’ll announce the lucky winners on September 14th. Winners must be from the United States. Good luck!

Ninth City Burning Review

Five hunded years in the future, things are not looking good for planet Earth. We are embroiled in a mysterious war of attrition against the Valentines, an enemy with the ability to destroy entire cities in the blink of an eye. Only 12 cities remain, with the rest of the Earth’s dwindling population delegated to settlements that toil long hours to supply the war efforts and the “Unincorporated Peoples” who live a difficult, nomadic life. (Yeah, the lifestyle choices aren’t ideal…)

The coming of the Valentines wasn’t all destruction. They also brought the introduction of “thelemity” — a magical force akin to gravity or electricity — to our universe. Those who can harness thelemity, called fontani, have immense powers. These fontani battle on both sides of the war, and make up several of Ninth City Burning‘s central characters. (It’s basically Star Wars. There’s even a character called Rae.) 

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Ninth City Burningis narrated by seven different characters who come from the aforementioned three different factions of this future Earth society. The multi-narrator approach feels somewhat akin to the experience of reading A Song of Ice and Fire. The interweaving POV structure shares the same frustrations and the same joys. On the one hand, it gives you a broader perspective of the world and it characters. On the other hand, you will probabably have your favorite POV narrator you are desperate to get back to. It can also feel like it takes awhile to get to intersections of characters and plot. (Although nowhere near as long as Game of Thronesmakes us suffer.)

In general, Ninth City Burning takes a bit to get going, with the bulk of the alien war action coming in the novel’s third act. Such is the nature of such an ambitious plot, stretched across so many POV characters. In fact, the full explanation of what the heck is going on with Earth’s future war doesn’t come until around the 150-page mark. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re the kind of reader who likes to be challenged by slowly-realized world-building that doesn’t hold your hand too tightly, then Ninth City Burningis for you.

It helps that Black gives us some likable characters and societies to follow in the mean time. Ninth City Burningisn’t reinventing the wheel when it comes to science fiction or fantasy tropes, but that doesn’t make the Hunger Games-like bond between Unincorpated sisters (possible band name?) Naomi and Rae any less endearing. Or the Ender’s Game-like 12-year-old fontani Jax (explored in the book excerpt below) any less easy to root for.

There are adult characters, too: Amiable officer Vinneas, pompous warrior Imway, insomniac engineer Kizabel, and unfortunate soldier-type Torro are our relative “norms” amidst the multiple Chosen Ones leading us through this story and world. Unfortunately, though the many POV characters make for a diverting structure, they also point to a larger lack of focus this series-starter suffers from. 

There’s a lot to like about this speculative-fictional universe Black has created, but Ninth City Burningis also a novel torn between ambitions: Is it fantasy or science fiction? Is it for young adults or the more seasoned speculative fiction reader? Would it rather explore its setting’s vestigal connection to the culture of today or dive into an exploration of the multiverse? These categories aren’t inherently mutually exclusive, but their wooliness within Black’s novel proves frustrating at times.

Ninth City Burningdoesn’t always make definitive choices about what kind of story it wants to be when it arguably needs to, but there’s something admirable about the scope of its speculative ambitions. And there’s something undeniably satisfying about piecing together the logic of this world along with its many likable protagonists. I, for one, enjoyed the ride and can’t wait to find out what happens to these characters next.

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Ninth City Burning Excerpt

A novel isn’t just about story, but about voice and prose and all of those good things. Here is a snippet from the beginning of the novel. Ninth City Burninghas several different narratives with their own unique voices and perspectives, but this gives you some idea of author J. Patrick Black’s writing style and introduces you to Jax’s character…

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten used to everyone’s looking at me differently, gotten used to setting off whispers everywhere I go. It isn’t like people are mean to me. If anything, they’re extra, extra nice. Actual officers will stop and salute me, or congratulate me, or ask to shake my hand. I’ve made a lot of friends since starting at the School of Rhetoric, and my friends from before are still my friends. The kids in Section E seem proud to have me, usually. But not today. Today, things are different. Today, everyone’s nervous. They know that in a little while, their lives could depend on me.

Of all the eleven- and twelve-year-olds who came back from Sequester, I’m the only one who turned out to be fontani, and as the youngest fontanus in the city, it’s my job to stand for all of us during an attack. The last line of defense. In ten minutes, all of Ninth City could be gone, and I will have to fight, to protect whoever is left. And that’s the look the other cadets are giving me now: They’re wondering if they can trust me with their lives, this kid with his long nose and curly dirt-brown hair, who’s somehow skinny and a little pudgy at the same time, who’s in the bottom half of his class in chin-ups and push-ups, and don’t even ask about the five-kilometer run. Who’s never been really, really good at anything. They’re seeing the same Jax they’ve known for twelve years, only now I’m somehow supposed to protect them from complete destruction. Even Rhetor Danyee seems tense. I don’t blame them: I wish they didn’t have to depend on me, either.

Ninth City Burning Book Trailer

Yep, book trailers are increasingly a thing — and I’m, personally, so glad that they are. In a world that is pretty media literate, it can’t hurt to give us information in a variety of form. And though you will hopefully create your own images of what the world of Ninth City Burninglooks like, there’s nothing wrong with seeing someone else’s imagining of the story. Here’s the official book trailer for Ninth City Burning