Patrick Black’s debut is an epic science fiction novel set in an Earth five hundred years in the future. The novel follows several characters, all in their teenage years, who are part of Earth’s army, fighting an alien attack that destroyed the world that we know today. The surviving Earthlings set aside national allegiances to form nine major cities that serve as the hub for defense, culture, and scientific development. There is also a class system made up by people who wield a universe-altering power called thelemity, people who live in the nine cities, and people who live in the production villages. These production villages are to feed the nine cities anything they need, including people who are all subject to a draft.
The narrative follows characters who are a part of each class and two outsiders (groups of people who refuse to abide by the system) who join together to defend Earth. Each character has their own motivation that both fleshes out this futuristic world and allows the reader to get fully immersed into the storyline.
These multiple perspectives can get a little overwhelming at times. Seven different character perspectives are a lot to keep up with. Many of them cross paths and follow the same action sequences. Fortunately, Black manages to avoid being redundant by making each action sequence grand enough so that one part of the battlefield is vastly different from another. He also introduces mecha-warfare into his story that reminds me of the fights in “Gundam Wing,” but different enough that I don’t feel like I’m watching the anime. Instead, it makes me think fans of the anime will enjoy the novel’s portrayal of mecha-fights.
This production makes the battles truly epic, proving Black’s novels belong in the epic science fiction genre. At only 544 pages, this book is on the small side for an epic, but it doesn’t matter as you’ll be hastily flipping through pages to see what happens next.
Speaking of warfare, Black does a great job describing the battle from both the frontlines and the homefront. His portrayal of a military government is fascinating as is his never-ending theme on old versus new. His characters are brilliant and reminiscent of beloved sci-fi stories like Ender’s Game. He pushes romance to the side in favor of other storytelling elements which was a nice change of pace. His book is not about pleasing people, but about telling a good story with well-developed characters. His depictions of mecha used for fighting and working simultaneously with those practiced in the art of thelemity are seamless. You can fluidly move between one and the other and still follow along the plot.
Ninth City Burning is clean enough for teenagers, but also complex enough to keep adults engaged. This wide audience makes this book perfect for anyone in need of a good science fiction novel. He isn’t reinventing the genre, but making his own claim by creating a story that is entirely his own. I find this originality very refreshing.
This is the first in a series so I can’t wait for the sequel!
5 Mecha-Armies out of 5