The alien invasion trope is perhaps one of the most often portrayed invasion scenarios in popular culture, and it's quite possible that it won't get stale anytime soon; as long as we haven't encountered anyone out there in the great beyond, the possibilities remain limitless. With so many books revolving around the topic, it really does take something special for an author to get themselves noticed, but debuting writer J. Patrick Black has certainly done that with his first novel, Ninth City Burning.
This book marks the beginning of an epic space saga, and it's set on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been locked in a struggle for over five hundred years. It all began when an alien species, the Valentines, descended upon Earth and started peppering it with small-scale localized attacks using a weapon, or perhaps more accurately a force, referred to as thelemity, capable at the very least of making entire cities disappear without a trace. As they tried to rebuild from the ruins, people made the discovery that may very well have saved the world: some humans can also use the power of thelemity. For the next five centuries, humanity has been locked in a war with the invaders, focusing almost exclusively on raising defenders for the realm, the Legion, training them to use the magic powers of thelemity to protect the planet and rebuild it. However, things are about to escalate quite a bit as the Valentines prepare for a massive grand attack, and humanity discovers that this war is only at its beginning.
Though it seems less and less possible these days, Black has definitely found a way to put an interesting twist on the alien invasion genre, creating an interesting world with a rather original premise. As is the case with virtually any first novel in a science-fiction epic, we are treated to world-building more than anything else, and what a complicated world it is. It's rather obvious that the author has thought the whole thing out in great depth, peppering us with countless little details about the dynamics and inner workings of the world, so much that I would argue a few descriptions overstay their welcome; after all, a fascinating world doesn't guarantee all of its details will be interesting. With that being said, the setting always remains appealing in its uniqueness, and as we progress further into the novel, especially during the second half, things start to pick up some speed as we are increasingly treated to more action and suspense.
As far as the characters are concerned, this is one of those stories where you have to keep track of more characters than you probably know people in real life. There are seven protagonists who we follow above everyone else, but the dozens of secondary characters are still given their proper dues in terms of development. It's going to take you half the book trying to figure out who is who and remembering the roles everyone plays, but ultimately the process isn't tenuous due to the quality of Black's writing. Virtually every person we meet is fleshed out with some unique and interesting features that makes us want to learn more about them, where they come from and what motivates them. By the end of it, it feels like you're part of one big ginormous family that also happens to be humanity's last hope.
As far as the plot is concerned, as was mentioned above this first book is more dedicated to world-building and character development than anything else, so it stands to reason that for a good chunk of it, the five hundred years of war against the aliens and its consequences are explored. As things start to pick up in the second half of the book the focus starts to switch to the current phase of the conflict. That's when the story really starts to blossom and come into its own, marking the beginning of a wild ride that will take you through a war like none you've ever seen before, fought with weapons straight out of a dream.
To conclude, it may be a tad slow to start, but Ninth City Burning is a solid debut for J. Patrick Black and marks the beginning of an original science-fiction epic that delivers on every front and whose potential for improvement is only encouraging. Sci-fi fans, and especially those who like alien invasion stories owe it to themselves to give this new author a shot.
J. Patrick Black
J. Patrick Black is an American writer from Boston who also leads multiple lives as a bartender, lifeguard, lawyer, theme park character and home builder. In September 2016 he published his first book, Ninth City Burning, catching the attention of the literary community with his potential.