J. Patrick Black’s debut novel Ninth City Burning published last September and was well received: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, i09, and The Verge all included it on their various “Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of September” lists and bestselling author Patricia Briggs called it “Fresh and un-putdownable.”
Now, we know chances are good that Ninth City Burning may not have been on your radar: after all, it’s adult, it’s sci-fi, it’s militaristic….. but hear us out because while that’s all true, it also features teen characters, strong female leads, and has been compared to everything from Starship Troopers to Ender’s Game and even Harry Potter! Ninth City Burning might not be your usual choice for a read but we think there’s definitely some YA appeal here. Plus, Black was kind enough to stop by Riveted to tell us more about the “Badass Female Leads” featured in his book. So we say keep an open mind, see what Black has to say below, and if your interested is piqued, visit Black’s site to start reading an excerpt and see what you think! If you dig it, be sure to come back and let us know in the comments!
A Look at Ninth City Burning and the Badass Female Leads
We live in a divided world. Class, race, language, education—the ways we find to differentiate ourselves from one another seem to go on forever. It’s easy to forget sometimes how intimately and necessarily interlinked human beings really are. The simple fact of sharing a planet brings with it an almost endless array of connections, some grand, some minute, that can make themselves known in surprising ways. When I started work on Ninth City Burning, I wanted to convey something of that interconnectedness, even in the midst of division. I had the idea for a big cast of characters, but a wide variety of perspectives wasn’t enough: they needed a reason to come together, to depend on one another. An expression of common purpose. I ended up calling it “thelemity”.
Ninth City Burning is set in a world even more stratified than our own. Five hundred years after an alien invasion, Earth is locked in a seemingly endless war. The enemy, an enigmatic race we’ve dubbed the “Valentines”, seemed to appear out of nowhere, and attacked with a weapon we had no way to fight. This wasn’t just hyper-advanced technology: the Valentines had a power that looked, and acted, like magic. And then we discovered we could wield this power for ourselves. We named it thelemity, and used it to fight back—and to rebuild civilization. By the time the story begins, Earth has twelve major cities, each running on thelemity, and charged with defending a section of the planet. Surrounding the cities are a series settlements, whose job it is to provide supplies and soldiers for the war. The rest of the planet is wild—very wild. Only people in the cities know about thelemity, and about the true nature of the war; everybody else just does what they can to survive.
One of the first characters we meet in Ninth City Burning is Naomi, a girl traveling the violent wilderness at the edges of civilization. Naomi is a sort of post-apocalyptic cowgirl, part of a group who call themselves the Autumn Walkers. Her people travel far and wide—by foot and horseback, mostly—in search of trade and safe refuge from the dangers of the ruined world. Naomi is young, but she’s a no-nonsense sort of person, responsible for managing her family’s supplies and finances, and for keeping her mischievous little brother in line. But when Naomi and her tribe run afoul of the war, it turns out she has a different destiny ahead of her: she’s discovered to be one of the fontani, someone able to wield thelemity—and, more crucially, create it. The entire war effort depends on people just like Naomi, since the only place thelemity can be found is in the direct vicinity of fontani. It means that, to defend Earth, she’ll have to enter the very center of the battle.
As the story starts, however, Naomi has no idea what’s waiting for her down the road—her biggest concern is keeping her family safe, and trying to be like her big sister, Rae. Rae is one of the Autumn Walkers’ scouts, warriors whose job it is to protect the caravan from the myriad dangers that crop up along their journeys. On the surface, she’s by far the least serious of the sisters, but her sunny attitude hides a deep well of strength that has earned her a reputation as badass extraordinaire. Like Naomi, Rae has big things in her future, and a big role to play in the coming war. After enrolling in Earth’s defense force, the Legion, she trains to become a kind of thelemity-fueled knight known as an eques. Getting into one of the Legion’s most elite programs would be hard enough as it is, but Rae also has to contend with the prejudice of her fellow soldiers, who consider her a savage because of her wild origins. Rae is well up to the challenge, but her real breakthrough doesn’t come until she crosses paths with a science geek named Kizabel.
Unlike Naomi and Rae, Kizabel grew up in the cities, surrounded by all the wonders of thelemity. She’s become an expert in “irrational mechanics”, the scientific study of thelemity, but as far as she’s concerned, her genius is mostly wasted on the ungrateful soldiers she works with, who act like she’s only there to do maintenance on their fancy thelemic weaponry. Kizabel, meanwhile, has an entire workshop full of fantastic gadgets, and no amount of dismissal or ill treatment can convince her to abandon her work. Her pride and joy is an experimental suit of armor she’s certain will be a huge leap forward in the fight against the Valentines—if only she could get the darn thing to work. What she really needs is a pilot, someone tough enough to handle her new invention, but she can’t find one anywhere—until she meets Rae.
When the war once again reaches Earth, these three will have to work together: Kizabel building the tools to strike back, Rae taking them to the front lines, Naomi providing the power to keep everyone fighting. To protect the planet, they’ll have to depend on each other—and on a host of other characters, people from distant parts of their world, but people with whom they share common cause, and close and surprising connections.