Set about 500 years after the initial attacks that left most of Earth devastated, the planet is divided into several large regions, each with a massive walled city and outlying settlements, and the spaces between consist of bands of roaming nomads across a fairly desolate terrain.
Ninth City Burning follows several characters that come from different walks of life around the Ninth City area, and the book does a great job of exploring the different aspects of this world since each character has a rather unique perspective of everything the others don't share.
We are first introduced to young Jax, a boy with a very rare gift. When the aliens attacked with their strange weapons, it was with a fundamental force that humans weren't previously aware of, thelemity. With the manipulation of this force, many things are possible, and Jax is one of the people who can not only control thelemity, but also generate a bubble of the energy. As a fontanus, Jax is very valuable, especially since technology has gotten to the point where most of it relies on thelemity to run and without a fontanus nearby, that technology doesn't work. Having only recently learned of his ability, Jax is struggling both with his new abilities and the fact that he has suddenly achieved a very high rank in the military force that makes up Ninth City.
Whereas Jax was born and raised in Ninth City and fully aware of the nature of the war raging on in space, those from outside of the walled cities are kept in the dark. Torro is from one of the settlements and all he knows is working at the plants and meeting the quotas Ninth City requires. They know there is a war against an alien race, but the nature of that war, or even the existence of thelemity, is kept secret. When he and several of his friends get drafted and sent to Ninth City, they learn the truth and start training to become members of the basic grunt force in the war. These infantry fighters are people who have no ability to touch or use thelemity at all. Instead, they use weapons and armor that have extraordinary abilities, as long as you are close enough to a fontanus to keep the equipment powered, of course.
The book also follows two sisters who are part of a nomadic tribe, Rae and Naomi. When they end up under the scrutiny of Ninth City, both ladies find that they have something to offer the war they never knew existed. As it turns out, the younger sister, Naomi, is also a fontanus, while Rae is a revenni, a person that can manipulate thelemity to create a wide variety of effects, but does not generate the energy itself like a fontanus does. While revenni are more common than fontanus, they are still highly valued in the military as they can control more powerful weapons than the tools given to the basic grunts like Torro.
While Jax, Torro, Naomi and Rae are the main focus of the book, there are several other prevalent characters that Ninth City Burning focuses on. Vinneas is a renowned upper classman at the academy that, while not bestowed with any special abilities, proves to be a superb tactician, while his friend Kizabel is an eccentric, but brilliant builder of equipment that can use and manipulate thelemity. Both have major roles to play in the story.
Because of the different paths each of the characters take to get through the book, Ninth City Burning ended up reminding me of several different classic Sci-Fi novels. When following Naomi or Jax, I can't help but think of Ender's Game, primarily because of children being sent to war. When following Torro, I get a Starship Troopers vibe as he learns how to deal with the vast war and use his new weapons. Interestingly enough, Rae's chapters tend to have a more fantasy feel to them as she learns to manipulate thelemity much like an apprentice magic-user learning how to use their powers.
One aspect of Ninth City Burning that I really enjoyed is that each character has a distinct voice. All chapters are written in first person perspective, but the style of writing varies a lot based on which character is the focus. Where Torro has a very informal dialect and frequently uses the word "like", Rae comes off as a confident character and the Kizabel, the engineer of the group, actually has footnotes in her chapters. These differences really help you get in the heads of the different characters and see the world from their perspectives.
Ninth City Burning ended up being a fun adventure to read through. While it took some time to get into the characters and get a firm grip on some of the new terminology, by the time the outlying main characters make their way into Ninth City, you have a firm grasp of what is happening and who everyone is. If you are looking for a Sci-Fi novel that adds a touch of magic to change the impossible into plausible, then this is definitely a book to check out.