As this blog has gotten more successful (which is all thanks to you readers and I love you), I’ve gotten an increasing number of requests to review books. I get about 3-4 a week these days, and I make an effort to accommodate every request I get. As a result, I find myself more and more unwilling to spend time on a book that I’m not enjoying, and much more likely to put it down. I probably leave about 1 in 8 books I read unfinished, which isn’t bad. The books I don’t finish, I also don’t quit until around the 30-50% mark, in an attempt to give them a fair shot. My editors tell me I am crazy for reading even that far, but I like to give every book a chance as lots of authors have difficulty starting books. That being said, I usually don’t review books I don’t finish; but today I’m making an exception to talk about a certain problem in writing I’ve been seeing a lot recently – tonal consistency, in particular with younger characters.
Ninth City Burning is a new sci-fi debut that started out really strong. It has a refreshing take on a classic concept – the alien invasion. The book takes place in a world when an alien threat has come to wage war on the earth, and all of society has been socially reformed to assist the war effort. First there is the legion, soldiers on the front that go through a military school to train in fighting the enemy. In addition, several other locations in the world have been transformed into logistical hubs to churn out all the supplies to assist the war effort. We also have the perspectives of some pacifists who have run off into the woods to avoid fighting. The plot follows a series of characters from all walks of life and shows how they directly affect the war effort. It actually has some pretty awesome sci-fi concepts behind it boiling down to something along the lines of cross-dimensional/reality fights. The book sells you on this extremely well, and has some great set up except for one problem – the characters have absolutely no tonal consistency.
The author tells you the ages of the children, but I actually couldn’t tell how old they were because of the huge differences in how they speak. One of the protagonists, Naomi, feels like she only talks in baby speech, despite being a teenager. It felt like being trapped in a train next to a mother trying to calm her child down by speaking to them in baby speak. Reading her chapters physically hurt me sometimes. Also, she brings up that she doesn’t like being treated like a child roughly once every two pages. Anyone who has ever been a child (so everyone), knows that kids don’t like being told they are too young to do anything. Its pretty much a universal constant in all children. This issue is compounded by a second protagonist, Torro, that works at the factories. He is an older teenager, but for some reason the author decided this means he should use ‘like’ every other sentence, like somehow talking like this would, like, make the character seem more authentic, or something. Whatever.
These issues confuse me, as they are stylistic choices and not deficiencies in Black’s writing ability. The other two characters are excellently written, one an adult and another a child who both has a realistic, but not off putting, outlook on life that was still relatable to me as a reader. He has the needs and desires of a younger kid, but you don’t feel like tearing out your eyes as you read him. As such, Ninth City Burning has a problem because two characters make the book feel as if it’s aimed at older sci fi readers, and two characters make it feel like it’s for really young adults.
I did not finish Ninth City Burning, so there is always a chance I will revisit this and reassess everything I said in the future. However, for now I have quit the book at around 35% as I cannot take another chapter with two of the characters. This is a real shame as the book has a lot going on for it outside this singular issues. If you do not think the tonal problem will bother you, feel free to check it out and tell me about it, but I will be holding off on reading more of Ninth City Burning for now.
Rating: Ninth City Burning – DNF 35%