Book Review: The City We Became

The City We Became by NK Jemisin


Every city has a soul, and every city’s soul has the potential to be born. New York? Has five. But each time a city is born, a dark evil rises to defeat that birth—and over the millennia, more and more cities have failed to be born. New York might have five souls, but its avatars have got to work together to defeat this ancient evil. Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island working together? Yeah, okay.

Look out 2020 Hugos, cuz here’s your winner.

I’ll admit, the beginning of the book was rough. I think part of my disconnectedness was because I’d read The City Born Great, and I thought I knew what I was in for and what was going on. But there were some decided shifts in the story itself, and I got lost trying to connect what had been to what to what was. Plus, there was a lot of metaphysical, multi-dimensional shit with tentacles and I was like wtf is even happening.

But about halfway through I started settling into the story, and I was hooked.

loved the avatars (minus one). Although Queens and her family was by far my favorite, I really, really liked Bronca and her take-no-shit attitude. I felt like each person captured the soul of their borough, and how they interacted was an analogy to the interactions of the actual city.

And the descriptions of a person as an embodied city were beautiful.

There were a lot of allegories (analogies? extended metaphors?) going on, what with person as city and Great Evil masked as racism, gentrification, capitalism and much more (fuck the evil was so pervasively corporate and organized—the worst kind of evil), and there was a bunch of representation to capture the swirling cauldron of cultures that is New York and its boroughs. It’s also very Lovecraftian while throwing up a giant middle finger to Lovecraft’s racist ass.

I’ve only been to New York a couple of times, but to my non-expert eye, this felt like New York. There was so much love and homage wrapped into this story, and I can’t wait to learn what’s going to happen next—because the stakes are very high, and the Great Evil is so, so evil.

Having listened to How Long ’til Black Future Month? a couple months before reading this book, I could see a lot of similar themes, and a very, very familiar villain is the star of this book. So, so evil—and evil because not only of what she represents, but of how she goes about getting people to do her bidding and formulates her arguments.

Anyhow, if I talk longer there will be spoilers, but let’s just say that this is definitely going to take home some awards next year.

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