Series: Great Cities #1
Published by Orbit, Hachette Australia on March 24, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy & Magic, Fantasy, Diversity, Urban Fantasy
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Five New Yorkers must come together in order to defend their city in the first book of a stunning new series by Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.
Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She's got five.
But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.
Do you ever just sit there in a daze after finishing the last pages of a book, in complete awe? That was me with The City We Became. I read a lot of books, but truth be told, not many leave a lasting impact like this one.
N.K. Jemisin is renowned for the Broken Earth trilogy – but this is actually the first time I’ve read her work. And now I know that the hype is real, her prose is absolute stunning, her worlds come to life in your head in perfect clarity, and she balances hard-hitting ideology with spec fic that pushes the boundaries. What’s not to love?
New York’s defenders are brought to life
The City We Became is an ode to everything that New York encompasses – a sprawling metropolis which is a melting pot of different cultures and personalities, the creativity and artwork that it inspires, and how the five boroughs are so different but also one and the same. As residents would attest to, Manhattan isn’t the only part of New York worth mentioning, and I felt like I understood more about New York by reading The City We Became.
The book brings to life each of the five boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island into individual avatars who encompass the living, breathing personalities of what these places entail. From the brisk businessman Manny, to the tough as nails artist Bronca, to the quietly naive Aislyn, each of these characters were fascinating to read about.
A city is never alone, not really – and this city seems less solitary than most. More like a family: many parts, frequently squabbling…but in the end, against enemies, they come together and protect one another.
A familiar superhero arc, with a twist
We don’t meet all of the avatars straight away however – it takes time to introduce each one in a familiar Avengers style arc, where we see them in their own territory before they join the team. I loved discovering each new friend and foe, seeing how they interacted to each other and the mysterious White Woman so differently, and also finding out what their individual powers were.
The plot is underpinned by a mysterious force threatening to overtake the city – and only the boroughs themselves can defend their city from outside forces. It does take its time however, and towards the end of the book, it taps into Lovecraftian lore and theories about the multiverse which I found to be fascinating. We also see characters embodying other major cities make an appearance, which I loved as well as it offers potential for spin-offs.
Social justice themes
The City We Became also explores the current issues of social justice and equality which was part of what I loved about it. Jemisin holds no bars when it comes to fighting the prejudices that a black woman in New York can encounter, and her anger against privileged white men is raw and hard-hitting. Given that the political climate in Australia is very different to the racially driven one in the US, I definitely appreciated seeing it explored here.
The City We Became offers a fantastical exploration into New York in all of its glory through a speculative twist, and we see the good parts, the bad parts and everything in between. It’s not often that I encounter such a powerful book that follows familiar superhero-like themes like this one, but turns it on its head by using avatars of the city itself as its defender. It’s an ode to a city that only a resident could attempt to capture – and an immensely enjoyable read that taught me a lot.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Thanks to Hachette Australia for sending me a review copy!
The City We Beccame is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$32.99 or from The Book Depository.
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