The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
Published by Orbit on March 24th, 2020
“This is the lesson: Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn.”
In the beginning of 2019, I finished N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. That series made me fall back in love with fantasy and science fiction. It’s really a no-brainer as to why she won the Hugo Award three times in a row.
I’ve been on the waitlist for The City We Became at my library since before it was published. I was so excited to jump into this new world that Jemisin created since I felt like I was in such safe hands last time.
In The City We Became, cities have souls. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. For New York City, she has five souls. But each city also has a dark side. An 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.
Now more than ever, the premise of this book is uncannily relevant to a city that’s currently under siege due to COVID-19.
Straight up, I didn’t love this as much as any of the books in the The Broken Earth trilogy.
I think what happened was that I fell in love with the premise of City rather than the actual end product.
That’s not to say that Jemisin didn’t write a great book. I just think the premise oversold the novel.
In my opinion, the plot borrowed too heavily from superhero movies. And I say that as someone who sees every single Marvel movie in theatres opening week.
It felt a bit too generic that every borough gets an origin story and then they all get called together to join a team to fight in an epic battle at the end of the story. And again, I LOVE the Avengers. I guess I was just hoping for something more original because she dreamed up something so incredible for Broken Earth.
Having said that, I thought it was very imaginative how she was able to explore the personality of each borough. And each character was diverse without seeming forced. It’s also genius that she was able to connect the story to contemporary issues and politics.
While I found it easier to read than Broken Earth, I still had trouble following all the POVs and every single one of their inner thoughts.
A lot of the times, it felt like I was just reading a diary entry when I wanted more interaction and dialogue between characters.
But what Jemisin did do was inject so much love of a city into the novel. The way she described New York makes you yearn for the city or brings back fond memories that you have.
Did I love this book? No, but I appreciate what Jemisin was trying to do. And I will be sticking around for the next book!
I’ve read reviews online calling this a love letter to New York. Which, in many ways, it is. But it’s also more than that. It’s a love letter to all cities and the people living in them. It’s a gentle reminder that we’re resilient. We can come together and protect one another in hard times. It just takes some bravery, allies, and commitment.
You might feel like you need to shy away from this book because of the premise and it “hitting too close to home” right now. But I think it’s the exact opposite—this book will inspire you to keep going.