The latest from N.K. Jemisin is both an epic fantasy adventure and an ode to New York City in all its imperfect glory.
Good to know
First in series
In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn't remember who he is, where he's from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power.
In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it's as if the paint is literally calling to her.
In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels.
And they're not the only ones.
Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She's got six.
The City We Became
See, What Had Happened Was
I sing the city.
Fucking city. I stand on the rooftop of a building I don’t live in and spread my arms and tighten my middle and yell nonsense ululations at the construction site that blocks my view. I’m really singing to the cityscape beyond. The city’ll figure it out.
It’s dawn. The damp of it makes my jeans feel slimy, or maybe that’s ’cause they haven’t been washed in weeks. Got change for a wash-and-dry, just not another pair of pants to wear till they’re done. Maybe I’ll spend it on more pants at the Goodwill down the street instead... but not yet. Not till I’ve finished going AAAAaaaaAAAAaaaa (breath) aaaaAAAAaaaaaaa and listening to the syllable echo back at me from every nearby building face. In my head, there’s an orchestra playing “Ode to Joy” with a Busta Rhymes backbeat. My voice is just tying it all together.
Shut your fucking mouth! someone yells, so I take a bow and exit the stage.
But with my hand on the knob of the rooftop door, I stop and turn back and frown and listen, ’cause for a moment I hear something both distant and intimate singing back at me, basso-deep. Sort of coy.
Why I love it
Author, These Violent Delights
I grew up in awe of New York City, dreaming of the day when I could see the hustle and bustle for myself. It’s the city that everyone writes songs and poems about, the epicenter of so much art and magic. When I heard about the premise of The City We Became, my first thought was, “New York coming alive? That makes more sense than anything else, that’s for sure.”
Just as five boroughs make up New York, five “avatars” of each borough construct the main cast of this book, each with their flaws and strengths. When an otherworldly threat rises in the city, fueling bigotry and destruction, Manny and Brooklyn come together to search for the avatar of Queens, otherwise known as Padmini “Math Queen” Prakash. Elsewhere, Bronca must protect The Bronx until the other avatars reach her, while Aislyn on Staten Island is lured in by The Enemy, the antagonistic cosmic entity intent on laying waste to New York.
There are some books with a setting so fully-realized that the city is a character itself, and The City We Became fulfills this in both the literal and metaphorical sense. New York is a throbbing, frantic force, one that desperately wants to survive. It is complicated, as are the avatars who represent every facet of it. And in this emerges the most fulfilling story of strength, integrity, and resistance—of laying claim to a city that will live until the very end, human enemies or cosmic eldritch forces be damned.
Member ratings (3,157)
Grand Rapids, MI
Join the characters as they wrestle with being themselves and a city. Adventure and prose interweave an intricate pulse of a city's identity. The imprint of power and magic stay with me months later
Jemisin never disappoints. I was drawn in immediately and when I wasn't reading, I was daydreaming admit what it's be like to be my city. She painted something beautiful; I'm eagerly looking to book 2
Ellicott City, MD
Mindblown - loved this! Started it and it took a bit for my brain to adjust so restarted it and buckled down for a highly creative and wild ride. Loved it - cant wait for the second in the trilogy!
Mount Rainier, MD
A trippy love letter to NYC, honoring all of its beauty and flaws. Great writing and heavy symbolism; gentrification and the white-washing of cities being the enemy. A bit tedious in some parts.
So smart and weird. While I have some issues with world building, really Mexico City isn't embodied? Or Edinburgh? Or Dublin? Or Buenos Aires? The book is riveting, well paced, funny and great.