Title: The City We Became
Author: N K Jemisin
Release Date: March 24, 2020
Page Length: 437
Age Range: Adult
CAWPILE Rating: 9.14/10
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
Content Warning: Racism, Homophobia/lesbophobia, use of slurs, xenophobia, sexism, emotional abuse from a parent, attempted rape & mentioning of racial profiling (police corruption)
This is the first book of N K Jemisin that I’ve read and wow was it ever a good place to start. Although this book is a little weird, it’s a good kind of weird. It has both fantasy and sci-fi elements including cities being entities or spirits and there being multiple universes.
We follow four different characters, each representing their borough. They each have distinct characteristics of that borough and it is really interesting seeing it brought to life through these characters. Each character is distinct and memorable, but also has flaws (like any human) which made them that much more relatable. There wasn’t one character that I felt bored with like I have with other books with multiple POVs. There was no point where I was reading this book that I sat there thinking “ugh this character again, but I want to hear more about…”. Each brought something interesting to the story.
The plot was so interesting. I loved how everything came together and even little elements brought up that seemed minor was brought up again and shown its purpose. The only thing that I would save was a negative about this book was the pacing. It felt like the ending was rather rushed and it almost felt like Jemisin had to write the book in under so many pages and got near the end and realized those pages were almost up. Now that may sound like a bad thing, but really I don’t think it is. There was a point when I only had about a quarter left in the book and I didn’t know how it would be wrapped up and thought maybe that’s why the book was part of a series. But that wasn’t true, it was all wrapped and it didn’t feel like anything was left out. I just wish the ending was given more time – really I would have been fine if the book was 500+ pages. However, I feel like the ending was “rush” to give the reader the sense that things were eminent and there wasn’t much time left to finish the story.
Jemisin’s writing is amazing! Despite this being a weird book there wasn’t anything that confused me as far as the writing goes. Everything made sense within this world that Jemisin created – the entities, the powers, the universes, everything. I can see why Jemisin has won awards in the past and I will be surprised if this doesn’t make it for awards this year. I will definitely be reading more of her stuff! Jemisin was able to capture a feeling of urgency and doom throughout the book and made the atmosphere reflect the actions. At no point during this book did I sit there thinking “nope, can’t picture that” – everything felt realistic and fitting (despite the fantastical/scifi elements).
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this – I will be surprised if this doesn’t make it onto my favourites list at the end of the year. If you’re hoping for a ‘reads like’, I will say it’s a little harder to pinpoint a book that is similar. If I had to pick one, I would say it ‘reads like’ Middlegame by Seanan McGuire for it’s weirdness, atmosphere and fantasy/sci-fi mix. If you haven’t read this, please give it a try – I doubt you’ll regret it! I highly recommend the audiobook – it is fully dramatized and the narrator does an amazing job in giving each character their own voice (she even sighs or giggles instead of reading “the character giggled” – really adding to the immersion). Plus music and sound effects really add to it.
Now I recognize that I am not an Own Voices reviewer and cannot speak to any of the experiences within this book besides experiencing similar sexism. Because of this, I wanted to highlight an own voices reviewer that I think you should check out. The Black Book Blog did a great job at reviewing this book. There’s also a spoiler post done by Brent Lambert over on FIYAH – Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction