N. K. Jemisin is one of those authors that doesn’t feature a lot on my shelves – but hoo boy I’ve read a lot of her books. Every single one I’ve read to date I have loved – so I was excited to have the chance to read her new book The City We Became.
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.
Let me start by saying I loved this book. More so than ever I just found myself utterly absorbed by Jemisin’s writing – it paints stunning pictures of the city and the people without getting too flowery – it’s gritty descriptive writing and I just adored it. Within the first ten per cent of this book I knew this was going to be something different and something wonderful.
I’ll confess to my only experiences of New York being the following:
- a trip there when I was about 13/14
- television shows (including but not limited to project runway)
- the song ‘new york new york’
So suffice to say I wouldn’t say I can speak to how ‘real’ the depiction of New York or the various personae within the story is. I will say that it didn’t feel like Jemisin had just picked out one aspect of each ‘soul’ and ran with it, these were nuanced characters, there was an implied acceptance that there was no way one person could encompass every facet of that particular area, but there was also enough there to capture something special. I liked that these were real people, not just powerful entities dropped into the world, it gave the book for of a superhero vibe than I had been anticipating – I can’t honestly say why but I was getting slight ‘this is how I wanted Heroes to feel‘ feelings.
I went in fully anticipating a somewhat abstract, very character-driven book – and was surprised to find, instead, a detailed world, with science fiction worldbuilding and metaphysic, and a far more plot-heavy story than I ever would have anticipated.
And it is so good.
The woman in white is an excellent villain, the kind of character that has you screaming through the page ‘DON’T LISTEN TO HER’, while the ‘protagonist’ leans into her every word. The more ‘horror’ aspects of the story tied to this character gave me chills (I was reading this late at night to be fair) I just thought that the antagonistic aspects of this story were superb.
This is an incredibly visual book, I can practically see the film/tv series now. It helps that New York is such a recognisable place in the mind’s eye, but again it’s that exceptional writing and the feel for creating a dramatic scene that flourishes in this story.
I’m fairly sure this is going to be a trilogy (based on the acknowledgements) and I am beyond excited to see where this goes next. Of course, we want to explore other cities and see what their avatars are like, I want to know what happened to London and just embrace all of the weird world that Jemisin has created in this book. There’s so much more to find out about how all of this works and I am phenomenally excited.
Hats off to you, this was exceptional.
My rating: 5/5 stars
I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
The City We Became is available now!
What say you? Will you be picking this book up? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!