BooksOfTheMoon

The City We Became (Great Cities #1)

By N.K. Jemisin

Rating: 4 stars

I read Jemisin’s collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month and very much enjoyed it, especially The City Born Great, so when I heard that this was an expansion and extension of that story, I was excited. Some cities are alive, and their souls are human avatars. New York is just being born, but it’s already under attack by extra-dimensional horrors. Its new avatar manages to fight them off, but it’s too much, and he falls into a coma. But he’s not alone – the city has five other avatars: one for each borough. They need to come together to find the primary and to defeat something that wants to destroy them all.

I really enjoyed this book. Most of the urban fantasy that I’ve read tends to centre on London, so having this one focus on New York was a bit more “exotic”. I mostly know that city through Hollywood films, but Jemisin is deft enough to take you with her as she explores the city, even if you’re not familiar with it. We’re introduced to the avatars one at a time, starting with Manny (aka Manhattan), and we have different ideas of what it means to be a New Yorker – the bright-eyed newcomer; the up and coming; the hard as nails, takes no crap; the immigrant.

And then there’s Staten Island. I have to assume that Jemisin is being fair in her assessment of Staten Island: a haven of conservatism, inward looking, and which doesn’t want to be part of New York. Staten Island’s avatar is a young white woman called Aislyn and the chapters from her point of view are, for want of a better word, sad. She’s living with her parents, particularly her overbearing cop of a father, and is terrified of everything that might be different or foreign. I feel desperately sad for her, but also want to shake her and tell her to get a grip.

Something I quite liked is that the Lovecraftian horrors from Beyond Reality get their own avatar, and she’s quite talkative. This lets us see things from their point of view, and you actually sort of think that she’s got a point. Although her solution is terrible, it feels like the sort of thing where it might be possible to try and work out a solution, if everyone wasn’t so busy trying to kill each other. It’s something I hope will develop over the course of the trilogy.

For a book with five nominal protagonists, someone was bound to get the short straw. In this case it was poor Queens. Being an immigrant of Indian descent, she was the one I was most interested in, but apart from being young and good at maths, we don’t get much about her at all. Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, as well as Staten Island get a lot more screen time. In fact, I think Queens only gets one chapter from her PoV (each chapter is from the PoV of one of the characters). I hope that this will change in later books.

Apart from that minor quibble, it’s greatly enjoyable book, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356512686

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