The City We Became follows a small group of people as they learn that they’re the living embodiments of the iconic neighborhoods — or boroughs — that comprise New York City. At the same time, there is a “primary avatar” that represents New York City as a whole. These unlikely companions must defend their city and individual boroughs from an otherworldly threat.
I’ve never read anything like this before. An urban sci-fi novel where select people act as conceptual avatars to a city as a whole. As compelling as the idea seemed at first, I didn’t see how author N.K. Jemisin would be able to pull it off without creating a convoluted mess. But, even though it can be hard to grasp at times, The City We Became ended up making sense in a mind-bending sort of way.
From the get-go, Jemisin’s unique, “no-fucks-given” writing style pulled me into this slightly psychedelic telling of extradimensional invaders and larger-than-life heroes. It’s filled with interesting metaphors, humor, and commentary on real social issues. These themes are cleverly blended together (with a touch of Lovecraftian influence) to create something entirely on its own. However, one could definitely compare Jemisin’s writing style in this book to that of Ursula K. Le Guin, albeit loosely.
There’s much to be gleaned from this book. N.K. Jemisin explores the intricacies of New York and its boroughs with her deep experiential knowledge of the subject. Moreover, those who aren’t familiar with many of the social, racial, and class struggles playing out in America (but particularly in New York City) today can definitely learn a thing or two from this book. Everything from gentrification to xenophobia is expertly explored under the guise of great sci-fi. All the while, The City We Became features a truly diverse cast of characters.
Where The City We Became kinda fell short was all its build-up to lackluster conflict scenes. Starting off with a really cool battle between the primary avatar and the first instance of the otherworldly threat, I sort of expected that the final showdowns would be equally as epic. Instead, the story brushes over what could’ve been an awesome showcase of the concepts previously explored in this book, and instead skips to an epilogue of sorts. Apparently this is only the first book in a series though, so maybe things will scale up a bit. While this and a few other small gripes were the only things preventing this from being a 5-star review, I’d realistically give The City We Became 4.5 stars because of my anticipation for the next installment in the series.