The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin | Book Review

Book: The City We Became
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Series: Great Cities, #1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

“This is the lesson: Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn.”

I read so many glowing reviews for this book, so of course I had to add it to my TBR. This, by far, possessed the most fascinating concept I had come across in a while. It took me on quite the journey.

Five New Yorkers become the avatars of the five boroughs of the city when it is born. They each embody their respective areas but must come together in order to save the existence of their home from the Enemy and find the sixth missing avatar, who is New York City as a whole. But coming together is not so easy when the Enemy uses everything in her power to keep them apart.

“Come, then, City That Never Sleeps. Let me show you what lurks in the empty spaces where nightmares dare not tread.”

That prologue though; it was a trip. I knew I was not supposed to understand what was happening, and because of that I pushed through, but the confusion I experienced was a lot. I was intrigued to continue, though, because I wanted to grasp the unique way the author described New York City and the characters connected to it. The more I read, the more I enjoyed that connection because it was described so beautifully. I loved the way Jemisin wrote about each borough. From someone who is not from this city, it was a great way to glimpse into what they are all about.

It took almost two hundred pages before we were introduced to all of the main characters. So I would say that the first half of the book mostly worked on getting us familiar with each character. That’s a lot of work because it’s not just them as individuals that we were learning about but the boroughs that they were associated with.

Coming from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, the characters perfectly represented a diverse city. They embraced their roles and fought against the Enemy in different ways, ways that spoke to their personalities, jobs, and skills:

New York – who embodied the whole city, used art to drive the boroughs forward.

Manhattan (Manny) – who used strategy and became Manhattan while he forgot his past.

Brooklyn – who used rap/music.

The Bronx (Bronca) – who used knowledge.

Queens (Padmini) – who used mathematical formulas.

Staten Island (Aislyn) – who used loneliness and stayed detached from the rest.

“There’s stuff we can all do, but then each of us gets unique skills on top of that, because each borough contributes different strengths to what makes New York what it is.”

I was surprised by how even though these characters were undergoing a strange magical experience that they could barely understand themselves, they still informed family and friends, who almost immediately accepted what was going on. I’m just used to protagonists, who go through similar situations, keeping it a secret, especially from their families.

Thank goodness for the Bronx (Bronca) because her knowledge and stories helped me confirm what was actually going on. She was my favourite character and her storyline gripped me the most. It even felt like she had the most page time (but I’m probably wrong about that). As a bonus, her friendship with Veneza was really sweet.

“Every legend of this city, every lie, those become new worlds, too. All of them add to the mass that is New York, until finally all of it collapses under its own weight… and becomes something new. Something alive.”

The way the Enemy possessed regular New Yorkers to do her bidding against the avatars was significant because she picked them based on their prejudice and bigotry and fed off of that. Her choices were of random people, which meant that anyone walking down the street could hold these beliefs (and she did not have a shortage of people to use). These are the villains who are familiar to us, a reflection of people in our world who are like this.

I’m so happy to have decided to pick this up and push through my confusion in the beginning. It was an epic and thought-provoking story, all with the captivating use of magic, interesting characters, and a well-known and loved city.

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