ARC received from publisher, Orbit UK, in exchange for an honest review.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Great Cities (Book 1)
Genre: Urban fantasy, horror
Published: 24th March 2020 by Orbit US & 26th March 2020 by Orbit UK
The City We Became is a unique take on urban fantasy that reaffirms N.K. Jemisin as a brilliant author of imaginative and original fantasy fiction.
Having read Jemisin’s multiple award-winning The Broken Earth trilogy, I expected that her new urban fantasy series would be quite different from the rest. And my goodness, I was not wrong. As a matter of fact, I struggled a bit at the beginning. Right off the bat, the prologue was written in the first person perspective which sometimes bordered on streams of consciousness. Not a writing style that I enjoyed reading at all. It was also a long prologue which felt quite confusing and chaotic. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was reading at times. To say that the book didn’t engage me immediately was an understatement, I actually thought to myself that I couldn’t read on for much longer if this continued.
Fortunately, the writing became more accessible to me when I got to the first chapter as the story started to gradually introduce the five main characters, who will come to be the protectors of New York City. I would not describe any of these characters in my review simply because I view them to be at the very least minor spoilers. What I would say is that each of these characters was brilliantly written. Their personalities and ideals that they each represented were the embodiment of the spirit of the city and its well-known five boroughs. Even though it took me quite awhile (about midway of the book) to feel completely engaged with the story and its characters, I was still blown away by its genius.
The tone of the narrative also perfectly captured New York City with an authenticity that was as vibrant and gritty as the city itself. It also dawned upon me that the almost chaotic writing in the Prologue does, in its bizarre manner, aptly represent the city. I’ve never experienced such a form of writing that felt both immersive and jarring at the same time. There’s both a harshness and beauty to its form; a rhythm and beat that was more hip hop than pop. The characters are as diverse and inclusive as the city itself. It is not uncommon to describe a city as having character, and in this case it was taken most literally. In the case for New York City, each of its five boroughs have its own.
Aside from the historical diversity of New York City, the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft also featured prominently in the narrative, and I’m not merely referring to his fictional creations. Jemisin was never one to pull her punches in getting her social commentaries across, and The City We Became unremittingly trashed Lovecraft for his racism and bigotry. So if you adore Lovecraft, be aware that there are some uncomfortable issues about him being mentioned in this book.
There are a couple of other things that I would like to highlight about the writing. Firstly, it was mainly written in third person present tense, except for the prologue and epilogue which was in first person. Secondly, this is about New York City and its personification after all, and as such there were quite a lot of F-bombs and profanity. This doesn’t bother me, but I thought that it might be worth mentioning.
I’m thoroughly impressed with Jemisin’s inventive worldbuilding and brilliant character work. Despite my initial struggle, I was quite captivated by The City We Became by the end of the book, and look forward to its sequel.