THE CITY WE BECAME (Great Cities #1)
Written by N.K. Jemisin
Published by Orbit, March 24th, 2020
My star rating – 4 stars
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. Find it on Goodreads
Kind of a vague synopsis, huh? Let me see if I can give you a little more info – honestly though, this is a hard one to explain! Strange things start happening in New York City and not everyone can see what’s really happening. People think that it’s an earthquake when really it’s a strange monster. People start acting strange but only a few can see that they have white antenna’s coming out of the backs of their necks. And there are flower/mushroom type things growing from the ground. It seems as though only 5 people can see the truth of what’s happening and those 5 people are suddenly aware that they’re connected with the city – a city that they feel the NEED to protect. One person for every borough, and they will protect it at all costs.
Understand a little bit more now? Probably not but I tried lol. The prologue won’t help you either lol. This was my first experience with N.K. Jemisin and I have to say that it was a positive one! I had tried to start The Fifth Season a while back and never made it past the prologue – it was intense, detailed, and confusing as all hell! She seems to be the Queen of prologues that throw you unceremoniously into the story head first. I urge you to continue past that though. It will all make sense in the end 🙂
Being that this was my first experience with her books, I was VERY excited to see what all the fuss was about! She’s constantly talked about within the book community – and now I know why! Her writing style is really unique and seemed to change depending on what was happening at the time. When things were calm her writing was fluid, thoughtful, detailed, and based on emotions and information. It was really easy to fly through! But when the action started things got jumbled. Thoughts were incomplete, sentences came in quick bursts, and words felt like they were thrown together. This was VERY effective for me! The way she wrote action scenes you could literally feel the urgency and intensity!
I will say though that the first 200 pages felt dreadfully slow. This isn’t a high fantasy like her other series. Here, we are in current day New York City, so there isn’t the typical fantasy world building (which might be a huge plus for those who are afraid of high fantasy!) but there was a lot of character building and info dumping. There are 6 main characters and we have to go through the process of meeting them all, learning about their lives and personalities, and how they’re connected to the story. There was also the plot construction – which, thankfully, was slow and steady as there’s A LOT happening! We learn what the hell’s going on along with the characters so it never felt overwhelming.
Once we hit the 200 page mark I couldn’t put this book down! I couldn’t believe the enormity of the situation! This story was BIG for such a small amount of space and time. If you read a lot of fantasy then you’ll understand what I mean by that. Each chapter unwrapped a new development and started stitching things together. There were living cities, monsters (if you can call it that?), multiple universes, and a world history built from all of that. Like I mentioned above, it was never overwhelming though. She added information little by little, letting the reader have a few “AHA!” moments. It was very satisfying lol.
Racism and bigotry played a major role in this book – and it was overwhelming and uncomfortable. That was most definitely her intent, however, it was painful to read at times. I spent over 300 pages wondering how in the hell EVERY character was experiencing so much discrimination of race, religion, sexual orientation, and so on. When it all of a sudden made sense I was taken aback by the beauty of the message. I reread a few pages with a warm heart and a smile on my face. That’s just the thing with her unique writing style though – you’re left in the dark; confused and angry, just like the characters. You aren’t meant to understand until she let’s you in on the bigger picture.
When I was looking into this book on Goodreads I saw quite a few people mention that this book felt like a “love letter to New York”. Like I mentioned above, this wasn’t immediately apparent. I especially didn’t catch it because I have never been to New York. But the way she describes it and the things that make New York special makes me REALLY want to go!!! Each person in this book represents a burough within the city; they’re basically the living embodiment of the space and the people. Their personalities reflect the area and what it has to offer the city as a whole. Having never experienced New York for myself, and living in another country, I’ve always viewed it with an outsiders perspective. I thought of it as just a big city with millions of people and run by corporations and CEO’s. After reading this book though, it feels smaller all of a sudden. It feels like a small community tied together with the little people of the world instead of corporations. So many differences that teach, evolve, and enlighten. If we are ever allowed to cross the borders again after this pandemic, I can see a trip to New York in my future!
Now I’m even more excited to get to her backlisted books! Good thing i’ve got a few on my shelf just waiting to be read!!
Thank you so much to Hachette Books Canada and Orbit for the chance to read this in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own and are uninfluenced.
Until next time, happy reading!