Have you ever found yourself in one of the great cities of the world, either here or abroad, and felt as if the city itself was somehow alive? I know I have. So what do I mean by the city being alive exactly? Many of the cities I’ve visited have its own rhythm, or heartbeat if you will. It is made up of the people who make the city home, the many voices found within, the hodgepodge of cultures and their respective expressions, its architecture, arts, cuisine and history, just to name a few pieces of what makes a city feel alive to me. N.K. Jemisin takes this idea and runs with it in her newest book, “The City We Became.”
“The City We Became” kicks off the Great Cities trilogy, and it offers quite the kick indeed. The book is a continuation of a short story featured in Jemisin’s book of short stories, “How Long ’Til Black Future Month” titled “The City Born Great.” After gestating for hundreds of years, the city of New York has just been born. The birth wasn’t easy. An enemy has its eye on the destruction of the fledgling city for its own purposes and will pull out all stops to see that goal realized. Fortunately, New York is not without defenses. Six souls, each from a different New York borough, must come together to thwart the ancient enemy and ensure the city’s survival. Will they succeed?
This was not my first ride with N.K. Jemisin. She gets better with each work. City demonstrates Jemisin’s unparalleled power at world building. I appreciate her developing her world with her uniquely descriptive writing. Even though this story is set in contemporary New York City, you certainly feel as if you are seeing it anew. I appreciate how profoundly developed her characters are. You really get to know them. Being able to put myself into characters that do not share my heritage is an added bonus. If you are looking for a read with a diverse cast of characters, this will certainly fit that bill and then some. Plenty of action kept the pace brisk but with just enough breaks to give this reader a few breathers in between engagements. I was sad to see the last page come. Jemisin mixed her ingredients so well with this one that it made for a tough book to put down.
City touches on many contemporary themes, such as immigration, inclusivity, race relations, treatment of Indigenous peoples throughout history, gentrification, to name a few. These themes certainly made this feel like a timely read.
I’ve been making an effort in recent years to step up my reading game with reading Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) authors. My discovery of Jemisin has been pure delight, especially given that she’s a master of fantasy/speculative fiction, a genre near and dear to me as a reader.
I suggest her Broken Earth Trilogy as further reading, which features her Hugo Award-winning titles “The Fifth Season,” “The Obelisk Gate,” and “The Stone Sky.” Stone also has won the Nebula and the Locus awards as well. The Inheritance Trilogy was my introduction to Jemisin and features the titles “The One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms,” “The Broken Kingdoms,” and “The Kingdom of Gods.” This trilogy is available in an omnibus edition along with the novella “The Awakened Kingdom.” Then there’s the Dream Blood Duology featuring “The Killing Moon” and “The Shadowed Sun.” All are solid reads making them suggestions I can make with little doubt.
“The City We Became” is a solid start to what promises to be a superb trilogy. Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on when the next installment will be out, so the wait begins. I’m sure I’ll find something else to occupy myself with in the meantime. Time to turn the page!
Kristine Olsen is a librarian at the Cedar Rapids Public Library.