Tina S Beier
The City We Became (Book Review)
By N.K. Jemisin
4 /5 Stars - Urban Fantasy
I had pre-ordered this novel from the library early in the new year and then when COVID-19 struck, it was trapped until they started giving us our holds. Finally!
I absolutely love the Broken Earth trilogy by Jemisin, so I was really looking forward to this one.
But let me preface by saying that I am not a city person*. I don't hate cities, as I love the availability of different foods and you always see something interesting in the city (usually someone doing something weird), but I’m much more into scenic vistas (or abandoned places where people are in short supply) than bustling cities. Hence why I’ve been to Arizona more times than NYC. Ah, the desert.
That being said, I have been to NYC twice and I did enjoy it (though I’d have to say Dublin is my favourite city). I haven’t been there enough to understand any of the differences between the boroughs (hell, I used to work in two different parts of Toronto for years but still don’t know anything about the regions of my “own” city), but I never felt lost while reading; Jemisin did a fantastic job explaining their differing vibes and cultures.
Yet, I didn’t love the book. While the characters were interesting and fun (loved the badass grandma), the story is more about them dealing with the Lovecraftian evil monster from another dimension than their own story arcs. It felt very “comic-book movie” at times, where the bulk of the story is focused on each character discovering their “Burrough” and then bringing them together for the final showdown. While I sometimes enjoy books that don’t have a central protagonist, it often felt like I knew where the story was going and nothing really surprised me about it. Compared to how immersive and unique Broken Earth was, this was somewhat of a letdown.
Still, Jemisin is an amazing writer who makes you wholly incapable of putting down her books once you start them. She has a narrative voice that sucks you in but there’s also a deep intelligence and strategy behind her words. Her talent itself is deserving of four stars.
I might have enjoyed the novel more if it had stuck to being an intelligent romp rather than a clear attempt to be poignant. There were so many references, callouts and situations derived from social issues of today that the novel can’t be anything but serious. As such, the fantastical aspects of the novel felt a touch simplistic and the plot a little basic. I loved the concept of cities being anthropomorphized and the mythos behind those that didn’t make the transition, but I would have enjoyed it far more if the balance had been different between social commentary and world-building. It just felt a little heavy-handed, though it definitely packs a punch.
Overall, I definitely enjoyed it and recommend it, but it didn't blow me away like her other works. Also, cities suck. Give me the sky, the sea, the mountains instead.
Here I am in a few cities, though I don't think I've ever taken a cityscape (except of Toronto, which is weird, because I go there all the time). I've been to several cities in my 35-years, though my travels tend to take me more to those scenic vistas I talked about.
Clockwise from upper left: in Paris, France at the cafe where the movie Amelie was filmed (2013), a blurry-ass pic of me at the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland (2016), in San Juan, Puerto Rico (2015), and in NYC itself (2010).