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The City Born Great

(Great Cities #0.5)

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  2,039 ratings  ·  342 reviews
In this standalone short story by N.K. Jemisin, New York City is about to go through a few changes.

Like all great metropolises before it, when a city gets big enough, old enough, it must be born; but there are ancient enemies who cannot tolerate new life. Thus New York will live or die by the efforts of a reluctant midwife...and how well he can learn to sing the city's mig
ebook, 22 pages
Published September 28th 2016 by Tor Books
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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Elena May
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
“Each city must emerge on its own or die trying.”

This story made me realize something about speculative fiction.

The tale started and went on, and, for the first few pages, there were no fantasy or science fiction elements in sight. But I was already into the story, I was attached to the characters, I cared what would happen. And this is one of the elements that make a great fantasy story – the characters and the writing need to already be good and to be able to stand on their own. Th
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
2.5 stars. One of the 2017 Hugo nominees, in the short story category. This story is free online here at Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:

I was delighted to see a new online fantasy short story on by the talented N.K. Jemisin. Unfortunately, this one wasn’t to my taste, but I think it’s likely to appeal to many readers.

New York City is in the process of being literally “born,” as all great cities must be when they get sufficiently old and large. A person is magic
Althea Ann
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of my Hugo nominees, short story, 2016.
It's the third time this has happened: I heard the author read this at a public event, and for a few minutes couldn't figure out why it sounded so awfully familiar upon reading it, when I *knew* it was a just-published story.
It's a wonderful story. It draws upon a rich literary concept: that of the city as an entity with its own unique personality and *being*. And cities here - those with a rich, living culture and deep history, are literally embod
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This '17 nom for the Hugos started out in a way that made me worry, just a bit, that it might not have the right SF or F twist to it that I was hoping for, appearing more like a love/hate letter to NYC, but, indeed, I should never worry.

This is Jemisin, after all.

It quickly became something reminiscent of pieces of Railsea with the tagging and the birth-pains of a city as it comes alive, gets consciousness, rises up with soul. What's more, it really does rise up with eldritch horrors and deep c
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
Oct 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: sci-fi fans, Stephen King fans
Recommended to Evelina | AvalinahsBooks by: Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
Shelves: short-reads
I loved this one! Which makes me really excited about reading The Fifth Season next. By the way, any of you can read it for free here.

I think Jemisin did a really good job fleshing out the story in such short form. Beautiful writing as well. And I would like to see this elaborated into something bigger. Somehow, it felt like fantasy with horror elements - reminds me of Stephen King a little bit. So much promise in such a short piece of fiction!

If you're reading this review, well - ditch this and
Oct 01, 2016 rated it really liked it

I’ll starve to death someday, or freeze some winter night, or catch something that rots me away until the hospitals have to take me, even without money or an address. But I’ll sing and paint and dance and fuck and cry the city before I’m done, because it’s mine. It’s fucking mine. That’s why.

review to come

read it for yourself here:
2020-05: My library just added this story to their collection, and because I enjoyed it so much some years ago, I decided to reread it. And I enjoyed it all over again for a) its main character and b) how cities have protectors who are not necessarily part of the usual political structures and judicial systems.
The main character practically leapt off the page. He lives by his wits, HAS to paint, and as a homeless person of colour has a different relationship to his surroundings and traditional
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Included in my review of the 6 short story Hugo nominees:

In Jemisin’s short fantasy adventure, cities that have grown old and large enough get to live, if the chosen midwife succeeds in birthing it. A homeless man is given this role for New York City, and he races to sing the city to life against an ancient enemy that wants to stop him.
This story is a little too compact for its grand premise, and maybe a bit heavy-handed at times, but is still a riveting
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I would like to be able to provide you with a deeper review. Yet, I don’t want to delay getting this before you.
A Winner

This is a special story that, in a positive way, makes me think of some of what Italo Calvino was doing in his Invisible Cities.

Our un-named protagonist is an urban survivor: "I’m skinny, dark; that helps, too. All I want to do is paint, man, because it’s in me and I need to get it out."

The mission is simply stated: “This city will die,” he says. He doesn’t raise his voice, but
Didn't work for me.
An inconected start , pretty meh, gets better to the end, but leaves many things hanging.
Who is the 'Enemy', anyway?

Tendria que entrar a pensar yo en la busqueda de un significado a esta historia y entrar a especular que un jovenzuelo que vive en la calle y se vende para vivir representa a los anónimos que conforman la parte viva de una ciudad ... o algo asi. Pero esa es solo cosa mia.

I rather prefer in matters of magical alive cities Kate Griffin in A Madness of Angels Wher
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is the lesson: Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn.

I am once again impressed by N. K. Jemisin’s ability to change her writing style so effortlessly. If you have read The Broken Earth Trilogy, you would have noticed how she switches from second person perspective to third person perspective and back again. While The Broken Earth Trilogy has a heavy-handed writing style, The City Born Great is the opposite. The writin
Get X Serious
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
"And just to add insult to injury? I backhand its ass with Hoboken, raining the drunk rage of ten thousand dudebros down on it like the hammer of God. Port Authority makes it honorary New York, motherfucker; you just got Jerseyed."

Ha, the drunk rage of ten thousand dudebros. Four stars just for that.
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-fiction
Excellent voice, I think this can only be described as "fierce". I wonder if her next series will be set in this world?
Jenny Baker
Mar 17, 2017 rated it liked it
This is my first experience reading N. K. Jemisin. She just recently got on my radar when I discovered that her novels have been nominated for awards many times for World Fantasy, Locus, and Hugo Awards. I'd heard of The Fifth Season, but I didn't really look into it. It was just a book title that I'd recognized.

Overall, this is a good story. I like the narrative voice and the overall flow of her writing. It just sounds so natural, nothing forced. The City Born Great has gotten me excited about
Oct 06, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alina by: Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
Surreal work, touching on racism, homelessness, sexual favors, etc, but clearly not my cup of tea especially because of the weirdness and the slang.
Amanda Prado
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
i cant believe jemisin made me kinda ship new york and são paulo
An unnamed young man who devotes his days and nights to singing, painting, and surviving in New York City is called upon to midwife the city into magical sentience. I really like the concept and some of the writing. The main character has a lot of personality, and I love the ways he interacts with graffiti and cops. The explanation of how cities "quicken" and the birthing experience are fantastic. When the narrator starts fighting with "the Enemy" it all got a little diffuse for me--even at the ...more
Alec Lyons
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Exhilarating, colourful, a little twisted and a little strange.
Oct 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Read this for free on

I really liked the voice in this one. It's engaging and keeps you reading from the very first word. The concept was also intriguing, and I liked that she wove in some present days issues, such as the police violence against people of color that is currently ongoing in our country. It also had a great sense of place, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who lives in or loves New York City.
Stefani Putria
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-read
" Heart attack far too young; poor kid, should’ve eaten more organic; should’ve taken it easy and not been so angry; the world can’t hurt you if you just ignore everything that’s wrong with it; well, not until it kills you anyway.

This prekuel short story of The City We Became really great for starter to know more about the series before read the first book of the series. The flow of story and the voice of MC really alive and better listen the audiobook version cause giving a better experien
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, short-story
This is the lesson: Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn.

If you're not sure if Jemisin's The City We Became is for you, start here. It's short, imaginative, and free. You can't go wrong with it.

It's also bloody brilliant, so there's that.
Weird. Have to think outside the box so to speak. Hopefully the next book clears things up.
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
It’s a bright, clear day, not a cloud in the sky. People walking past the cops leave short, stark afternoon shadows, barely there at all. But around these two, the shadows pool and curl as if they stand beneath their own private, roiling thundercloud. And as I watch, the shorter one begins to . . . stretch, sort of, his shape warping ever so slightly, until one eye is twice the circumference of the other. His right shoulder slowly develops a bulge that suggests a dislocated joint. His companion ...more
Incredibly high-energy fantasy in which a city is born as the protagonist/midwife runs through the streets making it so by force of will and presumably some weird magic. An unusual premise that cities, at some point in their existing, become living entities themselves, to die horribly. (I hesitate to say "urban fantasy" because it has none of the tropes, though it's definitely urban and definitely fantasy.) The story is narrated first-person with the speed, energy, randomness and attitude of NYC ...more
Lauren James
cities become sentient when they reach a certain age and size. This short story is the basis for an upcoming full length novel, so read it now to get in early.
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Tired: A story about New York City.

Wired: A story where New York City is a living, breathing entity.
Apr 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2020
5 Stars

Great novella to set up book 1. Jemisin is a top favorite author of mine. A really cool concept and fantastic world building.
Jun 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
The City Born Great, a short story, and my first read by N.K Jemisin and am I hooked with her writing. It's an imaginative and brilliant piece of fiction and most definitely a worthwhile read. ...more
Jessica Haider
I am starting a new thing. A couple of mornings this week, I've read free short stories from A little short story with my tea before the kids wake up. Ahhhh.

This morning, I read the N.K. Jemisin short story The City Born Great, which is available to read here:

This story is actually listed as a prequel (?) to Jemisin's new novel The City We Became, which has appeared on several "What to read this summer" lists and is definitely on my radar.

In thi
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N. K. Jemisin lives and works in New York City.

Other books in the series

Great Cities (1 books)
  • The City We Became (Great Cities #1)

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