Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Great Cities #1

The City We Became

Rate this book
Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2020)
Five New Yorkers must come together in order to defend their city.

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.

437 pages, Hardcover

First published March 24, 2020

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

N.K. Jemisin

112 books54.7k followers
N. K. Jemisin lives and works in New York City.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
20,781 (32%)
4 stars
23,102 (36%)
3 stars
13,651 (21%)
2 stars
4,720 (7%)
1 star
1,677 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,843 reviews
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews156k followers
February 18, 2021
find this review & others on my blog

New York might be born in the world only to be shown right out of it.

Early in “The City We Became”, New York’s human avatar, a young queer Black man living in the streets, tries to salvage the City, to hold the breaking jar, keep his fingers over the cracks, but a battle with the Enemy—who sent forth the police as its harbingers—had worn him to little more than edges. He is weak and unsteady as moonlight on water, and the City was a candle that might burn out if he waited too long.

Luckily, the City has scattered itself like breadcrumbs, dusted across its boroughs, and all five of them are stirring from stillness, tugging insistently on some rope drawn tight inside their avatars who must find each other, follow the paths that they see in their minds, a line that runs through New York, zig-zagging, curving, coiling—and it leads to him. The primary avatar is a shrinking beacon, a lighthouse viewed too far from port, and they drift toward him, like a magnet drawn to its inevitable polarity.

They must awake him. They must save the City before the Enemy sets its jaws upon it.

New York must go on, it must survive—no matter the cost.

“Come, then, City That Never Sleeps. Let me show you what lurks in the empty spaces where nightmares dare not tread.”

I found my way to Jemisin’s “Fifth Season” a couple years ago, and pleasurably devoured it. It was a complex, intricate mechanism of a book, an ingeniously imagined sprawl set in a world that periodically undergoes violent, life-threatening apocalypses. In “The City We Became”, Jemisin picks a far less fantastic setting for her novel: New York, but what she does with it is no less ambitious. This time Jemisin projects the elusive identity of the New Yorker into a brighter, crueler dimension, a place where our evils are not changed but illuminated, and she does so by taking so many of our contemporary problems to horrifying extremes.

Places are never just places in a piece of writing—they are as essential a character as any of the people populating a story. Jemisin has lived in New York for many years, and she brings that authority to bear on the novel. “This is my homage to the city,” she writes, and with it she her personal passion for the city, and the energy with which she writes about it is infectious.

The characters in “The City We Became” are so intrinsically identified with the city that it’s impossible to understand them without the author’s detailed, precise evocation of New York. Jemisin has assembled an intricate mosaic of family, history, friendship, and the way cities can both shield and dehumanize. There’s Bronca, the Lenape director of the Bronx Art Center whose tendency to mistrust is a reflex, like drawing your knife when your rival’s hand twitches. Brooklyn is a once-famous rap star-turned-city-councilwoman. Padmini is an immigrant Tamil mathematician who’s there on a visa. Manny is a multiracial grad student trying to fill in the gaps where memories of his complicated past should be. And Ainslyn is the sheltered Irish American daughter of an abusive cop, and she wants nothing to do with any of them. But New York has tipped like the deck of a ship, pitching them all in the same direction, and the primary avatar—still unconscious somewhere in the heart of the city—is summoning them with a force one might only call kinship. The city cannot wage war against itself without irreversible consequences, and coming together in solidarity is its only hope.

“This city will eat you alive, you know, if you let it. Don’t.”

There’s a lot to enjoy in this novel, but I found, however, that “The City We Became” lacks the tautness of the author’s previous fiction, bogged down with snail-paced developments, lengthy speeches about humanity, politics and culture, and excessive stretches of character interactions which often go around and around until it feels like they are actors in a play going through the same performance page after page, their lines hollow, their actions choreographed.

What the novel mostly fails to do is give enough of a reason to care about its plot, which struggles for a mouthful of air, like a fish in an empty bowl. Too much prose hurts the novel’s momentum, and as a result—and despite the heavy-handed countdown at the heart of the story—any urgency it might have had is mostly drained away.

That said, Jemisin’s blend of humor and poignancy carries the novel, or at least alleviates the tedium, on several occasions. Jemisin’s wit is razor-sharp, and she excels her ambitions to manifest her politics seamlessly through the story. Her acute observations about how the personal and political intricately enmesh in all our lives resonate deeply in light of today’s political climate. Jemisin also makes several statements about the abuses of racism, xenophobia and gentrification through symbolism that’s as subtle as a neon mousetrap: in “The City We Became”, that violence is a conduit used, with horrible relish, by the “disembodied existential evil” that seeks to devour the City of New York, and as the story powers forward, the metaphor is sharpened even more.

Despite the aforementioned quibbles, the total is more than the sum of its parts, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel.

If you liked this review please consider leaving me a tip on Ko-fi !

Profile Image for Nataliya.
782 reviews12.5k followers
June 2, 2021
2021 (written after the shine wore off): It’s disappointing when on the second read the shine wears off. Leave your darlings alone, I guess?

I love Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy with fiery passion that held up on rereads. But this one should have remained a single frenetic read last year (when grappling with pneumonia and burning with fever) because a slower, more focused revisit was a different experience.
“Well, now we know what her super-special power is, I guess: magic xenophobia.”

What Jemisin does well is passion and anger. What she does less well in this one is subtlety - something that struck me way more this time. Less subtlety and nuance, way more overt stereotyping and therefore more apparent simplicity that makes it predictable and obvious and too on-the-nose preachy — and that killed the impact on a more careful reread for me. The first time around I felt that sometimes subtlety is not needed; this time the lack of it seems over the top, suffocating the rest of the plot in favor of getting the message through. I agree with the message in principle, but this time the manifesto-style bulldozer execution of it, combined with slow story overladen with exposition and characters for all apparent complexity mostly lacking dimension left me a bit bored and dissatisfied, really.
“So, I mean, it’s awesome that, uh, you’re a city? Congratulations! I want to be accepting of this new stage in your identity formation.”

Bottom line: Jemisin can do much better, nuance matters, and the reread made the flaws pop, and I really need to reread her superb The Fifth Season now to restore my faith in her writing.

3-ish stars overall.

2020 (written before the shine wore off):
“I have hated this city. I have loved this city. I will fight for this city until it won’t have me anymore. This is my homage to the city. Hope I got it right.”
~ N.K. Jemisin
I always start a new book by a favorite writer with a bit of trepidation: Please be good, please stand up to the earlier ones, please deliver that satisfaction that you tend to feel after reading something that is solidly strong writing. With her ‘Broken Earth’ books N.K. Jemisin touched something in my soul that has never been the same since. She raised her own bar so dizzyingly high that I was afraid she would not be able to get there again.

Yeah, I didn’t need to worry. Her talent does not disappoint. This book is lovely. It’s objectively good. As different from ’Broken Earth’ as you can only imagine - the setting, the mood, the narrative voices - but the gut punch is the same.
Obviously, this is an ode to New York. One of the world’s best known cities. A country in its own right, size- and spirit-wise. Unique enough to be its own living and breathing entity. Which of course is what happens. Because cities want to be born and live.

“Manny’s been in New York for less than an hour and yet he knows, he knows, that cities are organic, dynamic systems. They are built to incorporate newness. But some new things become part of a city, helping it grow and strengthen—while some new things can tear it apart.”

Many cities, once they reach a certain point, will try to be born. Only a few will succeed. It is New York’s turn, and it’s avatar has been selected, and São Paulo is there to guide him through this - but things go very wrong. It’s not just the city itself - each of its boroughs has its own avatar, and at least one of them does not want to be a part of a greater whole. And the sinister outside force is The Enemy, and it has the plans of its own.
“A city is never alone, not really—and this city seems less solitary than most. More like a family: many parts, frequently squabbling… but in the end, against enemies, they come together and protect one another. They must, or die.”

Jemisin’s worldbuilding again is ridiculously impressive. Her characters are complex, nuanced and realized, and incredibly human - with all the good/bad/ugly that entails.

“My God, why are you attacking us?”
“Because I don’t know you,” [she] snaps, “and you were standing on my lawn.”

This also is an angry book. It’s an unapologetic fuck-you to the “racist sexist homophobic dipshits” that are everywhere. It’s not subtle, no, but these things don’t need to be. Because of course people are the worst monsters, especially when they tend to think of themselves as nice ones who only “try to be decent”.
“The alternative is to challenge her own belief that the Woman in White isn’t so bad. This would force her to question her own judgment and biases and find them wanting. And given how hard she has fought lately to feel some kind of belief in herself, she is not ready to doubt again. So it’s fine. Everything is fine.”

I loved this book. Jemisin is definitely a strong voice in the modern science fiction. 4 stars.
“Discovering that one’s roommate is actively undergoing a break with reality is high on the scale of “things one wants to learn before signing the lease.”

Found this since I wrote the review: a podcast featuring N.K. Jemisin discussing, among other things, racism in science fiction and the horrible legacy of H.P. Lovecraft, whose bigotry, racism and antisemitism are truly repulsive. Gives more of a perspective for this book and its answer to Lovecraft.


My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2021: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,304 reviews44k followers
December 10, 2020
Oh no! I think this review will earn me so much glances, hater looks, curses and a unique place in the minority because when you get one of your favorite authors’ book into your hands, you get excited, hardly slow down your heart rate and want to devour it at few bites! You truly expect more and deserve more because you know what the author is capable of and how unique talent she is. So this is first for me giving three stars to one of my most anticipated reads of the year. Stop booing me or throwing virtual rotten eggs and tomatoes on my face! I didn’t choose to feel like this!

Facts: The plot is dazzling, thought-provoking and extremely interesting, unique. Every city has its own souls. But sometimes souls want to differentiate them from their cores and search for their own freedom, self-discovery for reaching their own identity. And the author couldn’t be so right to choose New York with multiple souls: a city never sleeps, a city full of chaos, movement, changing, a mother of original ideas, a quite mosaic with its cultural, ethnical identities. We are introduced 6 different souls and various characters but unfortunately they are not quite likable ones.

In my opinion: I got confused a lot with whirlwind bombardment of inner thoughts of several POVS and unpredictable story direction. I found it a little evasive and blurry, pacing through the chapters like moving in the dark till the first half. It was really hard for me to catch the center of the story because there are so many ideas fly around and so many annoying characters’ action change the direction of progression. But I have to admit second half was more gripping and ending was brilliant. Normally I would like it more if this is written by a debut author or any other sci-fi author
I haven’t read her books before but N.K. Jemisin is a trademark, a sign of perfectionism and it is so normal for me to expect more because I know deep in my heart so she had endless writing skills.

Unfortunately this was less likable book of hers. But that’s my opinion. I’m just in the minority and the way of story telling and characterization didn’t work for me! Maybe I dreamed to read it so long and I high leveled my expectations which turned me into tougher bitchy grader. But this is what it is!

Profile Image for carol..
1,566 reviews8,220 followers
November 5, 2022
Surprisingly underwhelming for me. Admittedly, I'm not a huge new-adult fan, and this has 'coming-of-age' plot line all over. I was also surprised that there was a strong Lovecraftian vibe going on here--add this to the growing body of work subverting Lovecraft's (white) universe. So perhaps there were a couple flavors that were not intriguing to my reading preferences. On the other side, I like N.K. Jemisin, and one of her books is in my top twenty list. I'm also fond of NYC in its many varieties (notice the nyc shelf?). In other words, I entered this with baggage, although not of the preconception kind. What did I find?

I found an experience that verges on indescribable. Oh, I can tell you what happened: I put it down, I picked it up. I read the first character, did other things, made myself go back for the second and realized, eureka-like, that this "absorb the city" was gonna be a thing. Oh yes--Jemisin was being very leitmotif and infintesimally advancing the plot while repeating it with a new character each time. Oh boy. I actually took the time out to learn how to use the 'scan' function in my Kindle so that I could start flipping through a bunch of pages to see how long she followed this formula.

The characters didn't clarify my ambivalence any. They felt familiar, only with over the top stereotypes. NYC, a homeless young brown-skinned gay man. Manny, our cold-blooded amnesiac Manhattanite of questionable ethnicity and gay leanings. Brooklyn, Black woman, who has re-invented herself, is taking care of the family, and being a successful leader. Queen, a new generation of emigrant, making her home in a tenement, building community and being a caretaker. Bronx, an aging artistic socially conscious lesbian Native. And must we? Oh yes, we must: Staten Island, the alienated white-skinned daughter of a police officer.


What was surprisingly interesting to me was personification of the Lovecraftian Beyond. I ended up enjoying it as a character a lot more than I would have expected, especially as a person who naturally roots for good and order. But despite attempts to humanize Brooklyn and Bronx (the history of the others gets short shift, honestly), I ended up disappointed in Jemisin for complete lack of subtlety in messaging.

There are some moments of humor which leavened the repetitiveness. There's the modern friend trying to be supportive: “Jesus, B. So, I mean, it’s awesome that, uh, you’re a city? Congratulations! I want to be accepting of this new stage in your identity formation." There's also a little bit of authorial commentary: "They don’t notice because they are unironically playing Marco Polo, yelling at each other in a mix of Mandarin and English and splashing wildly to get away from each other."

But the most frequent humor is the classic NYC area in-joke/side-eye: “Well, I mean, just the sight of something awful and incomprehensible isn’t going to send me off frothing at the mouth,” Veneza says. It’s nonchalant, but there is a shaken note to her voice nonetheless. 'I’m from Jersey.'" The in-jokes actually prove the most tiring, because it's trying to pay homage to the network of cultural influences and stereotypes of each borough--sort 0f--by relying mostly on a stereotype on top of stereotype. Not that some don't ring true, but a lot of times it feels self-conscious and tired.

This stereotyping of the NYC attitude misses because in my opinion, it isn't just the city's cultural history catch-phrases, but the fact that it is an intersectional point between so many cultures that makes the city great. She creates beautifully solid examples, such as the history with the rock in Central Park, and the kids in the backyard swimming pool in Queens. So maybe its just when she's being overt (oh man, the art gallery; so self-conscious) that it fails.

This simplicity in messaging makes it feel younger than it should. It ended up reminding me of José Older's Shadowshaper, and of the two, I think Shadowshaper was more interesting, at least because of the magic.

What was right? I still love Jemisin's way with words. I love her diversity of characters, and the combination of thinking and emotion we receive from them. I actually liked the turning away of one of the characters, but you know what might have been more powerful? . What was wrong? The plot was facile, the characters were surprisingly so, and despite the quality writing and NYC setting, it just never grabbed my heart. Disappointing from someone of her caliber.
Profile Image for Alix Harrow.
Author 41 books16.5k followers
November 6, 2019
I want you to understand that you're not ready for this book. Even if you've read Jemisin's other work, even if you've read The City Born Great, which is the starting place for this book (https://www.tor.com/2016/09/28/the-ci...).

You're not ready for the fun and pop of it, the rhythm and beat. You're not ready for the wit and weight of it, the subversions that are both subtext and said out-loud. You're not ready for the cleanness and cleverness of the prose, the daring of it, the way the whole thing functions simultaneously as a superheroes-learning-their-powers origin story and a love-song to city-living and a gigantic middle finger to H.P. Lovecraft.

And honestly, none of it is written for me. I'm white and rural and southern; I don't know jackshit about New York. But this is a song so good--so bright and bold and brave--that anyone can dance to it.
Profile Image for S.A. Chakraborty.
Author 9 books10.8k followers
November 6, 2019
Without a doubt, one of the most brilliant books I have ever had the honor of reading. A brilliant homage to New York City, packed with all its love and harshness, and so incredibly inventive that I felt my own imagination and the boundaries of what fantasy can be expand.
Profile Image for Rebecca Roanhorse.
Author 55 books8,062 followers
December 8, 2019
A wonderfully inventive love letter to New York City that spans the multiverse. A big middle finger to Lovercraft with a lot of heart, creativity, smarts and humor. A timely and audacious allegorical tale for our times. This book is all these things and more.

The story started a bit slow as our team assembles, but once our heroes are together (or as together as they're gonna be), it was a blast - sharp and insightful but also just fun. There are definitely some creepy and disturbing moments, and one scene between a mother and daughter that I did not expect that just about broke my heart. (Jemisin has moments of human tenderness and wonder tucked in this wild ride, too, so don't mistake fun for lightweight or fluff.) This book has a lot to say and it says it very well. I tore through the last 100+pp in one sitting, laughing and cheering and loving every word. It felt like driving down Second Avenue at full speed yelling at everyone to get the f*** out of my way. And what (former and current) New Yorker has not wanted to do that? A joy.

Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,404 reviews11.7k followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
June 24, 2020
Tragically, not one thing about this novel is holding my attention. You also have to be very open to social justice issues (the issues I whole heartedly support in real life) being bluntly jack hammered into the narrative, something that was never present in Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, where the author’s political and social commentary was woven into a tremendously interesting fantasy story with nuance and measure. Jemisin’s ability to show rather than tell disappeared somewhere in the process of crafting this work. Maybe it’s the supposedly Lovecraftian (or anti-Lovecraftian) influence that does nothing for me?

The audio is wonderfully produced though.
Profile Image for Mariah.
360 reviews29 followers
September 13, 2021
This book is a love letter to New York in the absolute worst way possible.

(This is about to get long because I've been making notes for a week as I read it)

If you don't know anything about the city I'd say don't even bother. It's just endless inside jokes and cultural idiosyncrasies. I immediately felt like an outsider and while it seems at its face that the author is trying to invite you into this secret club - teach you about the real New York - it falls flat because of the sheer amount of condescending aggrandizement. It's a nonstop parade of supercilious comments implying how great New York is, but the rest of the world just doesn't understand because they're not part of 'the culture'.

All I kept thinking was 'calm down it's literally just a city'. I understand loving where you live as well as (to a point) defending it, but N.K. Jemisin seems to literally worship at the altar of New York City and I just cannot ride for that kind of devotion to a place. I just think it's silly to get so worked up over a place that you are actually mean to people that don't come from there.

Even the problems (gentrification, the racism, the poverty to name a few) were rose tinted. Those were things for them to bond over complaining about rather than the very huge, very harmful detractors to its grandeur I personally view them as. In its desire to make New York out to be some special refuge for misfits it fell into a single minded extremism that only succeeded in further othering those who don't 'get it'. Heck, there's an entire horrible chunk where Brooklyn gives Manny a run down of the city. For several long minutes - I listened to the audiobook - Brooklyn lists things only a real New Yorker would know like some kind of cheap online listicle. What's worse is that it honestly sounds like a hodge-podge of stereotypes to me, but because it's coming from a black woman, both the author and this character, it's being given more weight. There's truth to a lot of stereotypes, but there is no depth here. For example, it's presented as fact that people from Staten Island are essentially small minded Republicans stuck being apart of New York while chafing under its inclusivity. It lacks nuance as well as reinforces the biases that it shames other people (read white people) for having. All minorities are good in this book while all white people are bad is basically what it boils down to; an idea that is just as ignorant as the characters constantly accuse everyone else of being.

Onto the characters: one note mouthpieces vomiting up the authors' personal opinions with not a hint of subtlety. There was not a single well rounded three dimensional individual in this whole book. One of the boroughs only got like a quarter of an establishing chapter. And yes, this is an ensemble cast so I expected a division of attention but literally everyone else of the core cast got more focus than her. It was like she was added for diversity points only to be pushed to the side for the characters that better served Jemisin's proselytizing. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Which brings me to my next complaint.

Every other sentence out of anybody's mouth is either some factoid about the city or a heavy handed social justice monologue.

Believe me I am as liberal as they come, but I was annoyed the entire time because I already *know* a ton of this information. I live a lot of the realities presented in this book. So I didn't want to be preached to. I wanted something to be brought to the table to discuss or offered a new perspective. This book didn't even *attempt* to have a conversation. It was content to languish in superficiality while masquerading as some deeper ideological commentary. It was a very 'preaching to the choir' kind of book. It was meant to validate rather than educate. I'm not against that in general, because books like that can be good too, however, for a book that is lauded for its critique I expect a lot more y'know critique. Not confirmation bias.

The plot is super slow. All of the characters are split up at the beginning which is fine because that's set up to be an obstacle. But, then they take forever to actually do anything. You'll get a whole chapter of them talking about going somewhere only for them not to actually do it for another three chapters. Completely kills the very little suspense there is. You meet one borough early only for them to totally abandon her until the last quarter of the book. A choice that seems more reflective of the hatred for this borough in real life than its narrative significance. The book is supposed to be over the course of a couple days and it drags so much because nothing is happening that's relevant to the central premise. The book is constructed like little events that are intended to build towards this overarching plot. Instead it felt like vignettes with an interconnected theme. It feels as if N.K. Jemisin wrote these as a series of short stories and had to force an underlying plot to get it published.

We're supposed to be racing against time yet the story will stop completely to deal with some contrived nonsense. It feels like stalling to fluff up the page count especially since our protagonists struggle with finding one another yet The Enemy so easily is able to locate whoever she wants. I did the math; the plot only starts picking up in chapter 12. That is approximately 75% of the way through - using the audiobook as reference.

The Enemy is as flat as everyone else. She's a generic evil supervillain.

I also don't like the way the book implies that the real life people who choose their own prejudices or agendas over actual human lives are being somewhat controlled by outside forces pulling the strings. It removes their agency and makes them seem less culpable in their own cruelty. This solidified how hazy the worldbuilding was. For example, there's a point where these alt-right jerks attempt an attack on a character. It's revealed afterwards that they were being manipulated by the Enemy. But, it doesn't matter because they clearly had the inclination already if the Enemy was able to latch on. So now we're just okay punishing people for thought crimes I guess?

Plus the magical systems don't make sense. The Enemy is able to spread across huge swaths of the city. So am I supposed to believe every single person she touches just happens to be a bigot? And that's only her specifically. The Enemy also spreads from regular person to regular person once one has caught it which indicates its indiscriminate. But, the aforementioned alt-right attack implies you need to have some kind of hate within you to make it work. And if you need hate, what are the standards for it? Is someone who has prejudice that they're working through on the same level as someone who has prejudice they don't care about?

The boroughs are able to do whatever they want. They can move whole parts of the city, have super speed, teleportation powers without any real explanation. It happens when they need it with no indication before that it was even possible.

Speaking of which, the ending happens the same way: we need X to happen so X happens. It's totally unearned. The ending is building up to some kind of huge city destroying battle only to dissolve into a rushed deus ex machina. Not to mention the fact that by doing what she did Jemisin rendered like half the book pointless.

I could go on, but if you read this far or even skimmed you can definitely get the gist of it by now. I hated this book with everything in me. I actually think I hate New York now too. If it wasn't for a book club this quite possibly might have been the rare case where I didn't finish. That being said I've seen reviews saying that this is her most divisive read compared to her other works. So I'd say skip this one entirely and give one of those a try instead.
Profile Image for Claudia ✨.
508 reviews356 followers
October 14, 2022
“Come, then, City That Never Sleeps. Let me show you what lurks in the empty spaces where nightmares dare not tread.”

When I first read The Fifth Season, it was like taking a cold shower - almost like waking up, since I had no idea that you could actually write like that. But N.K. Jemisin doesn't play by the rules; instead she creates her own, stomping all over both genres and everything binary to create something amazing that is purely hers. I love it, and I love her. That's why it broke my heart when I didn't find myself in love with The City We Became.

All remarkable cities have souls, and are born. As with every birth, problems can occur. Like stillbirths, or otherwordly eldritch creatures attacking, trying to stop the birth from happening. At first, it looks like New York will make it, but then everything goes wrong. And it appears that the city that never sleeps doesn't only have one soul - it has six.

“This is the lesson: Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn.”

I want to begin by saying that me giving this book a three-star rating is me being generous because I can't stand to rate a book by Jemisin lower than that. I often rate based on my reading experience, and reading The City We Became wasn't enjoyable for me. I had to push through it, always hoping that it would turn around and slap me in the face with awesomeness. But even if the ending was better than the beginning, it was never what I had hoped for.

First of all, the beginning was messy. We have no idea what is going on, as there's a lot of different POV's and too many plots. There was so much time in this book spent straying from what was actually important and going on, especially in the beginning, that time felt wasted as it left me feeling disconnected. There is so much potential here, but strangely enough I really feel like Jemisin didn't do enough with it.

I didn't even get properly attached to any of the characters. They were all complex, and honestly quite expertly written, but I never felt like there was any proper time to connect to them as we spent so much of the pages being thrown this way and that. The one I surprisingly, and disturbingly, enough felt the most for was Staten Island, Aislyn - a white, xenophobic young woman that Jemisin somehow made me feel sorry for. She was horrible and terrifying, but also lost and terrified. Among all the characters, it was her and the curious Manhattan that stood out the most to me. If there is anything I am looking forward to, it's seeing what will happen to those two.

“Back when Aislyn was a teenager, she often thought of her mother as dull. Since then Aislyn has come to understand that women sometimes have to pretend to be dull so that the men around them can feel sharper.”

Apart from the characters, another big aspect of this book is how diverse and progressive it is - obviously, as it's not only Jemisin, but also New York. And even though I of course loved this, I did feel that it often took too much space. To be clear, it wasn't that it was too much of it, just that it wasn't weaved enough into the plot and storyline, and instead felt like it existed outside of that. Let me just compare this to the Broken Earth Trilogy, to try to make my point clearer - that one is as diverse and feminist, if not more, but there it felt seamless. It and the plot were one. Here, it felt almost forced, and was in need of much, much subtlety.

Now, I do have to add that I probably would have enjoyed this book more if it wasn't N.K. Jemisin that had written it. Yes, I know I'm not making sense. But my expectations were just so high, they had gone into another dimension. I take all blame for not loving this, as I know Jemisin can do no wrong. The fault lies in me.

That's why I'll be reading the sequel, even though The City We Became put me into a reading slump, because it's entirely my fault. I'm the bad reader. But I will continue to admire and love N.K. Jemisin to the end of my days, so at least I'll not burn in hell.
Profile Image for mwana .
381 reviews288 followers
May 29, 2023
Many things die so that something else can live. Since we’re the ones who get to live, we should offer thanks to those worlds for contributing themselves to our survival—and we owe it to them, as well as our own world’s people, to struggle as hard as we can.
This has been referred to before as an homage to New York and a call to arms. It is a genre bending amalgamation of storytelling. Part Lovecraftian horror, part speculative fiction, part inter-dimensional superhero sci-fi, part fantasy— it is a vivid tapestry about New York becoming sentient to fight an unknown evil that preys on the most realistic parts of New York from historical times to present day.

I picked this book up simply because it had New York on the cover. Yes yes, I know, N.K. Jemisin is a prolific SFF author and she will be heralded in the same halls of fame as Tolkien and Le Guin but I wanted to read this because New York (my friends will get it). That said, I literally had no clue what I was getting myself into.

I didn’t realise I would be getting ensnared by a spell binding story about people who present the very heart of New York. Some of the most dynamic and vibrant characters I have met since Girl, Woman, Other. They are all strong-willed, arrogant Americans though some more unpleasant than others. An at-first faceless evil will need them to accept their mantels and learn to work together if they are to ensure the survival of the universe.

This story is so tangible that I had no trouble picturing myself in every situation. It’s also well-paced, well-crafted and well-written. Jemisin has no trouble with prose.

I mean look at this magic
Manhattan is perfectly positioned for Manny to stare at for most of the drive, and he does so greedily, fascinated despite the knowledge that he is staring at himself. He’s a little overwhelmed by all of it: the bright, startling order of the highway, even as half of its drivers seem determined to run their own private speed races. The high-rises that loom over or alongside the highway, and the fleeting vignette glimpses he gets into other people’s lives: a couple arguing in front of an ugly painting of a boat; a roomful of people, which must be a dinner party; an old man pointing a remote at a TV with both hands and yelling.
For a story that’s so untraditional, it’s grounded in realism. You could almost question whether it’s possible. Whether maybe, just maybe, Jemisin has seen the light and we are finally getting an answer to life’s most common question. Why are we even here?

It reminded me of one of my favourite DC cartoon movies. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths , which explores a similar concept. Whereby every decision creates a new universe. This leads Owlman, the antagonist of the film, to decide to destroy Earth Prime, where the first decision was ever made because the parallelism and duality of human nature meant infinite Earths. So Owlman had the existential crisis to end all existence. In this, we also get a similar concept. That's the great secret of existence: it's supersensitive to thought. Decisions, wishes, lies—that’s all you need to create a new universe.

But beyond trying to explain the purpose of life, perhaps more of the story’s core is to get us to appreciate life. Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die... This story has a lot to say about art bad art makes everyone tired, culture, coexistence, colonialism, consumerism, capitalism Money talks and bullshit walks in New York. In a lot of cities probably-- but here, the nation’s shrine to unrestricted predatory capitalism, money has nearly talismanic power…

I did appreciate how self-aware it could be. It’s frustratingly nebulous. It remarked on how New Yorkers can be notably spiteful to their city but still they remain because there’s just something so special about the place.
most of you just stay here, hating this city, hating everything, and taking it out on everybody... But then you meet somebody fine at the neighborhood block party, or you go out for Vietnamese pierogies or some other bizarre shit that you can’t get anywhere but in this dumb-ass city, or you go see an off-off-off-Broadway fringe festival play nobody else has seen, or you have a random encounter on the subway that becomes something so special and beautiful that you’ll tell your grandkids about it someday. And then you love it again. It glows off of you. Like a damn aura.” She shakes her head, smiling to herself a little wistfully. “I get on the train to go home every day, and sometimes I look around and see all these people glowing. Filled with the beauty of this city.
At the core of it, this is a story about a group of people coming together to save a city from destruction. The Reluctant Prevengers. The SFF and Lovecraftian elements only served to make the story that much richer. I defy anyone to read this book and not be blown away by it. It may not have been perfect, sometimes getting caught up in its own intelligentsia. And the ending felt a bit rushed. Plus, there were actual math equations in this book. After what Calculus did to me in college, I never want to see equations in my escapism. Regardless, this book has firmly cemented me as a Jemisin fangirl. I can’t wait to see where this story becomes...
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,323 reviews2,144 followers
October 13, 2022
I have never been to New York (although it is definitely on my bucket list), but after reading this book I feel as though I know the city well. Jemisin has a wonderful way with words and she makes you feel the energy and excitement of the place, as well as providing vivid descriptions of the settings.

I loved her characters too. Each one represents a part of the city and has characteristics in keeping with their chosen home – and - I can’t think what to write next without going into Spoilerland.

I don’t believe I have ever had so much trouble writing a review. Why is it always harder for the books you love than the books you do not like?

I am just going to say I loved this book, I loved the ideas behind this book and I loved the people in this book. Not everyone will like it. If the idea of a city being a living, breathing entity does not interest you then this one is not for you. If it does then I hope you like it as much as I did.

P.S It would make a fantastic movie!!!
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books59.7k followers
July 7, 2020
Easily one of my favorite books of the year, and I'm grateful this is the first installment of a planned trilogy. How soon till I can read book 2?

Every city has a soul, and the great cities of civilization—like Rome, Athens, São Paolo—finally reach a point when they come to life. Now it’s New York’s time to be born, but the city itself is too weakened by a gruesome attack to complete the process. If New York is to live, five people—or, more precisely,
five avatars, one for each of the city’s boroughs—must rise up and unite
to evade, and then destroy, the creeping tentacles of their opponent, the
amorphous power personified by the Woman in White.

Jemisin layers her fantasy upon a deeply realistic modern-day New York. A wild and wonderful
ride, fantastically inventive and imaginative.
Profile Image for Nicole.
512 reviews14.3k followers
November 3, 2022
Bardzo chciałam ją polubić. Na stoisku na targach książki wręcz się na nią rzuciłam 😂
Niestety… czułam się jakbym oglądała głupiutki serial netflixa (riverdale albo insatiable). Pomysł miał ogromny potencjał, ale wykonaniu wiele brakowało.
Profile Image for Plamen Nenchev.
199 reviews33 followers
April 11, 2020
If you picked this up because you liked Inheritance and The Broken Earth, check your expectations at the door: The City We Became is nothing like them. And while saying that this book has rubbed me the wrong way is an understatement, this is hardly motivated by subjective reasons alone:

IDEA: Call me simple, but I like my stories human, my characters relatable, my conflict engaging. Cities that are ‘midwifed’ through song and afterwards battle Lovecraftian monsters through human avatars? How can I empathise with that and why should I even care who wins?

RACE: I have always found the inordinate amount of attention Americans pay to race to be tiresome, but this book just crosses a line: The first thing we learn about every single character is their skin colour—down to shade and tone. Every single character ‘of colour’ is cool, every single white character is racist, narrow-minded, prejudiced and even outright evil. The monster is white (this is repeated so many times that almost gets nailed to your brain). The only borough that sides with the monster (and whose avatar is all of the above plus feeble-minded) is… well, white again.

If you want to criticise the racism that surely exists in certain segments of (American?) society, engaging in racial stereotyping yourself is probably the worst thing you can do. Just sayin’.

PLOT AND CHARACTERISATION: If you expect something elaborate or—Heaven forbid—structurally bold and experimental like The Fifth Season, you will be sorely disappointed. The plot has a distinct, pulpy feel, almost like a comic book: a cast of diverse, ‘coloured’ characters battles the white, narrow-minded forces of evil by showing qualities typical for New Yorkers. Basically, Luke Cage vs. the Evil Republican, with all the character depth the title implies.

LANGUAGE: I am anything but a fan of purple prose, but entire sections full of f***ing, dumb-f***, big-ass, etc. just to give the book a ‘street feel’ gets very old, very fast.

SHOW, DON’T TELL: I have always respected Jemisin as an extremely effective, emotionally evocative writer, who can infect you with her feelings and viewpoints almost against your will. Which is why it is extremely surprising that at some point during the writing of this novel, she seems to have forgotten all about ‘show, don’t tell’ and instead chooses to hammer slogans to your brain with a power tool.

LOVECRAFT: While the intertextuality with Lovecraft is hard to miss, its point is more elusive. I think the explanation is very prosaic: This book is just the pinnacle of Jemisin’s perennial crusade against Lovecraft. And while he was certainly bigoted and xenophobic, and his books are undoubtedly inspired by fear of miscegenation and ‘otherness’, he cannot really do anything about it, 1) because he is the product of his time and upbringing; 2) because he is dead; 3) because he has been DEAD for 80 years, and dead people CANNOT apologise, change opinion or become better persons. What is your excuse, Nora, for doing practically the same and even being smugly unsubtle about it?

(I can rant about this and other issues with this book for a couple of more pages, but I think you get my drift.)
Profile Image for Robin Brown.
27 reviews2 followers
March 16, 2020
The positives:-

Says some interesting things about race and inclusivity both in general life and within the Sci-Fi genre. There is a fair amount of intertextuality with the work of H.P Lovecraft, as well as repeated criticisms of his world view. Lovecraft is a pillar of the genre, despite his now widely publicised racism, anti-semitism and homophobia. He remains hugely popular so it’s good to see a big name name in contemporary sci-fi confront him like this.

The negatives:-

The writing is patchy; veering between the quite good and the schlocky as hell. There is so much cliche here that it made my head hurt. Jemisin leans heavily on the tropes of the genre and as far as I could see she did little to subvert or refresh them. Ultimately, the whole thing just felt silly. It was like a trashy Netflix series (indeed it shared the episodic quality of a television show, almost as if it was written with this in mind).

I’m sure there will be a lot of people that praise this book, and I’m willing to concede that perhaps it’s just not aimed at me. But honestly I find little to recommend here.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
April 12, 2020
Coming back to Jemisin, my expectations are extraordinarily high. After reading the short fiction that this novel was based on, it made me wonder and scheme and imagine where it would go.

I mean, hey! This is all about human avatars being created out of a City, FOR the City's own protection and soul! It's like crossing American Gods with a NY monster movie with the SOUL of xenophobia (or any other kind of prejudice).

Coming into this, however, I should recommend that you manage your expectations.

This isn't a full-on monster bash although it has certain elements that recommend it to be a video game with a party of D&D adventurers complete with twisty-turny characterizations and betrayals and a big bad with a truly awesome universe-spanning motivation a-la Lovecraft.

Nor is it a full-on love-letter (or hate-letter) to NYC, although the whole novel truly concerns itself with the multiple burroughs and soul of the different parts of the city and its people.

It is both. And both are awesome.

So why did I give it only 4 stars? I mean, for ideas alone and the rich characters, this SHOULD deserve all the marks, right?

Well... it's also preachy. Heavily so.

It tackles prejudice and battles it with tooth and nail. I can't find fault in that. Not really. BUT it DOES come across rather heavy and constant and while the normal, everyday prejudice fits nicely with the extradimensional themes, the over-the-top presentation is somewhat too-oppressive. It was also hard to LIKE the whole "yeah, these guys are jerks, but they're OUR jerks" mentality. This, by itself, isn't that bad, but when we got into the whole art scene (and more) that catered to the war/counter-war that seemed to be all about portraying all whites as outright combatants against everyone else with very little distinction and a lot of sneering condemnation (I'm thinking of a certain announcement with a march full of white men), I get the impression that this is actually a resumption of hostilities in RL. As in the hostilities in the SF/F fandom or gamergate or the whole use of the term SJW.

I sided with everyone who believed in inclusiveness. I should appreciate what this book is trying to accomplish. Shouldn't I?

But this book is a new salvo aimed at all those angry white men who love to use the term SJW and it doesn't fear taking out its swords, knives, or bazookas. It's a resumption of hostilities that may or may not target non-combatants and people like me who believe that everyone should have a right to get along with everyone else. I don't want to fight an ideological war. I want to ENJOY the company of so many kinds of people. Not get riled up and be forced to pick a side where there will NOT be any winners.

I can feel the anger here and I cannot countenance the amazing levels of s**t that goes on with either side. Not the death threats, not the doxing, not the HATE. Nor can I feel comfortable when I'm targeted, even obliquely, because I fight my own way. I'm white. I'm male. But I don't believe in hate or exclusion. I don't believe in the resumptions of hostilities. I may agree with the core... but not with the amount of force or aggression it takes.

Others might argue that it's too little, too late, that the only thing that some people understand is force... but this is what it really is: Escalation.

If the City needs to be whole to fight the great universal exclusionary monster, then it needs to be truly inclusive. That means putting down the guns.

Otherwise, I very much would have rated this book a full and hearty five stars.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,895 followers
September 10, 2020
This is a wild ride, and reading it I felt the exhilaration of watching the incredibly talented N.K. Jemisin riff on many tropes of popular speculative entertainment in increasingly fun ways. Tropes surrounding the superhero origin story, the diverse fellowship of strangers joining together to defeat an Enemy story, the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft, and stereotypes of what New Yorkers are like; Jemisin filters them all through her abundantly humane, fiercely progressive, and joyfully propulsive prose.

I love New York, I love living in New York, and I always have, but I also recognize it’s a tough, messy, problematic place in many ways, and Jemisin also manages to honor all of those facets here. I wonder what people who’ve never been here or lived here would make of this novel, but I can tell you that it rings extremely true in its depiction of what makes this city what it is.

I will say that as entertained by this novel as I was, I never fell fully in love with it as I did with her masterpiece, The Broken Earth Trilogy. But I will still eagerly await the rest of this new trilogy, and I remain intensely grateful that Jemisin is here to bring some much-needed, vital new energy and ideas to the venerable SFF field. She is fighting the good fight in every way, doing her part with her art to eliminate the evils of corporatism, white supremacy, colonialism, gentrification, xenophobia, and apathy, and I am here for it.
Profile Image for P. Clark.
Author 51 books4,510 followers
November 27, 2021
Listen, I'm always here for some N.K. Jemisin. Been down like that since Inheritance Trilogy. But I didn't know what to expect from a story like this--set in our real world. Would it be as imaginative? As immersive? Filled with characters I could sink my teeth into? Yes, Yes, and Hell Yes! This book is Lovecraftian cosmic horror brought (quite literally) into our world, using NYC as a backdrop. As a one-time NY'er born in Queens raised partly in Staten Island as a kid, and later re-transplated to Brooklyn as an adult, this story hit me in all the right places. From Hip Hop to gentrification to MTA transit, this book was as NY as it gets, wrapped up in magic. Stellar. Phenomenal. Deserves 6 stars!
401 reviews5 followers
June 7, 2020
I want to start by saying that I've read all of Jemisin's novels to date, and have enjoyed all of them thoroughly! They are vibrant, dynamic, fascinating and fresh. This applies to The Killing Moon duology, as much as it does to The Broken Earth Trilogy: The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky. I've been a huge fan for years, and I think the author is truly one of the most innovative voices in the new generation of fantasy fiction.
Unfortunately, I can't say much of this applies to this new novel, which I'm super grateful to have received an early copy of from NK Jemisin herself.
On the plus side, it is as well written as the rest of her fiction, and deep, interesting and empowered characters, and superb pacing. The universe is well thought through, and is comparable or superior to that of other Urban Fantasy novels (The City & the City comes to mind most, as a comparator). That being said, there are several things I just couldn't find myself liking in this new work:
1) the almost vehement red thread of the new left US politics woven throughout the story, full of clichés and tiresome stereotypes. Previous works have been great at showing empowered women, often from minority background, breaking societal and political barriers, and being frankly inspiring role models. This novel, however, ends up using simplistic tropes and extreme politics. Somehow the antagonists in the book are all clearly white boorish racist middle aged men or women, the women who support the bigots are scared and confused racists, Starbucks is the entry point of evil into our world, and all the people who work for the financial services industry are at best misguided or at worst predatory monstrosities. It is so simplistic and violently divisive that even the what might otherwise be appropriate criticism gets lost in the vitriol and can't really resonate (for me at least). There isn't one (!) positive non minority favourable protagonist in this book, that I noticed at least. Dealing with racial issues is important and topical, and something that needs to appear more in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. However, if done in a more balanced way and without caricaturing races, groups, or topics, it might resonate better with a broader readership.
2) everything in this book is about New York. That's not necessarily a bad thing (there are many other books that place cities in the middle, such as Rivers of London, King Rat, and of course classics such as Dickens's canon of work). That being said, as a non New Yorker, I'd also love to see some themes that I can relate to living elsewhere (and not being a fan of the city myself). I couldn't find any of that in this book. It felt like an ode to the melting pot that is New York, but, frankly, it didn't resonate with me one bit.

I continue to be a huge fan of course and will read the next novel in the series, hoping it will prove to provide a more balanced experience.
Profile Image for Meagan.
334 reviews185 followers
Shelved as 'dnf-try-again-later'
March 31, 2020
3/27/20 I am reading 3 other books right now and I tried desperately to finish at least one before starting this, BUT FUCK IT. I am starting this tonight! :)
3/24/20 did I say I didn't like this cover?? Because now that I have it in my hands, I fucking love it! It's giving me all the 90's vibes! Ah I can't wait to start! I can't believe release day is finally here!
2/15/20 so close to the release date now! Can't wait!!!! 🥰🥰
10/16/19 why is the release date still so far away :'(
9/8/19 Cover has been revealed! Am I in love with it? Nah. Will I still read the fuck out of this? Yup😜😜

(Side note: I have been posting updates about this for an entire year. If you can't tell, Jemisin is my fave 🥰).
7/13/19 The release date has been pushed back to 2020 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭
2/18/19 WE HAVE TITLE! 😍😍😎😎. I have a feeling she might explore genius loci agian. She wrote a short story about it and her Broken Earth trilogy also featured it. I think this might be another of her full length explorations of the concept (but set in the modern world)!
1/5/19 why does the release date have to be so far away 😭😭😭😭
9/5/18 I. CAN. NOT. WAIT!!!! 🤩🤩🤩 Jemisin is so skilled when it comes to creating anti-heroes, discussing those hard topics, creating unique worlds and intriguing magic systems! This is going to be one of my most anticipated books of 2019!
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books750 followers
September 21, 2020
Don't read if you are preparing to read for SFFBC and want to go in without outside opinions!

Profile Image for Kon R..
241 reviews107 followers
January 18, 2022
The author paints a painfully underwhelming world filled with New York City stereotypes and lots of liberal dribble. Honestly, she takes a lot of liberties when dealing with race. At one point of the story a family gets evicted and instead of simply saying that they had back taxes due, the person had to clarify that this had nothing to do race. If you keep bringing race into the conversation claiming that you're not one, you're either a racist, liberal, or both.

"She shifts to her white voice because it's that kind of party." WTF does that even mean!?

If you can overlook the bigotry, there's not really much of a story. The author had an interesting concept, but failed to do anything worthwhile with it. The book is filled with backstories and interactions, but any action scene is over before you know it. It's like watching an action film with all the actions scenes edited out. This happens so often it's downright comical. Gather your strongest allies, so you too can stand around discussing politics. Yawn!

Why is so much time spent talking trash (inside NYC joke) about Staten Island? I spent most of my life in Staten Island and I easily recognize the negative stereotypes this book is oozing with. You can bet your last dollar that she also takes swings at putting down New Jersey as well. More time should have been spent describing the fighting parts instead of spewing ignorance. The author was too occupied making sure everyone knew how she feels on every trivial topic.

Going to end this review with a quote from the author: "I thought only white people believed everything they hear in rap is real"
Profile Image for Jess Owens.
325 reviews4,555 followers
January 11, 2022
Wow. I just did not care. It is aptly described as a love letter to New York.

New York is cool and all but I don’t care much about it. Didn’t care about these people as avatars of the Burroughs. Didn’t care about the messages. So much of it was so on the nose, I just couldn’t. And the story kept going and kept caring LESS. Won’t be continuing with this series. Still going to read her backlist.
Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews683 followers
March 2, 2021
4ish stars.

The creativity and world-building are as impressive as any of Jemisin's high fantasy series, and her prose keeps her unique stamp. But whereas her Broken Earth series is fearless and furious and powerful, her work here feels cautious and correct and utterly un-New York-ish. The wokeness is almost self-aware, bordering on parody. It disconnected me from the narrative at times.

Spoiler section:

It was a little on the nose that the only white character (besides the obvious symbolic evil of the Woman in White) was the ignorant, repressed, indoctrinated Republican demi-villain. Jemisin mentioned something in the acknowledgements about sensitivity readers helping her recognize some of her stereotypes of Staten Island, etc. I don't know what happened then because she boiled it down to nothing but.

Stealing this from carol.'s review because she says it so well: "I actually liked the turning away of one of the characters, but you know what might have been more powerful? A person of color saying, "No, I've been too hurt for too long," and believing in separation, perhaps like Malcolm X. I would have been interested in how to write our way through that kind of pain, instead of the simplicity of the white person continuing to choose small-minded 'safety'."

End spoilers.

To be honest, when the prologue was released separately as a short story a few years ago, I was not a fan. I wasn't sure if I would pick this up because of it. But for whatever reason I enjoyed reading it a lot more a second time and thought the book as a whole, despite my gripes, was pretty great.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for Noria.
202 reviews
August 11, 2020
Words! I don't know her! I can't describe her! All I know is that my hands are still shaking even though it's been almost two weeks since I finished this book. My body still feels jittery. My skin still feels tingly. This book reached out from within its bindings and dipped into my soul, clutching its fists around my heart. It hasn't let go since. I am in awe. I am amazed. I am shaken! How on earth is this the first N.K. Jemisin book I'm reading?!!! What on earth happened to me that I went this long without ever having discovered the magnificence that is her writing?!!! WTF!!!!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,843 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.