The City We Became...is, in a way, a metaphor for Jemisin's success, through her incredible body of work, at redefining the science fiction and fantasy genre—a genre that has long been defined by the tastes and stories of mostly white men. The monstrous forces that threaten the living New York City parallel the forces authors like Jemisin and her contemporaries have fought against for years ... My only real issue with the book is that it comes to a relatively abrupt end. I want to binge on the entire series right now, which is the ultimate magic and allure of Jemisin's work. She pulls you into her world and makes you want more; she makes you want to stay there forever ... [the book] is...a celebration and an expression of hope and belief that a city and its people can and will stand up to darkness, will stand up to fear, and will, when called to, stand up for each other.
Part of Jemisin’s genius is rooted in her ability to come up with fantastically inventive premises that, while unthinkable before her writing, feel intuitive once read, to the point that one is baffled that nobody came up with them before ... After introducing us to each character in engrossing and vivid set pieces, the bulk of the novel is dedicated to the team tackling parallel crises ... filled to the brim of fantastically clever details that infuse focused political points with wild imagination ... At times, though, it’s exactly the neatness and wit of the premise that trip up the book ... The novel is at its best when the conflicts facing each borough’s avatar feel as human as they do symbolic ... While the larger metaphors...are clear, the narrative is gripping, not just because of the systemic catastrophes the “Alt Artistes” of Jemisin’s fantasy (because of course they call themselves the Alt Artistes) represent, but also because of the specificity with which Jemisin literalizes that system ... Jemisin’s brilliant allegorical premise lands with an uncanny prescience.
... remarkable and cleverly subversive ... What makes it all work, amid the spectacular surrealistic imagery, rollercoaster plotting, and comic-book effects, is Jemisin’s insightful concern for and understanding of her diverse cast of central characters. This is all the more remarkable because these characters are called upon to serve triple duty: as symbolic avatars, as credible New Yorkers, and as members of an emerging fellowship which must work cooperatively to save the city from those Lovecraftian horrors ... offers only a degree of closure in a rather abrupt ending, as Jemisin sets the stage for the epic struggles we can expect in subsequent volumes. As the inaugural volume of what promises to be a wildly original fantasy trilogy, quite unlike anything else Jemisin has written, it completely takes command of the very notion of urban fantasy, and it leaves us exactly where we need to be – wanting the next volume now.
... firmly puts the urban into urban fantasy ... a wild, comic, scary, insightful, sometimes pointed ride through one of the greatest cities in world as it’s caught in the act of understanding itself ... While each of these characters is a ‘representative’ of their borough, they are also finely drawn and engaging in their own right ... a joyous celebration of New York, its diversity and what makes it great. But along the way Jemisin establishes a much bigger canvas ... it will be no surprise if The City We Became sees Jemisin featuring in the major science fiction and fantasy awards again this year.
... a reclaiming of the New York that Lovecraft vilified. In perhaps the greatest fuck-you to the man behind the Cthulhu mythos that has had such widespread influence on speculative fiction, Jemisin gives voice and human-ness to the objects of Lovecraft’s hatred ... one of the most stunning features of this book is its positioning of capital waging war against the human beings of a place as a sort of Cthulhu ... Nobody-makes-fun-of-my-family-but-me energy thrums through the novel ... readers are shown a New York beyond the tunnels and bridges and roads named after men who no longer exist. [Jemisin] shows a New York, not of unmade communities, but of remade ones, the scar tissue stronger than unbroken skin.
The book is rich and generous in a way that belies the easy analogues of the plot. The Enemy is white supremacy, police brutality, gentrification, but the book doesn’t waste time arguing that those things are evil (though it is a clever and satisfying reversal of the racist origins of H. P. Lovecraft’s mythos, recasting eldritch nastiness as white fragility). Instead, its main project is one of bridge-building, knitting communities together, showing how the embodied boroughs must overcome their own prejudices, their own irritations and limitations, to embrace and trust one another before they can win the fight ... Crucially — and most affectingly — Jemisin locates New York’s identity in plurality and adoption rather than any kind of nativist purity ... There is a tension, though, between the book’s argument and its world-building, a kind of background static distorting its otherwise clear lines ... Mashing together the fear-mongering of white supremacy with legitimate criticism of America’s wars makes for an awkward allegory that occasionally undermines the book’s core assertions. While the whole project is enjoyably looser, faster, jokier than Jemisin’s other novels, passages like this make it feel less disciplined or anchored in its rhetoric than her fantasy worlds ... Mostly, though, my experience of this book was of a white-knuckled grip, as people I loved and cheered for fought hard on one another’s behalf ... takes a broad-shouldered stand on the side of sanctuary, family and love. It’s a joyful shout, a reclamation and a call to arms.
... a novel concerned with the pleasures and violences of urban life, so it makes sense that reading it feels a little like riding the subway for the first time. You barely have a moment to steady yourself — grab a seat, or at least a pole — before the world is lurching forward, dragging you into inky darkness, pulling you around corners at breathless speed ... Jemisin brings all of her considerable skill and talent to bear on The City We Became, which is epic in ambition and scope ... If all of this sounds a little bit obvious — a thriving, diverse city threatened by, well, uniform whiteness — in Jemisin’s hands it’s anything but. She uses the imaginative space provided by speculative fiction not just to score a specific political point, but also to deepen and widen and weirden our understanding of the world ... layers emotion — tenderness and fear and ferocity — into all of that world-building infrastructure. Writing from each of the avatars’ perspectives allows Jemisin to weave an astonishing amount of information into her narrative without slowing its momentum: She teases out the histories and demographics of each of the boroughs she describes and then gives all of that data texture and weight. The city is at once a larger-than-life myth and also a human-scale experience; it is the avatars’ home just as much as any of their individual apartments might be, and you feel the depth of their attachment to it on every page ... The book is, in some sense, a rallying cry, a call to arms: If you live in a city, it’s hard to read it without wanting to fling yourself on the pavement in tears of both gratitude and frustration ... Jemisin mostly keeps her morals from overshadowing her storytelling, but there are a handful of moments where the wokeness calls too much attention to itself...But such moments are rare and, for the most part, The City We Became is thrillingly expansive without ever becoming abstract or high-flown. Speeding through its pages feels like walking down a beloved city block: gloriously familiar and yet always shimmering with the promise of the unexpected.
I’ve not read another book like this in years. Jemisin takes a concept that can be abstracted to the simplest of questions (What if cities were alive?) and wraps an adventure around it. That adventure takes center stage in the many scenes that read more like a superhero movie than a fantasy novel ... However, Jemisin’s most beautiful passages deliver attentive descriptions of New York’s melting pot of people. Her characters’ life experiences—racial, sexual, financial—bring perspectives that are deeply important to and often missing from contemporary literature, particularly in the fantasy genre.
...stunning ... Jemisin is doing something entirely original here ... Jemisin doesn’t waste time on explanations or pleasantries. Her story is an unapologetically ferocious parable of modern race relations. She expects readers to keep up. If you know that H.P. Lovecraft, a Hitler supporter, had some very ugly ideas about race, those wriggling tendrils take on an added creepiness. She also expects you to know that when white people call the cops on people of color trying to enjoy a park in real life, they don’t have the excuse of an alien intelligence having taken over their mind.
... an absorbing and joyful novel, and reading it didn’t just temporarily take me away from the reality of life during a pandemic. It made me more hopeful that when the pandemic ebbs, the vital core of our communities will still remain ... a love letter to the city’s resilience, and to all the ways it overcomes hatred to rise up stronger than it was before. And by extension, it’s about the rest of us, and the ways in which we must all work together to protect and support one another ... It will give you faith that New York can come back to itself again — and so can all the rest of us, too.
A work of urban fantasy, the baroque novel uses the city and its endless lore to stage a showdown between its residents and an invading force intent on wiping it off the map. By turns whimsical and creepy, the novel proudly invokes New York’s many histories and peoples, from its beginnings as a home of the Lenape to its present state of relentless gentrification and displacement ... While Jemisin’s tangible love for her city and commitment to showcasing its hidden wonders keep The City We Became personable and charming, that adoration doesn’t provide insight into what New York has to lose, the material and structural costs of its destruction ... What’s deft about Jemisin’s sense of place is that she never reduces a city to a single event or person, always gesturing forward and backward in time ... Jemisin’s ability to nimbly bring spaces to life is tied to her attention to form. Where epics are generally defined by their length and scope, Jemisin emphasizes proportion ... it demonstrates Jemisin’s inner social scientist at work. She refuses to extricate people from their milieus, their potential from the forces that constrain it. Though The City We Became loses punch as the milieu dilutes into 'bullshit,' it excels when the stakes are intimate and exact.
Jemisin’s prose is at times disorienting, leaving few solid images for the reader to grasp. Some explanations prove inexplicable ... but I hope these will be made clear in the sequels. An uncontested moral justification for the Enemy’s attempts to destroy the city also needs exploring. But for the most part, Jemisin blends the fantastic and the real into a satisfying magical realism. She deftly uses genre to hammer home the underlying rhetoric ... Though its 437 pages, The City We Became’s energetic writing keeps the reader in an ever-anxious state, driving home at least one important point: 'Confirmation bias is a bitch.'
... an intensely political work of speculative fiction charting two distinct storylines, with both layers of the novel's narrative producing unexpected insights and parallels ... an intensely compelling science fiction story ... Once the many core characters are established and the plot is ready to progress, Jemisin is able to resume the plotline established in her opening chapter—and begin subverting the narrative expectations she has been careful up till now to set up. It's also at this point that Jemisin's unique and often off-key style of humor assumes a place of unexpected significance in this text. It’s in this latter portion of The City We Became, then, that the novel comes into its own as a half-satirical work of cosmic horror ... in part an over-the-top adventure story whose characters engage in literal rap battles with two-dimensional spider-people, fight off a giant underground worm composed of discarded subway cars, and momentarily drive off parasitic alien sea anemones by throwing money at the problem until it goes away. However, behind all of that, this is also a novel about the horrifyingly absurd nature of bigotry, and the extent to which people are forced to accept as facts things that should not be true, but somehow are.
Like Victor LaValle’s brilliant 2016 novella The Ballad of Black Tom, The City We Became subverts the work of the repellent H.P. Lovecraft, in whose stories evil is embodied as swarthy and foreign. If Jemisin’s novel lacks some of the deep strangeness of Lavalle’s tale, it makes up for it in sheer moxie and sly humor ... The City We Became ends on a high note, but it makes no concession that the fight for a more equitable world is over. In both fiction and reality, it’s barely started.
Forget all those pandemic novels people have been praising for their prescience in the age of COVID-19: For uncanny relevance, no fictional crisis rivals the showdown in N.K. Jemisin’s new urban fantasy The City We Became. A valentine to New York City ... What it isn’t, at least not consistently, is a crackerjack piece of storytelling. Jemisin’s premise is so savory and persuasive that it sometimes doesn’t matter that she hasn’t found a narrative style worthy of both. The city she sings fizzes so joyously through the veins of this novel that anyone mourning the New York before COVID-19 will likely find The City We Became equally sustaining and elegiac, a tribute to a city that may never fully return to us. Maybe that’s enough ... While it’s bemusing that not one of the five boroughs is represented by a Jew, for the most part this makes for a thrilling conceit, full of imaginative promise ... Unfortunately, the plot Jemisin uses to explore this world is fairly generic and overly in debt to cinematic precedents like superhero films ... shows some signs of genre confusion ... Jemisin too often lets herself get bogged down in unnecessary exposition and transitions; characters are constantly explaining that knowledge has simply popped into their heads, that they just had a feeling that they ought to do this or that, go here or there. It’s as if Jemisin were under orders to spell out their every motivation to a dim-witted movie studio executive. I found myself wishing that she’d trusted more in the spell she’s cast, in magic as a manifestation of our deepest wishes and fears, rather than a coherent, explicable system ... The hallmark of great fantasy is that it feels true even when you know it isn’t, and The City We Became does that, especially right now
N. K. Jemisin always brings it, and in The City We Became, she brings it hard, sparking a fresh adventure that will appeal not only to her many fans and New Yorkers, but also to most lovers of innovative genre fiction ... Her work comes to a more intimate place in this novel, in which the world she’s building is the living incarnation of New York City itself ... literalizes the very soul of New York, reckoning with the souls inherent in every city around the world: the messy, tangled, terrifying magic that defines the shifting breath and pulse of a cityscape. I happen to be a born and bred New Yorker, and for me, Jemisin captures my home in all its complexities. In her evocation, she is as critical as she is loving. She unapologetically explores the intricacies of how this city goes about losing its soul, and crafts a reclamation of the Black, brown, indigenous, creative, queer, trans, anti-capitalist, immigrant heart of New York. She brings together the boroughs in a Birds-of-Prey/superhero-esque origin story to work together and unite their strengths against the manifestations of their antitheses, and she does it in clever, creative prose that bites with New York wit and sings with New York compassion ... Jemisin explores how we can come together and fight back.
The setting is both fully consistent with reality as we know it—for better or worse—and jam-packed with imaginative, fantastical elements ... Jemisin doesn’t coddle her readers, and the speed at which events unfold can be disorienting. Readers more familiar with New York City will have a leg up, but regardless, the density of Jemisin’s sentences sometimes requires you to go back and re-read in order to make sure you know what’s going on. The good news is, they’re great sentences, and a little extra time spent on this book is time well-spent ... From time to time, it does feel like the resonance between the avatar’s previous lives and the borough they represent is underlined once or twice too often, but then again, that may also depend on the reader ... the book’s heady blend of reality and fantasy makes it ideal for discussing real-world problems in the context of an imagined environment ... laced with Jemisin’s trademark rigor, a sharp eye on systems and values that doesn’t let anyone or anything off the hook. It isn’t a book to fall asleep to, but a book to wake up with, when your mind is fresh and ready and open.
... there is certainly fun to be had in The City We Became, though I suspect that native New Yorkers will have more fun than out-of-towners...In other words, this is an intensely site-specific piece of fiction ... Jemisin is good on the interactions of her group – never too cosy; sparky, inclusive and likable – and her narrative is punctuated with enough incident to keep the reader reading ... The treatment is a little uneven. There’s a quantum-theoryish explanation for the strange goings on that feels redundant in a story that functions just fine as magical fantasy. I’m prepared to take on trust that Jemisin captures the specificity of her Brooklyn and Queens protagonists, but a character called Bel Nguyen, visiting from London, speaks like no Londoner I’ve ever met ... Running through all of The City We Became is Jemisin’s fizzing, vivid energy – we might add 'urban' and 'street' as descriptions too, acknowledging the ways these terms have become so racially, and often negatively, coded. Jemisin is well aware of this; her novel dramatises, and her characters specifically discuss, the city’s legacies of racism and bigotry...But none of this detracts from the fact that Jemisin just loves New York. That affection, that partiality, is all over this novel.
... partly a spectacular love letter to New York City in all its diversity, partly the beginning of a new fantasy trilogy, and partly a horror story with roots that go back as far as H.P. Lovecraft ... What is most remarkable, given the pulp energy of this classic struggle against eldritch evils, is that The City We Became is also an astute interrogation of the realities of New York life. The city Jemisin portrays is not a generic comic-book metropolis like — well, Metropolis — but rather a living, breathing portrait of the actual city where Jemisin has lived for years ... Jemison’s characters are far more than allegories, although each rather cleverly reflects their respective boroughs ... For readers who might find the complex alien worlds of Jemison’s earlier novels daunting, The City We Became is meticulously grounded in the familiar, but is just as wildly imaginative and thought-provoking — and a lot of fun along the way.
Jemisin may tell readers what her book’s purpose is right off the bat, but the magnificent rollercoaster that is The City We Became quickly reveals that this urban fantasy is enigmatic and multilayered. With fantastical characterization and fluid transitions, Jemisin employs a modern inflection of magical realism ... Jemisin uses sparkling imagery and enigmatic character development to bring these characters alive and show the different experiences and perspectives in Manhattan ... Jemisin meticulously creates a personality for each borough, primarily through the main characters being unsure of who they are and seeking out that information from their surroundings. It’s an extremely smart choice, metaphoric for the reader experience, and the unique experience of living in New York City ... Fantasy as a literary genre rarely represents voices and narratives of color. The space is in desperate need of stories that are led by black and brown voices. It’s something I’ve never seen before, and why this novel is extremely important. By showing these ethnically diverse perspectives in a City that is one of the world’s cultural epicenters, Jemisin ushers in a fanbase that is typically not catered to in the fantasy and science fiction space. This is what makes this novel particularly special. Setting these narratives within a fantasy novel shows black and brown readers that they exist in this space. This genre is just as representative and accessible to them as it is to their white counterparts ... A whirlwind novel you’ll read over and over again, The City We Became marks the start of an evolution in fantasy and speculative fiction, led by the incomparable N.K Jemisin.
... a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers ... Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place ... Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.
While a marked shift from Jemisin’s usual creation of magical other worlds, this contemporary fantasy of living cities in a multiversal struggle demonstrates her accomplished storytelling and characterization. Highly recommended for anyone interested in some of the most exciting and powerful fantasy writing of today.
... [a] staggering contemporary fantasy ... leads readers into the beating heart of New York City for a stunning tale of a world out of balance ... Jemisin’s earthy, vibrant New York is mirrored in her dynamic, multicultural cast. Blending the concept of the multiverse with New York City arcana, this novel works as both a wry adventure and an incisive look at a changing city. Readers will be thrilled.
Jemisin writes a harsh love story to one of America’s most famous places. As raw and vibrant as the city itself, the prose pushes the boundaries of fantasy and brings home what residents already know—their city is alive.