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.
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.