The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin

A sci-fi love letter to New York City, The City We Became is a dynamic and immensely human story

Book Review by Eris Young | 23 Mar 2020
  • The City We Became
Book title: The City We Became
Author: N. K. Jemisin

If you’d told me last year that someone had written a book where New York City comes to life, and each borough is represented by a human avatar and they must all band together or be destroyed by a tentacle monster from another dimension, I would have laughed. And it’s easy to see how in any other hands this idea could end up gimmicky or ridiculous. Luckily, N. K. Jemisin is in the driver’s seat for this one.

Jemisin seamlessly weaves intense personal struggle together with world-shattering conflict, infusing everything with all the pathos and humour the premise has to offer. The human element is never out of sight in The City We Became with a cast of characters that features a young grad student sending money home to her family in Chennai, an aging art organiser struggling to keep an inner city gallery afloat and a handsome young Manhattanite with a murky, violent past.

There are no superheroes here and neither does Jemisin pull her punches. With a punchy, dynamic voice, she tackles everything from police brutality to domestic violence to creeping gentrification, all while keeping a tense and pacy plot in motion. The City We Became is a love letter to NYC and everything that makes it beautiful and ugly. Few writers are as rigorous and principled as Jemisin, and certainly none are better suited to tell this story.

Orbit, 24 March, £16.99