Every city has a soul. New York has five. When a destructive, interplanetary force arrives in New York, the city chooses five residents to be champions of the city’s five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. In this first book of the series we meet our champions, the intergalactic antagonist, get a glimpse of New York’s melting pot of cultures, and explore the power the city bestows on its champions.
This book feels so current. Well, pre-pandemic current anyway. The interplanetary force I talked about harnesses the hatred and fear many people are experiencing because of the political climate in America. This cordyceps-like entity seeks to destroy the city’s avatars from the inside by infiltrating the citizens and policies of New York City. Our heroes are a very diverse cast including New Yorkers who are mixed race, black, white, Indian, and indigenous. They are also diverse in sexuality and through their respective cultures and interests. The characters are artistic, musical, and even mathematically-minded. The diversity is so smoothly incorporated and certainly feels like a genuine representation of all these aspects as far as I can tell. I know the author tries to be respectful and inclusive of the populations she has chosen to write about. The villains of the story are easy to dislike, and whenever they face a defeat, it feels good. With such well developed protagonists and antagonists, this is a great start to an urban fantasy series.
Plot-wise, it starts a little slow. It takes some time to introduce the reader to the avatars of New York City and for all of them to unite and plan. To be honest, this first book felt like a lot of setup for the rest of the series, but it was good setup, if that makes sense. I wasn’t bored by it, and I was invested in the characters and the villain to keep reading at a steady pace. I wouldn’t call it a page-turner, and there wasn’t a lot of action, but it depends on what you are looking for. It is easy to see that the battle isn’t over after the first book. In fact, it feels like everything just got started by the end of the novel. I’m very eager for the next installment.
Jemisin’s fantasy is just so smart. I might have come for a unique fantasy story, but long after closing the book, I still think about this one a lot. Jemisin’s books explore topics of social justice, inequality, politics, love, hate, fear, and everything in between. She can incorporate all of these themes while still telling a very entertaining story. I gave The City We Became 4.5 out of 5 stars.
In light of the recent events in America, I have also included some links below that I have found informative or helpful this week. Please consider reading the books or donating to the organizations below.
- Anti-Racist Resource Guide (links to donations, protests, articles, & book/movie recs)
- 45 Black YA Novels
- A List of Black-Owned Bookstores in the US
- The American Civil Liberties Union
- Black Lives Matter