‘The City We Became’ by J. K. Jemisin [Book Review]

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Magic Realism is one of those genres I find myself slipping into whenever I try to write “literary fiction”. It’s not that I don’t think aspects of the real world are interesting and deserve to be written about–I just think space pirates are always a good idea!

All jokes aside, this is a novel I heard about and instantly wanted to read. The idea that a city could be a living, breathing creature was too unique for me to pass it up. Plus, this is a recent book and I never manage to keep up with new releases so *pat on back*.

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Magic Realism

Pages: 437

Published March 24, 2020 by Orbit

Goodreads Summary

Five New Yorkers must come together in order to defend their city in the first book of a stunning new series by Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

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. 

The City of Magic

I’ve never actually been to New York City but from what I’ve heard from people who have been there it’s a whole other world.

I find it amusing that this novel takes that statement and runs with it.

The idea that a city can literally breathe is a fascinating one. It brings the natural act of birth into the urban environment–two things that I, for one, usually keep separate. The natural world and cities don’t mix in my brain so to have a story that treats them one-in-the-same was just odd enough to get me interested.

Innocence is nothing but a ceremony, after all. So strange that you people venerate it the way you do. What other world celebrates not knowing anything about how life really works?

It also adds to this poetic feel that the novel can take at certain points in the plot depending on which perspective the narration is in. To treat a city like it’s this independently thinking beast that can both nurture and act erratically makes for an interesting dynamic as the characters learn to navigate this strange situation they find themselves in.

What Makes a Person a Place?

And just to add insult to injury? I backhand its ass with Hoboken, raining the drunk rage of ten thousand dudebros down on it like the hammer of God. Port Authority makes it honorary New York, motherfucker; you just got Jerseyed.

Being characters that would choose to live in New York City, you can imagine the diversity of personalities that this cast has. And diversity in general.

I think it’s awesome that the characters are a reflection of which parts of the city they represent, even if they haven’t lived there all their lives.

It does make me a little worried because I didn’t particularly like all the characters and I don’t know if that was strictly my personal preferences or Jemisin critiquing certain “aspects” of those sections of the city.

I mean, one of them is actually a “bad guy” which made me a little uncomfortable given that they are supposed to represent a group of people…

Point is, it’s a cool idea but it also feels a lot like stereotyping.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would considering it was the first novel I had read of Jemisin’s and it fell outside of the genres I usually gravitate towards.

It’s such an intriguing idea to me that I read through it really fast just because I wanted to see how far it would be pushed. I still would have liked to see more of the dimensional shifts and learn more about how exactly the magic works which makes cities alive.

Luckily, this is apparently only the first book so I may find answers to my questions in books to come. I think this is a series I could really end up loving–you know, depending on what Jemisin does with it.

It’s such an odd book and yet it never felt super disorienting. Amazing read and I hope I get to read what’s to come soon.

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