Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

When a city is born, its avatar must struggle to keep control, to protect itself from dangers lurking beneath the surface of the city and its people. In New York, not just one city is born, but the five boroughs each manifest, Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.

This is the lesson: Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn.

I was so excited to when I heard N.K. Jemisin was taking the idea from The City Born Great and unfurling it into a full length novel. I love the idea of cities becoming alive, in this case represented by human avatars. They all hold the stereotypes of their borough, although I had to assume a fair bit with not knowing all that much about New York beyond its global reputation. Like with Aislyn, I felt a bit sorry for her that she was left to fend for herself, why do they all hate Staten Island so much?

Aislyn does represent an element of America that is led astray by the far right, people who may not have had a great start to life who just want to belong, and then they cling to the first people that show them that kind of belonging. It would have been easy for Jemisin to paint her as evil, but I thought she did an excellent job of making her three dimensional.

Meanwhile, the other boroughs represent a swathe of culture and ethnicity that exists in the city. Manny is new in town, like many Manhattanites they come from elsewhere but still end up belonging. He identifies as black but the others see in him a mix of ethnicities. He is both a decent person, yet has something ruthless about him. He represents fresh starts, something people hope for when moving to a new city.

Bronca (The Bronx) is Lenape and runs an art centre, she is given the history of cities reborn and the thing that challenges them. She also has to deal with alt-right manbuns trying to get racist art into her gallery, who would give the Woman in White a foothold into her safe space. There’s a lot about creating safe spaces in this, they are different things for different people, but they have power to keep the evil out.

Queens is an Asian mathematician, quite sweet and naive in nature, but she manages to use her human knowledge to wield the power of her borough. And last but not least is Brooklyn, a former MC and now politician, who can hear the music of the streets.

it does not belong here and the FDR is an artery, vital with the movement of nutrients and strength and attitude and adrenaline, the cars are white blood cells and the thing is an irritant, an infection, an invader to whom the city gives no consideration and no quarter

I honestly don’t know much about Lovecraft other than: Tentacles, check. Massive racist, check. So I’m sure there were references I missed,but it does take a chance at throwing that racism back at him, with the big bad exploiting the far right to do its bidding. I don’t want to get into spoilers so I’ll just say I loved the whole concept of what was going on.

Just as I dived into the pages, the real world around me changed, and I must admit I struggled a bit with the elements of real world strife. Alternate dimensions and weird squigglies, sure, but this also comes with the social commentary that we have come to expect. So I read a little a day, but needing a break from the injustice and prejudice that people in New York face daily. If it was bad before, what’s it like now?

So I will recommend this book, but I’m not sure I can recommend you read it right now if you want to fill your life with comfort. Maybe just buy it for a day when you want something gritty. Oh and make sure you Google Lens the cover (front and back) if you have an Android device.

The City We Became is published by Orbit and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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