The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Can a city have a soul? A personality?

Of course, it can. And a city like New York surely has a powerful one. In fact, New York City has six. One for each borough and one for the city collective.

But all hell breaks loose when the souls of the city become people who embody the essence of their borough. Six unassuming residents become the city.

Brooklyn (Brooklyn) hears the music of the city. Manhattan (Manny) understands the power and strength of being new to the city. Staten Island (Aislyn) wants to be seen, sometimes. Bronx (Bronca) sees the art and history. Queens (Padmini) can reinvent the city.

“People who say change is impossible are usually pretty happy with things just as they are.”

-N.K. Jemisin, The City We Became

But something is out there that doesn’t want the city of New York to be born. And it will stop at nothing to tear apart the city. White tentacles start causing havoc around the city and threatening to destroy the streets and bridges.

A mysterious Woman in White and the cities of Sao Paulo and Hong Kong make things more interesting. Are they here to help or hurt?

Will New York City survive?

Jemisin is immensely creative. The idea of people as the embodiment of an entire city is magical. I was really impressed with the originality of the story and that was my favorite part. I doubt I will ever read another story with this concept so well-executed.

Each character, or borough, was well-developed considering that there were so many main characters to explore. I think this was helped by the reader’s own knowledge of the city of New York and with the broad generalizations attributed to each borough. The main motivations for each character weren’t their own selfish pursuits, but that of the greater city.

This is meant to be the first in a series of books called The Great Cities. The ending felt like there was more to come, so be prepared to read the next one to get a sense of finality and closure.

“I have hated this city. I have loved this city. I will fight for this city until it won’t have me anymore. This is my homage to the city. Hope I got it right.”

-N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin’s writing style is clean with limited dialogue. She really knows how to use descriptions and internal thoughts to push the story forward while keeping it interesting.

portrait of N.K. Jemisin by Laura Hanifin, 2015

N. K. Jemisin spent many parts of her life living in New York City, and now currently resides in Brooklyn. Her personal experience with the city shines through as the centerpiece for The City We Became.

Her fantasy and sci-fi novels have won multiple Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards.

Jemisin is a prolific author with more than 10 novels and an enormous list of short stories.

Want more from N.K. Jemisin?

Visit her website at or click on a series below to explore more!

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