CBR Bingo Square: Cityscape (To Y’all with a physical copy, did you use Google Lens to look at the animated cover? If not, and you have Google Lens, I recommend checking it out!)
I was hyped for The City We Became coming off How Long ’til Black Future Month and the Hugo Award winning run on “The Broken Earth” trilogy. However, the first chapter of TCWB was the same as a short story in HLtBFM and for some reason this made it difficult for me to get into TCWB. A new book stole my attention and I walked away from The City We Became. Each time I came across how awesome the book is, I would feel a little guilty. The “Cityscape” Bingo square kicked me into gear to finally read it. The book left me wondering WHY I didn’t trust Jemisin and just give it a little more time before giving up. I suspect the pandemic had something to do with this but better late than never! The second time I set out to read, I skipped over the beginning and found it easier to get rolling.
The City We Became is urban fantasy at a whole new level with living cities and their avatars who have the ability to wield powers, drawn from the city, against a foreign foe. In Jemisin’s alternate world, cities have the ability to become alive when they are old enough and there is enough collected knowledge and belief in the city, beyond those that live there. Due to New York City’s long history, stretching back to the Indigenous people who lived in present day Manhattan, and all the information the World has gained about NYC through media, it is on the cusp of being born. The book opens with the birth of New York City and the creation of it’s avatar. But it is a difficult birth and things go sideways in unexpected ways, one of which is that an avatar is created in each borough. Individuals that exemplify what it means to be from Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island.
Becoming an avatar affects each person differently and they are almost immediately set upon at the moment of their creation. Forces from outside our universe are determined to prevent cities from becoming alive and have sometimes succeeded, resulting in massive destruction. Despite being thwarted in the attempt to prevent New York City from being born, the outsiders persist as the city is in a delicate state.
This book was deeply fascinating! I loved the whole concept of living cities and their avatars fighting extra dimensionally. The requirement that there must be enough belief in a city for it to come alive reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s frequent writing of Gods being created through the belief of people. In a way, the cities are like Gods and the avatars are Paladins and Clerics who receive power from their God, like in some traditional fantasy settings. Overall, this book feels like a love letter to New York City, and the great cities of the World. I have never been to NYC but this book gave me a far better feel for the city than all the TV shows, movies, and plays I’ve consumed over my life. Now I’m eagerly waiting for the next book in the series! If you have this in your TBR, Ponyo urges you to move it up in the queue.