The first installment in an upcoming trilogy, N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became gives new meaning to the phrase “watch the city come to life.” (Seriously, take a peek at the cover using the Google Lens app.) A masterful worldbuilder and storyteller, Jemisin creates an immersive fantasy on the streets of New York City. The story’s impactful moments are more acute for those familiar with New York locations, but it is still enjoyable for those of us that have never set foot in Time’s Square.
In this story, when a city has been around long enough and its people become unique enough and the stories about the city spread far enough, it becomes alive. The spirit of the city chooses a resident who embodies its personality the strongest, and together, they become the city. New York, born into a young Black queer man, is attacked soon after birth, leaving the city’s avatar unconscious and the city defenseless.
In response, New York’s five boroughs come alive, in search and in defense of the primary spirit of the city. Facing attacks in forms ranging from gentrification and violent right-wing art to physical assault and Amy Cooper-ing, the five of New York’s avatars must band together to fight off the violent, white supremacist agenda of the Enemy and save the life of New York City.
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