The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

With a heavy heart, I have to conclude that this book is not for me. I struggled to read it and probably should have given up after the first fifty pages. But I kept hoping it was going to kick into gear, and it didn’t.

The (uninspiring) blurb reads as follows:

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.

With the pedigree behind this (Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is brilliant), I felt I couldn’t really go wrong, even if that blurb didn’t really speak to me. Does this work better if you are American? A New Yorker? Is it full of in-jokes about New York? I detected a hint of such, in the position Staten Island takes in the narrative, but it wasn’t particularly interesting to me. In fact, I so much don’t give a shit about New York that I wasn’t really rooting for it, if you know what I mean.

A common complaint (from me) about this kind of book: this felt a bit plotless, more of a Menippean Satire than a novel, and there really didn’t seem to be much progression in terms of either plot or character. It was just a series of encounters, with the ‘ancient evil’ for example, which didn’t really get anywhere. And while I was always sure that an explanation for all these events further down the road, there was always a sneaking suspicion that I was getting the explanation, and it didn’t convince.

Quite a lot of this felt like treading water, people sitting around in rooms discussing things (Menippean satire style) and it was just tiring really. Is it an allegory for multiculturalism vs. white supremacy? Who cares.

The worst aspect of this? The first of a trilogy? Ugh. I’m pre-emptively bothered by the marketing of those forthcoming books.


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