The City We Became

N.K. Jemisin • 2019

The core concept of this book — cities are real, vaguely metaphysical things with avatars — is so fun that it carries the wide proportion of the day, alongside delightful character writing (and I am specific here by saying character writing and not characters — pretty much everyone in this book is exactly who you think they are, but Jemisin writes so buoyantly that you don’t really mind). Some of the fantasy in this book is so exciting and vivid that I spent large swaths of it imagining as a graphic novel, which I think is a testament to the sheer comic-books-excitement of the setting: watching these characters run through a betendriled New York would be delightful.

So what didn’t work? I think two things:

  • The plot (and the characters) were utterly predictable. The two little twists (the villain’s ultimate identity and the last-minute inclusion of Jersey City) were both fun but pretty highly telegraphed, and as soon as the general rules of the world were laid down the plot itself was sort of paint by numbers.
  • The predictability of the plot was exacerbated by how...rote the second act was? It felt like we spent a massive swath of the book getting the gang together in a series of first-Avenger-movie-esque sketches.

I can quibble further, but it’s fun and interesting and you probably won’t regret reading it — so long as you go in with “above-replacement-level beach read” as your expectation and not “modern urban fantasy standard”. (Plus, there are going to be two more in the series, and I plan on reading them, which in some ways is all the endorsement one needs.)

(Oh, also learned like five new words from this book, which is always a plus.)

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