Review: The City We Became, by N. K. Jemison


I had read another trilogy by this author, and quite liked it, but I can’t say the same about this book.  The peculiar notion than propels it is that cities can reach a certain stage where they are born, and it is New York’s time.  There are malign powers that oppose this, and some humans become atavars of the city to facilitate the birth.  They constitute the principal characters in the book.

They are chosen, given certain magical powers which they need to learn how to use, and need to fight the malign power or powers.  Although this is allegedly science fiction, it is really just magic, occasionally embellished by more or less silly references to many-worlds, muons, quanta and even, at one point, including the Navier-Stokes equation.

The most tedious elements of the book are frequent disquisitions on various hocus pocus stuff that feels like a bad nightmare combining New Age BS with primitive folk legends and poorly digested multi-universe speculations.

“The problem,” the Woman continues, now working up to a real rant if Aislyn reads her voice correctly, “is that cities are rapacious. There is infinite room in existence for all the universes that spin forth from life—even universes as bizarre as this one! Room for everyone. But some life forms cannot be content with just their ecological niche; they are born invasive. They punch through—and when they do, they turn ten thousand realities into nothing, like that.” She snaps her fingers. “And they can do much, much worse, if they put their backs into it. Or even if they don’t.”

Jemisin, N. K.. The City We Became (The Great Cities Trilogy) (p. 340). Orbit. Kindle Edition.

An element of the book I found annoying was its blatant racism.  Every villain seems to be white, and every hero a person of color.  Not only that, but every white is a stereotypical racist as well as an otherwise deplorable person.

On the positive side, some of the magic battles are fairly compelling.

Overall, I give the book a C-.  The kind of book I would abandon part way through if I was the sort of person who could do that.


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