The City We Became [N. K. Jemisin]

Start Date: 27 April 2020

Finish Date: 29 April 2020

Source: Amazon India Kindle Edition

Goodreads link.

Goodreads summary:

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.


  • I loved the idea, not explicitly spelled out, of “The City that never sleeps” fighting “The city that lies sleeping”
  • The five boroughs coming together to charge up New York City… Captain Planet is that you?
  • This carries on from The City Born Great that I had read in the N K Jemisin short story collection, and links it to her other story, Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints. Back when I had read it, I had noticed a similarity to Neil Gaiman’s two city stories (that I know of) – the one in the SimCity 2000 easter egg, and the story within a story in The Sandman.
  • But at that time I had forgotten Reaper Man, and how it used a motley collection of monsters, plus a bunch of wizards with more enthusiasm than sense as the cities’ antibodies against parasites.
  • Those were the good bits. Now for the bad.
  • When I first read HP Lovecraft as a book, and not just as a quick skim of a webpage, I think what made it really horrifying was relating his cosmic horror to things like climate change – out of the control of any one person, cruelly indifferent, and beyond communication. Maybe it’s the effect of reading Terry Pratchett for years, but I’ve come to find that sort of indifference more horrifying. A Lovecraftian monster that talks to the heroes, even if it’s to taunt them, just didn’t land as well for me. It’s still great writing and a reasonably good monster – but not in the hundredth percentile of creepiness. Such is life.
  • Heck, even Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy pushes the anxiety of forces beyond your control far better.
  • Maybe she wanted to write a more personalised and less abstract monster. What to say to that? Just that it wasn’t what I was hoping for.
  • But in what I was hoping for, I now realise that the Staten Island character delivers it very well. The wanting to be left alone, the unwillingness to take responsibility to defend the city, whether it comes from selfishness or being a victim of emotional abuse – that was the kind of horror that would have floated my boat. I wish there had been more of it.
  • I think the late-book twist that R’lyeh has been sabotaging the birth of cities for centuries came a bit too late to really pack a punch. But if this is going to be a trilogy, maybe it’s a setup to explore that in later books.
  • But that brings me back to the point of being a little disappointed that R’lyeh is shown as a conscious, planning, active entity rather than an immutable force.
  • Maybe the trilogy will have a twist that it’s human racists who have been doing the planning and activity all along, just to awaken and shape R’lyeh.
  • I did think for a long time, before the R’lyeh reveal came, that the name whispered to Aislyn was Rural. Too much r/neoliberal for me.
  • Oh yay, a Tam lead character.
  • If this is a trilogy, are the next two books also going to be New York City; or all new cities? And will we get to find out the backstory of London that was hinted at?
  • I was a little amused by how NK Jemisin used Lovecraft’s racism to spin a completely new Lovecraftian story that she made her own – but as a rich Indian dude, it is such a challenge to dive into the black American sensibility her writing has.
  • On the whole subject of R’lyeh as racism, R’lyeh as conscious versus just there and cruelly indifferent, etc etc; I wonder what that means this book is saying about racism as a choice versus something unfixable, racism as something that can be defeated versus something that has to be defended against, or cured.
  • The whole Staten Island bit seems to be kind of defeatist and go “You can’t turn a racist non-racist.” Or is it that you can’t turn a suburban person non-racist?
  • I wonder if my last two years of watching Doctor Who, and deciding that the appropriate unit of consumption is a run; and not a season or even an episode; is making me withhold judgement until I finish the trilogy.





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