N.K. Jemisin is a three-time winner of the Hugo award for best novel. I very much enjoyed The Broken Earth series. I assumed I would like The City We Became, more or less. The blurb hadn’t particularly interested me, but when I saw that it was nominated for this year’s Hugo, I figured I should read it.
I gave up about a quarter of the way through. I had set it aside to read something else, and then I decided I hadn’t been enjoying it enough to return to it.
The title is much more literal than I expected. It is a story about five characters who become the personification of the five boroughs of New York City. She uses this as an excuse to talk and reminisce about the different cultural character of different parts of NYC. I get that Jemisin has somewhat of an obsession about cities, but I don’t. As novel-length metaphors go, this one just isn’t in my area of interest.
No reason is given (in the first quarter of the story) for why people turn into the city. Also for no reason, there is a malevolent supernatural force trying to destroy or defeat the city at that moment. I realize a story needs a conflict, but it seems like no creative effort at all went into this one.
Out of five characters, one is gay, one has just shacked up with someone who is trans, and one is Jemisin’s idea of a racist. I don’t know, maybe those are realistic percentages in NYC, but it just seemed like a lot of agenda. The characterization of the racist seemed ridiculous to me.
I think most telling is that I didn’t really care about any of these characters. They were so two-dimensional that they weren’t really even people. They did stuff, and they thought stuff, but they didn’t really feel stuff.