THE CITY WE BECAME / AUTHOR: N.K. JEMISIN / PUBLISHER: ORBIT / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 26TH
Every great city has a soul, and the soul is a mortal guardian who has been entrusted to protect the metropolis at its time of direst need. But there’s a catch, because the guardian isn’t even aware of their responsibility until the moment the city needs their help. In the case of New York City, there are six souls - six guardians - one for each of the five boroughs, with the sixth necessary to unite them. The problem is, none of the five know each other, and none of them realise their destiny until they’re under attack from the Woman in White and her vicious tentacular minions. If they can’t join together, New York City will be destroyed.
Manny has only just arrived in Manhattan, and he’s forgotten his real identity. That’s why he’s instinctively named himself after the borough he must protect, in the same moment that he stops a gigantic semi-transparent creature from decimating the Williamsburg Bridge. Bronca (guardian of the Bronx) had a slightly more surreal encounter with the shape-changing enemy, courtesy of an intra-dimensional bathroom stall. Queens was none the wiser until something very nasty emerged from the bottom of her neighbour’s swimming pool, and she suddenly found herself breaking all the rules of time and space in a bid to save her neighbour’s unsuspecting grandchildren. Brooklyn has had a similar close call, when the Woman in White’s spiderlike servants homed in on her daughter. But Aislyn, otherwise known as Staten Island, has a whole different bunch of problems, not least the fact that - like the borough whose soul she’s become - she is a renegade, and there’s every chance the Woman in White has already turned her against the other guardians. Will the other four boroughs be able to find her in time, and then will they be able to find the sixth guardian, who is already badly wounded from an earlier battle with the metropolis-devouring evil? And, if they find him, what sacrifice will they have to make to keep New York City safe?
N.K. Jemisin is the first author in history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugo Awards, and we wouldn’t be surprised if The City We Became nets her a fourth. If it does, the accolade will be well deserved. The City We Became isn’t just a fascinating concept populated by wonderful, immediately recognisable characters and interspersed with some tense and mind-bending action sequences, it’s also so exquisitely written that it flows like street poetry, vibrant with the energy and rhythms of the city where it’s set. On the surface, the idea of a city made flesh and blood could sound a little bit hokey, but Jemisin dispels that notion from the very first paragraph. The City We Became is exciting, inspiring, deeply emotional, and incredibly beautiful. It’s not only a love letter to NYC, but the entire genre of eldritch science-fiction. We’ll be surprised if we read a better book this year.