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The City We Became: 05/09/20
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin is the first in the Great Cities series. It builds on the short story, "The City Born Great" (2016). That story is included as a prolog.
The conceit here is that cities at a certain point in their existence as man built things come sentient entities. If they are successfully birthed a single person from the city will be given the mantel as the living avatar. That role will include magical powers that are drawn from the city's unique properties.
Not all cities are simple things. Not all cities are self contained within their initial borders.
When a city is born and its footprint is more than its original footprint, there are initially avatars for each of those places that contributed to the city's final form. But in the end, only one avatar should remain, the gestalt avatar, if you will. That's how it's always been.
And then there's New York, the setting for The City We Became. New York doesn't play by the rules. It still recognizes its five boroughs at five distinct places. New York is as passionate about them as San Francisco is about its named neighborhoods.
The City We Became follows the five borough avatars as they meet and try to find the sixth avatar. New York is missing. Even before the visions of where he is, it'll be obvious where he is. He's in the most New York of New York places.
Now city birth is without its dangers. New York's has raised the ire of a being the avatars are calling the Woman in White. She reminds me of the Kin from Nothing O'Clock by Neil Gaiman (2013), but more horrifying and more single minded in her pursuits.
As the title implies, The City We Became sits in the road narrative spectrum. It's placement is an interesting place, given the diversity of the characters. Rather, if I were looking only at white male centered literature, I would discount its placement.
The six boroughs are represented by a young Black man, a young man recently moved to the city, an older Black woman, an Indian woman, a Latinx artist, and a young white woman raised to hate and fear everyone not like her. Five of six boroughs count as travelers for this novel in that they are actively moving through the city to find the sixth.
Most of these travelers, being diverse would from Staten Island's point of view count as marginalized travelers. However, when their importance to the birthing of the city is put first, they are clearly privileged travelers (00). They have power. The are integral to the survival of the city. They have the ire of a very dangerous entity.
The destination is the city (00). Specifically, it's the continued existence of New York City on its own terms in its own dimension.
The route the avatars take, while often recognizable as known city streets, known ferry routes, known subway routes, is in fact something more. It's the maze (CC) because of the ways in which New York is changing over the course of the novel. Likewise the interference by the Lady in White in all her forms adds further danger and blind alleys to their journey — all hallmarks of a route through the maze.
Put all together, The City We Became is the story of five privileged travelers going on a journey to save the city via a confusing route through the maze (0000CC).