Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that should absolutely be put at the top of your TBR pile. Recommended books will vary across genre and age category and include shiny new books, older books you may have missed, and some classics I suggest finally getting around to. Make space for another pile of books on your floor because here we go!
Today’s pick is a gorgeous and chilling example of everything I love about speculative fiction.
The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin
This is the first book in N. K. Jemisin’s Great Cities Duology and it picks up right at the end of the author’s short story titled “The City Born Great,” which is in Jemisin’s short story collection titled How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? In “The City Born Great,” the city of New York is born. Not settled, colonized, or created but born in that it becomes alive as a living, breathing thing. There is an avatar for the city who themself is New York.
But some evil is trying to kill the city before it fully comes to life and there is a battle where the avatar wins but is badly injured. When the avatar is injured, the city itself is injured. Buildings crumble and bridges collapse. The city of São Paolo — that is, the avatar and person São Paolo — was supposed to be helping New York be born and it goes wrong. That is the story of “The City Born Great.” This novel includes it as a prologue and the rest of the story begins there.
New York’s primary avatar (the injured one) is not the only avatar out there. Each of the five boroughs, Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island, also have avatars. Do they know what they are? Eventually. Do they know what they’re doing? Not really, but that’s some of the fun. Each of the avatars for the boroughs has a really strong personality and I love them all so much. Well, almost all of them.
The evil that is trying to kill New York is personified in a number of ways but it is a clear metaphor for gentrification. As a person who lives in a city that has many pockets of gentrification myself, some of the scenes were horrifying. This is not just because of everything awful about gentrification, but in the book there are tentacled creatures taking over bodies, paintings that drive onlookers insane, and really triggering racism from outright aggressive to microaggressions.
All of the boroughs are going to have to find each other and work together to save the city and there are so many times when it seems utterly impossible. This book is incredibly fun and the second book in the duology, The World We Make, just came out in November!
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That’s it for now, booklovers!
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