Friday, February 12, 2021

The City We Became (Great Cities Trilogy #1), by N.K. Jemisin (author), Robin Miles (narrator)

Hachette Audio, ISBN 9781549119736, March 2020

We all know that great cities have spirits, souls, living identities. New York City is unquestionably a great city, and as one might expect of New York, it's a little bit different than most other great cities. It has an avatar for each of its five boroughs, and a sixth avatar, the avatar of the whole city.

But New York City is just being born, just coming alive, and its avatars don't yet understand what and who they are, or what they need to do. And there's a new danger out there, that most of the older cities have not faced--nor do the older cities believe the few newest cities who are telling them something new is going on.

Sao Paolo, newest city to be born, to manifest into life, has but a single avatar, has been assigned the task of midwifing the City of New York into life. He's worried, but all he really knows is that something seems different, and that the cities that have had multiple avatars, have either failed to be successfully born, or, like London, clearly went through something very traumatic, and emerged with one avatar that is not eager to mix with the other cities. Sao Paolo is afraid the birth of New York is going to be very bad, and perhaps fail.

He also expects that if New York is successful, the five borough avatars will be absorbed into the City avatar, and no longer exist separately.

When the avatars of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn learn this, well, they have their own opinions. As for the fifth borough, Staten Island, well, something else entirely, and far more disturbing, is going on with her.

Manhattan, a.k.a. Manny, is a mixed-race young man who had just arrived in NYC on a bus, intending to start a new life. This gets a bit more comprehensive than intended when the first manifestations of the city being born cause him to lose his memory of his own identity, and anything but the broad outlines of his plans. He's now Manhattan, and has to figure out what that means for him.

Brooklyn is a middle-aged woman, former famous singer and DJ, now city politician and mother of a teenage daughter. Brooklyn really is her given name; now she is also the avatar of the borough.

Bronca Siwanoy is a Lenape woman, in her 60s, an artist, and director of the Bronx art center. She is also, now, the avatar of the Bronx.

Padmini Prakesh is in her twenties, a Tamil immigrant and grad student, a mathematician, and now the avatar of Queens.

Aislyn Houlihan, white, thirty, lives with her parents on Staten Island, has never actually been off Staten Island to visit any other part of the city. Now the avatar of Staten Island.

And of course, New York, a young, homeless, black man, a gifted artist who does his work as graffiti.

These are highly individual, proud, often contentious people, with strengths, weaknesses, and sometimes counterproductive impulses to think their borough is the most valuable, or the only one they need to care about--and if New York City is to survive, they need to find ways to work together.

This turns out to be a little more literal than merely the sense of having a living avatar or avatars to support and protect the city. There really is something new and different going on, and the city, all the living and potentially living cities of Earth have an Enemy.

I got sucked into the story, and the characters, right away. Jemisin is a wonderful writer, and Miles does a great job with the narration. Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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