The City We Became

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The City We Became
The City We Became.jpg
First edition
AuthorN. K. Jemisin
CountryUnited States
SeriesGreat Cities series
GenreUrban fantasy
PublisherOrbit Books
Publication date
March 24, 2020
Media typePrint, e-book, audio book
Followed byThe World We Make 

The City We Became is a 2020 urban fantasy novel by N. K. Jemisin.[1] It was developed from her short story "The City Born Great," first published in her collection How Long 'til Black Future Month?[2] It is her first novel since her triple Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth series[3] and the first in her Great Cities series[4], followed by The World We Make, released in November 2022.[5]


The City We Became takes place in New York City, in a version of the world in which major cities become sentient through human avatars. After the avatar of New York falls into a supernatural coma and vanishes, a group of five new avatars representing the five boroughs come together to fight their common Enemy.


The avatars[edit]

  • The Primary: the avatar of New York City. A queer Black homeless young man. An artist and hustler.
  • Manny: the avatar of Manhattan. A queer Black man in his late 20s. When he becomes Manhattan's avatar, he loses most memory of his former life, representing his role as a new New Yorker. He is a somewhat ruthless strategist. He can allow non-avatar New Yorkers to see the Enemy if he needs to use them.
  • Brooklyn "MC Free" Thomason: the avatar of Brooklyn. A Black, middle-aged former rapper, lawyer, and current city councilwoman. She has a child and a sick father. Her power is rooted in music.
  • Bronca Siwanoy: the avatar of The Bronx. A lesbian Lenape woman in her 60s. She has a PhD, a hot temper, and a son, and works at the Bronx art center. She is the oldest of the six avatars and thus the holder of the city's lexicon of knowledge.
  • Padmini Prakash: the avatar of Queens. A 25-year-old Tamil immigrant graduate student living in Queens. Her first name means "she who sits on the lotus". She can use mathematical imagination to change physical reality.
  • Aislyn Houlihan: the avatar of Staten Island. A 30-year-old white woman who lives with her parents on Staten Island. Her father is an abusive, racist cop who calls her "Apple", though her name means "dream". She can become invisible.

Other characters[edit]

  • São Paulo: the avatar of the city he is named for. He is brown-skinned, lean, and a smoker. His cigarette smoke can combat the Enemy.
  • Hong Kong: the avatar of the city he is named for. He has a Chinese-inflected British accent.
  • The Enemy: an infectious, otherworldly life form that wants to take over the newly born city of New York. It appears in many forms, including the Woman in White, Dr. White, mind-controlling fungal fronds, and x-shaped spider-like creatures. In an interview with Time, N.K. Jemisin notes that the antagonistic forces in the book oftentimes are metaphors for gentrification.[6]
  • Veneza: a young Black and Portuguese woman who works with Bronca at the Bronx Art Center. She is from Jersey City.


The New York Times review stated, "In the face of current events, The City We Became takes a broad-shouldered stand on the side of sanctuary, family and love. It’s a joyful shout, a reclamation and a call to arms."[7] NPR wrote that the novel is "a love letter, a celebration and an expression of hope and belief that a city and its people can and will stand up to darkness, will stand up to fear, and will, when called to, stand up for each other."[8] A review in Slate said, "The city she sings fizzes so joyously through the veins of this novel that anyone mourning the New York before COVID-19 will likely find The City We Became equally sustaining and elegiac, a tribute to a city that may never fully return to us."[9]

Awards and honors[edit]

Year Awarded Award Category Result Ref.
2021 Nebula Award Nebula–Novel Nominated [10]
Hugo Award Hugo–Novel Nominated [11]
BSFA Award BSFA–Novel Won [12]
British Fantasy Award BFA–Fantasy Novel (the Robert Holdstock Award) Nominated [13]
Ignyte Adult Novel Nominated [13]
Locus Award Locus–Fantasy Novel Won (1st) [13]
Kitschies Novel (Red Tentacle) Nominated [13]


  1. ^ "Coming Soon: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin". Retrieved 2020-05-24.
  2. ^ Rocket, Stubby the (2019-08-29). "Here's a First Look at N.K. Jemisin's New Novel, The City We Became". Retrieved 2020-05-24.
  3. ^ Roberts, Adam (2020-05-14). "The City We Became by NK Jemisin review – a fizzing New York fantasy". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-05-24.
  4. ^ "The City We Became (Great Cities #1)". Retrieved 2020-05-24.
  5. ^ "The World We Make". Retrieved 2022-09-22.
  6. ^ "N. K. Jemisin on Race, Gentrification and the Power of Fiction". Time. 2020-03-13. Retrieved 2023-05-17.
  7. ^ El-Mohtar, Amal (2020-03-24). "When a Sinister Enemy Attacks New York, the City Fights Back". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-24.
  8. ^ Mullis, Steve (25 March 2020). "New York Comes Alive — Literally — In 'The City We Became'". Retrieved 2020-05-24.
  9. ^ Miller, Laura (2020-04-01). "N.K. Jemisin's New Novel Is Uncannily Relevant to a City Under Siege". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-05-24.
  10. ^ "2020 Nebula Awards". Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  11. ^ "2021 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. January 2021. Retrieved 2021-04-13.
  12. ^ "2020 BSFA Winners". Locus. April 4, 2021. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  13. ^ a b c d "sfadb : N. K. Jemisin Awards". Retrieved 2022-07-11.