Certain cities have an energy about them. A intangible, unique vibration that you can't help but feel, but struggle to describe. Well, N.K. Jemesin has written a story that takes this phenomenon, names it, describes it, explains the fantastical reasons behind it and what results from it, and then combines it all with Lovecraftian horror to create an extremely fun and unique read.
What if behind the curtain, there was a cosmic war between the powers that make a city beautiful and unique, and the powers that seek to destroy them? This question largely captures the central concept of The City We Became. From start to finish it is a blast to read, a pleasant blend of flowery prose and down-to-business thriller-paced action. The characters are extremely strong, strong enough to carry the reader through the (very few!) parts that drag on a little too long.
The City We Became is many things. On the surface it is of course a love story to New York City, with its anthropomorphization of the five burroughs and vivid descriptions of what makes them them. We get an honest look at the aspects that make them all uniquely beautiful and darkly tragic. On a deeper level, though, the story is about the importance of maintaining the very things that make a place stand out. It's about the spices and customs and sounds and smells that differentiate one city from another and how corporate globalization, racism, gentrification, and xenophobia are threatening to destroy these things, and in the process, the souls of our cities themselves.
Now I must admit, as someone who has neither lived in a city nor read any Lovecraft, there are certainly swells of emotion I missed when reading this book compared to someone familiar with one or both of these things. Even still, I found it very enjoyable and will probably pick up the next book in the series when it comes out on mass market paperback.
At the end of the day it is an excellent read from one of the most important living SF/F authors and is impossible not to highly recommend.