How have you been reading your way through lockdown? Me, I started with The Golden Age of Crime Fiction and worked my way through the whole catalogue of Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham as I’ve not previously read much from there. Interspersed were some rereads from Pratchett and Le Carré, random self-help and popular science. Thanks to Sheffield Book Group, however, I’m back in the zone of reading modern science fiction.
My latest read was The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin. I say read but most of my reading nowadays is in the form of audiobooks and I really must start my review with this: the audiobook version of this novel is superb. The presentation of the novel, the use of audio techniques to differentiate inner voice, the appropriate use of music and the narrative differentiation of the characters is brilliant. Very often a good story can be lost if the narrator is terrible and this is such a good job.
On to the story itself. I was very confused at the start, and while I am convinced this was a conscious authorial decision* it did make for a rather rough beginning. Luckily with the introduction of the various Boroughs it became clearer and I settled into the novel – another reason why the differentiation in the narration is so important on audio. I had to do some background reading around some, ahem, common science fictional tropes at one point. This rather highlights that I have spend most of my time reading classics in other genre rather than SF. One day I will go back and read more Clarke, Lovecraft, Bardbury etc. One day.
Essentially, necessarily, world-building and character-building take place at the same time. As the setting is New York we already know a lot of the locations but Jemisin does a brilliant job of introducting us to some lesser-known areas and buildings. It would have been almost too easy to have Liberty marching across the populace. The pace of the novel certainly picks up as we move along, with a very “danger of the chapter” style that then leads to a relatively action free denouement. It comes as no surprise that this is the start of a trilogy. Overall a fun read.
*I like to think of this as “mordoring”. Author deliberately writes in a style to match the mood/environment of the character.