Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook
|Listened to the audiobook
This urban fantasy-horror novel will only come off as weird if you haven’t seen a magical girl anime before. In New York City, six individuals are chosen to be avatars of the five boroughs and the city itself. They must come together to protect NYC from a trans-dimensional new city hell-bent on stopping its growth.
Right off the bat, Jemisin takes such care in choosing these avatars. The cast is a diverse mix nationalities, ethnicities, sexualities, and experience with living in the city. It almost perfectly mirrors the variety of perspectives from all angles of life in New York. The way the different facets of the five boroughs manifest in the avatars feels so true to the spirit of the boroughs. It’s also presented, however, in a way that can be accessible to those who have never lived in NYC.
But more than that, the characters are so incredibly nuanced and human. They’re frustrating in very real ways and have entire lives outside and around their identities as avatars. I definitely gravitated to Manny (Manhattan) the most, but the journey on which Jemisin takes Aislyn is handled with such finesse. The subplots in general are incredible. It was a joy to see how they all came together during the final confrontation with the enemy.
While there is clearly a lot of love for the city, Jemisin also does not hold back any of her punches when it comes to critiquing the gentrification, bad cops, territorial prejudices, and the things people do to survive. They’re all very real elements of that particular urban environment, and the novel treats as another essential layer of world-building.
I’ve heard this novel called a cosmic horror and while the elements are certainly there, the reality is that this novel is a giant “fuck you” to H.P. Lovecraft. From starring characters he would have been afraid of to the well-placed nods to some of the creature designs come from the mythos, it’s clearly an influence, but there is a scathing hatred of the author which permeates from scene to scene. And it is absolutely wonderful.
Another fantastic entry into the list of “most New York City books ever,” this one does not hold back any of its sharp critiques and excellent dialogue that are steeped in so much love for the city that never sleeps.