26 September 2023

The World We Make

Start the conversation

Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By NK Jemisin, Hachette, $32.99.

The World We Make is NK Jemisin’s follow up and conclusion to the Great Cities duology that began in The City We Became. That first book introduced the high fantasy idea of sentient cities, and told the story of the “birth” of New York through a host of avatars, one of for each of its boroughs. The birth of New York drew to it malign Lovecraftian forces represented by the Lady in White and lots of wriggling tentacles. These forces were battled to a stand still in the first volume but not defeated, partly due to the defection of the avatar for Staten Island.

The World We Make takes up three months after that battle, the avatars of the boroughs of New York and the avatar of New York itself, are still facing daily challenges pushed by the Lady in White. Those challenges come in the form of a mayoral candidate called Panfilo who wants to “Make New York Great Again” and a bunch of white supremist rednecks who call themselves the Proud Men. Meanwhile, the avatar for Staten Island is starting to realise the consequences of dealing with the forces of conformity. As that short precis shows, once again there is nothing particularly subtle about what Jemisin is trying to say about America and the issues that it is facing, or where she stands.

The action of the novel, when not concerned with the individual avatars fighting off political, physical or supernatural attacks, centres around New York trying to galvanise the help of the other great cities of the world. Those cities, much older and with little time for newly born upstarts, do not at first believe the threat extends to them but soon come to realise the issue is an existential one for the whole of the universe.

In The City We Became Jemisin introduced a fascinating and diverse cast of characters each emblematic of a part of New York but also individuals in their own right. Once again each of them gets a chance to shine but with so many main characters each of them feels just a little bit cheated. And she also set up a fascinating fantasy world of city characters who only get small walk on roles. So while The World We Make provides a satisfying (if a little rushed and exposition heavy) conclusion to its story, it feels like extending this series to another book would have given the characters and the world itself more room the breathe.

Importantly, The City We Became and The World We Make are modern fantasy with something to say. Jemisin herself observes that when she started writing the first book she could not have foreseen how relevant the issues that she was exposing would become. It is a reminder that not only great cities but society itself thrives in diversity and opportunity and a timely reminder that we must remain vigilant against the forces of homogeneity and oppression of new ideas and progress.

Over 850 more book reviews can be found on Pile by the Bed.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.