‘The World We Make’ by N.K. Jemisin

Share this:

Quick physics review: energy equals matter and matter equals energy. The most famous equation in the world, E=MC², tells us exactly that. We all parrot this, but for the most part we never think about what it actually means. Or what could be possible because of this fundamental principle of the universe?

After all, thoughts are also energy. Our body produces electricity and these electrical impulses in our brain create our thoughts. So could our thoughts become real? What if enough people had the same thoughts? Could this amount of energy become a reality? NK jemisin takes this premise and goes further. Could enough thoughts and feelings about a city bring it to life? Can a city have a soul? Discover in The world we create.

[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Orbit for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of The World We Make contains some spoilers!]

NK jemisin presents a fascinating idea

Thus, in The world we create exactly what we just talked about happens. When a city becomes so well defined and has enough special characteristics, has a personality if you will, it comes to life. Now, that doesn’t mean the streetlights start dancing and the sidewalk starts moving. In The world we create this means that one human (or more than one, depending on the city) becomes an avatar for the city.

The avatar truly embodies the essence of the city and what makes it special. If the city has different neighborhoods or neighborhoods with their own particular flavor, each distinct area will have its own avatar, but there will always be a main avatar that represents the city as a whole. Avatars gain special powers from the city’s energy, which are based on the characteristics of that particular location.

The world we create focuses on New York City. With all its different boroughs, seven different avatars have been chosen: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Jersey City, Staten Island, Queens and NYC itself. Of these seven, six come together to protect New York, and one, Staten Island, breaks away and sequesters itself on its island. Initially, this seems unimportant to other avatars, but eventually it becomes a much bigger issue.

fight to exist in The world we create

Of course, if cities come to life, there must be someone trying to stop it. And here. The world we create is the second in Jemisin’s Big cities series. In the first book, The city we have becomeNew York City wakes up and must immediately fight for its life against the Woman in White, herself an avatar of an interdimensional city.

You see, our reality is only one of many possible realities and certain interdimensional beings have decided that it is their job to oversee and shape these different realities. They really don’t like it when cities become conscious and send their creation, the Woman in White, to try and exterminate the new life.

New York City triumphs over the enemy in The city we have become, but this is only a partial victory. The Woman in White and the dead city of which she is the avatar set foot on Staten Island and continue to try to destroy New York.

The world we create

New York is not the only city sensitive to The world we create. All major cities in the world (except US cities for reasons that will eventually be revealed) have avatars. The oldest cities form a kind of cantankerous and stubborn supervisory committee that somehow governs the sensitive cities. They have a system where the previous youngest city frames the current youngest city. That way, grumpy old towns don’t have to deal with young avatars as they learn the ins and outs of being a sentient town. Older towns really don’t like to be bothered by younger towns. When New York tries to ask for help because the enemy is still harassing them, old towns basically say “your problem, leave us alone”.

An interconnected world

New York City struggles to handle the Woman in White on its own, but ultimately two things become clear. The first is that they cannot do it themselves. The second is that it’s definitely not just “their problem”. If other cities cannot overcome their elitism and listen, then the whole world is in danger.

The world we create really explores how interconnected our world is. On a small scale, what happens in Queens affects what happens in Brooklyn, and both affect New York City as a whole. But on a larger scale, what happens in New York affects what happens in Paris, which affects London, Hong Kong, etc. I loved that only by overcoming their differences and working together can the world be saved. I thought it was a beautiful mirror for the problems in the world right now.

A bit confusing but eventually finds his voice

As I said before, The world we create is the second book of Jemisin’s Big cities series. If you want to read this you really need to read The city we have become first because there are many things explained there. You will be very lost at the beginning of The world we create if you don’t have this information.

The world we create is also a New York book. If you are unfamiliar with the way the city is organized and its different boroughs, you will be confused. I almost recommend looking at a map if you’re unfamiliar with the city before you start reading (suffice it to say, including one at the start of the Orbit book would have been a nice touch).

That said, once you’ve got around 50 pages, you should be able to figure out the basics of what’s going on. After that, the story is pretty good and should keep you hooked. There are quite a few main characters to follow, and the story jumps between their different points of view, but there’s enough time devoted to each to make it satisfying and enjoyable.


If you have a thing for New York, you must read this book. jemisin clearly love the city and it shows on every page. Anyone else with similar feelings will eat this book. Those who like a healthy dose of sci-fi with their fantasy will like it too.

It takes an open mind to accept the idea that cities will eventually have enough energy to come alive. But it’s a very interesting concept that was great fun to explore and ruminate on. I can’t stop thinking about who my city’s avatar would be and what exactly it would look like. Lily The world we create and contemplate the personality of your own city.

My rating: 7/10

The world we create by NK Jemisin is available now. Are you going to read it? Let us know about Twitter. And if you haven’t already, check out our latest book review from Orbit Books, perpetual light!

Book review: perpetual light by Andrzej Sapkowski

Light Perpetual Banner

Share this:

Leave a Comment