Every nation that invades the City gives it a new name. But before long, new invaders arrive and the City changes hands once again. The natives don’t let themselves get caught up in the unending wars. To them, their home is the Nameless City, and those who try to name it are forever outsiders.
Kaidu is one such outsider. He’s a Dao born and bred – a member of the latest occupying nation. Rat is a native of the Nameless City. At first, she hates Kai for everything he stands for, but his love of his new home may be the one thing that can bring these two unlikely friends together. Let’s hope so, because the fate of the Nameless City rests in their hands.
A story with plenty of adventure, and also plenty to say about conquest and cultural identity, The Nameless City makes for an addictive beginning to a tasty new saga.
Plus, it has parkour! (And I am such a sucker for well-employed parkour…)
But an unlikely friendship is the heart of this story, as two kids from opposite sides of a cultural (and social, and economic) divide learn, slowly, how to be friends. Kai is a boy who never seems to fit in, even among his own people, and Rat has no one left to belong to, as the last survivor of her family – and she has every reason to dislike Kai’s kind. But as Kai gradually wears down Rat’s well-founded enmity, and as Rat gradually shows Kai more and more of the city, these two slowly learn to trust in, and then rely on, each other. And to me, this is a vitally important kind of story – because fundamentally, it’s a story about two kids learning to see their world from each other’s point of view, learning to walk in each other’s shoes. And frankly that is something our world could use a whole lot more of.
But the world of this story is also a wonderful thing – and as you can probably tell from the cover, the art is gorgeous. Hicks drew inspiration from Yuan dynasty China, the Silk Road, and the diversity of Central Asia. both in terms of architecture and political geography, and it all makes the Nameless City a vibrant and fascinating place. And I love how this story illuminates the city’s post-conquest scars, of racism and poverty, and the ugly tension over who the city really belongs to, and who has the right to live there (though this book always remains middle grade appropriate). All of which makes for a powerful story engine going forward – and again, I believe this is the type of story we just don’t see enough of.
In the end, The Nameless City, much like Avatar: The Last Airbender, is a story about friendship, and how it can be a powerful thing – so powerful it can even save the world. And that, I simply love.
Byrt Grade: A
As Levar Burton likes to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
Offer this winning graphic novel to fans of Fullmetal Alchemist and Avatar: The Last Airbender, who will appreciate its mix of fun and adventure and its exploration of questions of identity, belonging, and history. A superb beginning.
Hicks looks at issues of diversity, poverty, politics, and racism in a way that is accessible to understand, but also heart-wrenching to read about.