I am, to be modest, a really big fan of Faith Erin Hicks. My absolute favorite work of hers is The Adventures of Superhero Girl, which tends to fly under the radar, but you should really just D.E.A.R. it (shout out to Beverly Cleary and my girl Ramona!). Her characters have this vibrancy to them that I just love, and her style is a cool manga-traditional fusion.
So, when I received my copy of The Nameless City, I knew it was going to be great.
I love it when I'm right.
The Nameless City has this effortlessness of graphics and writing that makes you feel buoyant. Even with evil plots and nasty schoolmates, The Nameless City is a fun romp with deep (but not preachy!) discussions of racism and the conquering versus the conquered.
Every few decades, a new nation conquers the Nameless City. It's just a lot easier to call it "the Nameless City" because otherwise you'd have to remember oodles of names from the oodles of conquerors who came before. Currently, the Blade Empire rules the City, and are looking to strengthen their empire. These people are the Dao, and their children come in from the countryside to train as warriors to defend this new holding of their people. The training is conducted by the head general's son, Erzi, and his Named assistant, Mura. The Named are the original inhabitants of the city, who have chosen to submit to being conquered again and again in order to survive.
Young Kaidu left his mother to be with his father in the Nameless City. Unfortunately, he's not very talented at any sort of martial arts, and worse, all of his classmates hate him. As the cherry on top, his father, who is a politician and general of sorts, is mocked by all of the other powerful military commanders as being spacey and bumbling. And the fact that he kind of forgot about his son is proof that yep, he has some issues. However, Kaidu's father also proposes that a Council rule the Nameless City to prevent no one faction from becoming too powerful. This, of course, makes too much sense.
Augmenting his status as the Class Weirdo, Kaidu's father, Andren, comes and takes him out of class on his first day to tour the city. While eating these absolutely delicious-looking kebobs (Faith Erin Hicks, I desperately need kebob now and I blame you), Andren notices a young Named girl sitting on the roof. Kaidu snarkily asks why his father deigns to talk to that creature. Showing unexpected kindness, his father reveals that he gives the girl food, because she is hungry. It doesn't matter that she's not Dao--it's just the right thing to do.
For someone raised in a very nationalistic culture, this is a revelation to Kaidu. He knows that his job is to hate, or at least despise, anyone who is not Dao. But when he runs into the girl again later, he's intrigued by her. She calls herself Rat and is the mistress of running over the roofs of the city. Kaidu wishes to trade food for training from her. Slowly, they gain each other's trust and become friends.
Rat's most impressive feat is jumping over the river from one roof to another, a task that Kaidu fails again and again. But when Rat suddenly goes missing, he must put his training to use, swallow his pride, and ask the priests of the city for help finding his friend.
The artwork in this is just as good as the story, which isn't often the case in many graphic novels. Jordie Bellaire's colors are, as usual, spot on. The inhabitants of the Nameless City are very diverse, with all skin tones, hair types, and builds.
The Nameless City is a fascinating exploration of friendship, oppression, and trust complimented by gorgeous artwork that will make you want to fly from rooftop to rooftop. But don't do that. I mean, unless you are a stuntperson or something. I don't want to be responsible for a bunch of injuries, here.
I received a copy of The Nameless City from First Second Books.