Review: The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

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Paperback, 240 pages
Expected publication: April 5th 2016 by First Second
Source: Publisher

Oh this book.

This book.

The Nameless City is so many things that I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to do it the justice it deserves. If you’re not familiar with Faith Erin Hicks, her previous titles include Friends with Boys and my favourite The Adventures of Superhero Girl. If you haven’t read those already…what are you waiting for?

But on to The Nameless City. 

The synopsis says:

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.

The protagonists of this graphic novel are Rat, a native of the Nameless city and Kaidu, a kid from the conquering nation, the Dao. Hicks establishes the post-colonial narrative early on in the novel with the story of why the Nameless City is unnamed–which is slightly not true. All the different people who conquer the Nameless City call it a different name. As the city changes rulers, its name also changes to reflect the administration in power. What its original name might have been, only the natives remember and no one is asking them.

Kaidu’s father is one of the generals in the Dao army that administrates the city and his mother is the leader of a tribe in the Dao country. Kaidu comes to the Nameless city without any real aspirations to becoming a soldier but with a desire to get to know his father. His father’s politics is slightly different from the other generals–he believes the people native to the city should have more of a voice in the governance of it–a view that is generally scoffed upon by the heir who will lead the Nameless city after his father.

Incidentally, the heir is also Kaidu’s teacher in all things fighting. Kaidu meets Rat and for her, it’s hate at first sight. She sees him as another colonizer, another oppressor in a long line of oppressors so all she has for him is contempt. The way their relationship grows and changes to encompass their gradual realization of each other’s situations is a pleasure to read and see. Rat is a very compelling character. She has a difficult life and the many losses she has experienced has made her prickly and hostile. But she is not so far gone as to automatically dismiss the possibility of a friend in a Dao boy.

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I told Yash that The Nameless City has shades of Avatar to it perhaps because of the youth of the characters or the similar exploratory tones to both narratives. The art is spectacular as I always expect from Hicks’ works. The story has very strong post-colonial themes but it is also simply a story about two children who put aside differences and fight against systemic discrimination to change their world. The novel is about a city that may be nameless but is vibrantly alive–from the streets to the rooftops to the people.

Whether you read graphic novels or not, I recommend giving The Nameless City a try. It will leave you with a smile and some hope.