When it was announced a few years back that Faith Erin Hicks would be writing and illustrating a series of martial arts fantasy graphic novels, my first reaction was something along the lines of, “But I don’t want to wait a few years for this!” Well, the waiting is over and it was worth it. This first volume of “The Nameless City” series introduces us to young Kaidu. He’s one of the Dao, the people that are currently ruling the title city, and has traveled here to meet his father for the first time in years. On a trip into the city, Kaidu crosses paths with Rat, an orphan girl who is quick on her feet and has a healthy distrust of all Dao. After a stroke of luck allows Kaidu to catch Rat after she steals his dagger, the two strike up an initially contentious but eventually warm friendship as he brings her food and she teaches him to be as fast as she is along with the ways of the city.
For a book that’s aimed at a young adult audience, I was surprised at how small-scale and grounded its narrative was. There’s no fate-of-the-world conflict here or magical techniques that need to be mastered by either of our protagonists. It’s a straightforward story of friendship, tolerance, and understanding with an assassination plot to provide intrigue and a thrilling climax. Even if this all seems like it’s been done before, Hicks shows that this kind of story can still be pretty involving when everything’s done right. She has an interesting setting in this city that has been conquered so often that there’s no proper name for it anymore and draws from feudal China for its aesthetic. Kaidu and Rat are also very likeable protagonists who have great (platonic, so far) chemistry together with their respective innocent and street-smart mindsets.
Aside from the general look of the city, Hicks also impresses with her command of action here. While there aren’t really any epic kung-fu fights to be seen here, the energy and momentum she invests in Kaidu and Rat’s scenes of parkour throughout the city makes them utterly captivating. Hicks builds a solid foundation for this series with the characters and worldbuilding she demonstrates here and I’m left with the feeling that things will get even better with the second volume. Great all-ages fun for everyone.