Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

In a country that is not China -- but, if it were actually in our world, might be -- there is an important city that has been fought over by three great nations for hundreds of years, with control going back and forth repeatedly. Each of those nations has its own name for the city, but the inhabitants prefer not to give it a name -- since that will only change with the next conquest.

(This is a book aimed for teen readers, or perhaps set in a world slightly more rational than ours, so the inhabitants of that city can have a policy to stand aside and let the three nations fight it out each time. In this world, that means that they survive and continue their lives under different rulers, not that they are sacked and raped and murdered with each change of overlord.)

Faith Erin Hicks tells a story in that city: The Nameless City. That story doesn't end here; there will be at least one more volume. (And what writer can resist a trilogy? Or an expanded trilogy? We'll have to see if Hicks can resist, or wants to.) But the action of this book ends by its last page; this is not a cliff-hanger.

Kaidu is a young man -- say twelve or thirteen, right at the age to begin seriously training for his manhood -- of the Dao nation, the latest conquerors of the city they call DanDao. He grew up with his mother in the homelands, but has been sent to train as a warrior in the city where his never-seen father is an advisor to the Dao general who conquered it thirty years ago and has ruled it since.

Rat is a girl of the streets of the Nameless City, a fearless orphan racing across rooftops, contemptuous of the Dao as her people have been contemptuous of each invader in turn. (So...there's never been any intermarriage among any of these four people, for hundreds of years of turn-and-turn-again conquest? That seems implausible. The people of this city should be utter mutts by this point -- and much stronger for it.)

Kaidu and Rat meet cute, and don't entirely hate each other. They each have no other friends, and so become something like friends when they're not being enemies. Because this is a book for younger people, you may guess that their story is positive and has something like a moral -- don't worry, it's a good moral. If you squint, it might even be a moral about the best government requiring the consent of the governed, rather than that the good overlords will make good decisions because they are good.

This isn't my favorite Hicks book -- there a lot of unexamined neo-feudalism here, and the world is just a hair more cartoonish than I'd prefer -- but it's vibrant and exciting and full of action and has two great characters at its center. Even better, the girl is the more accomplished and level-headed of the two, besides being better at physical derring-do. But, since it's supposed to be for people a third of my age, I can't fault it -- it's very good at doing what it sets out to do, and is a lot of fun as it goes along that path.

No comments:

Post a Comment