Young adult graphic novel, written and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks (with coloring by Jordie Bellaire) and published in 2016 by First Second Books. The book has two sequels -- "The Stone Heart," published in 2017, and "The Divided Earth," published in 2018.
Before we get too far into the plot and characters, we'll have to talk a bit about the setting, because the setting is extremely important in this book. The City is a fantasy city with a distinct Asian flavor. It's a center for trade and commerce, a gateway to the rest of the world, one of the most important locations anywhere on this world. And there are frequent wars fought over it. Different nations take control over it every few years, and they always change the City's name to something completely different. But the people who live in the City -- not the visitors, not the conquerors -- they never accept the new names. To the people who live there, it's just the Nameless City, the greatest city in the world.
So we start out meeting Kai, a boy from the Dao nation, which currently rules the City. The Dao are warriors, but Kai really doesn't care for fighting, just for books, which leaves him alienated from the other Dao boys. Kai is here to visit his father, General Andren, who serves the ruler, the General of All Blades. Andren loves the City and encourages Kai to explore his new home.
And then there's Rat, a girl who lives on the street. She doesn't like the Dao -- or any of the other outsiders. She challenges Kai to a race over the City's rooftops, and when he later begs her to teach him to run, in exchange for food from the palace, there's the beginning of a friendship between the two kids.
But there are political intrigues going on behind the scenes that hold dangers for Kai, Rat, the people they love, and the entire City. Can they save the Nameless City and help bring its people stop hating each other?
So how is it? First of all, you need to realize one very important thing: Faith Erin Hicks is just the best. Do I need to say anything more in a review? She's just the best. She's been creating incredibly charming and fun comics for a couple decades now -- "Zombies Calling," "The War at Ellsmere," "Friends with Boys," "Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong," "The Adventures of Superhero Girl," "Pumpkinheads," and more -- with gloriously grand cartooning and storytelling that does both personality and action like a dream. Having Faith Erin Hicks on a project is basically all you need to know about how great it's going to be, okay?
Okay, I guess I do need to say a little more. I love the heck out of all these characters. Kai and Rat are brilliant and lovable and complex and precisely the kinds of heroes you need to anchor a book and series like this.
But there's also Kai's father, the drill sergeant Erzi, the unstoppably badass bodyguard Mura, and the General of All Blades -- not a tyrant, like we expect, but a book-loving man willing to listen to strange ideas to improve the city he runs.
Hicks' art has always been wonderful, but I feel like she really leveled up with this book. She creates a whole, massive city, intricately detailed -- and as much time as Kai and Rat spend running over the rooftops, that means she had to draw so many of the City's tiny roof tiles!
Her characters are always charismatic and fun, and with the City as a character just as important as the humans here, she makes almost every image of the City and its people just as appealing.
It's a downright fantastic book, great fun for readers of almost any age, and you should absolutely go pick it up.