The Nameless City

illus. by Faith Erin Hicks. 234p. First Second. Apr. 2016. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781626721562.
Gr 4–6—Rat and Kaidu meet on the streets of the Nameless City. They are from different worlds: Kaidu is from the Dao clan, the current occupiers of the city, and Rat is a girl living on the streets and struggling to survive under Dao rule. But they form a fast friendship traversing the city using parkourlike exploring. As they get to know each other, they delve into the secrets of the Nameless City's history and come to realize that the only chance the city might have to survive is through unity instead of endless conquest. Though this is a visually appealing, action-packed story from a talented graphic novel artist, the seemingly deliberate lack of any cultural context is distracting and problematic. The story seems to take place in a Chinese-inspired world featuring Chinese junk ships, Chinese-style clothes, and words such as Dao, Yisun, Liao, and Yanjing, yet there is no further evidence that the setting is indeed China or anywhere in Central Asia. This appropriation of disparate elements of Chinese culture comes across as opportunistic; the author's fictional world borrows specific cultural aspects and ignores others strictly for the purpose of storytelling. This makes for a hollow and unsatisfying read on place and culture, and it keeps readers at a distance. Even the name of the book hints at a historically fraught practice: the continued occupation of the city is cited as the reason it is "nameless." Readers will be left wondering which people first named the place.
VERDICT The borrowing of vaguely Asian-influenced cultural markers without deeper engagement or authenticity is too troubling to overlook. Not recommended.

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