Kaidu is a Dao, part of the tribe of warriors who have occupied The Nameless City, a strategic prize, for three decades. Though he was raised on the Dao's plains, he has left his chieftain mother to come to the city, where his father, a general, has lived all his life.
The Dao need generals, and they need soldiers, which is how Kaidu ends up in Dao military academy. No one knows how an ancient, forgotten people carved the Nameless City into a pass through an otherwise impassable terrain, but it has been fought over ever since. No army has held it for more than 30 years, which mean's the Dao's time is just about up, and there are plenty of other armies out there, sharpening their weapons and biding their time.
Kaidu is a dreamy boy, picked on by the other kids, and prone to sneaking out of the barracks and racing against Rat, a whip-thin City girl who is teaching him to run over the city's roofs and make impossible routes through over its alleyways in exchange for whatever food he can smuggle her out of the kitchen.
Kaidu, his father, and Rat are at the most important place in the world, at the most important moment in its history, and in the balance hangs the possibilities of war, betrayal, coalition, and justice (whatever that ends up meaning).
Hicks's story is the perfect kind of fantasy, the kind where the interpersonal relationships of the characters are a microcosm for the problems of the world they inhabit. Kaidu's problems with his father and the other boys; Kaidu father's problems with the other generals; Rat's problems with the Bao soldiery; and the City rabble-rousers' problems with the occupying army are the perfect, intimate surface on which to sketch grand themes of geopolitics and military strategy. It's a masterful work of young adult fiction that manages to be sophisticated and accessible at once. Keep your eyes out for the next two volumes — this has a lot of promise.
The Nameless City [Faith Erin Hicks/Firstsecond]