By Dustin Cabeal
While I enjoyed The Nameless City, which is the overall name for this trilogy and the first volume in the series, it never grabbed me. I didn’t fall in love with it in the way I have with other works from Faith Erin Hicks. What doesn’t help is that twice now the series has had a quote from an Avatar: The Last Airbender creator on it, which is exactly what this series makes me think about while reading it. The quote amplifies that unfortunately, which may be the reason I’m not in love with this series.
This volume is better than the first is a lot of ways, but then suffers from trilogy syndrome at the same time. Where its better is the characters. The main characters of Kaidu and Rat have built a believable friendship. Not a romance, but a friendship and it feels realistic and natural.
The story focuses on the city of councils that Kaidu’s father wants to build in order to prevent the Dao from being run out of the city like all those before them. His biggest adversary is the son of the ruler of the Dao who has been told all his life that he was born and raise in the city to one day lead the city in a way that no other Dao could. The big mystery this time around is the power of the Northern people that created the city. Is their power gone or simply hidden?
Where the story suffers is the beginning and the end. The beginning relies on you having read the first volume, and the ending sets up the next volume rather than having a rewarding conclusion like the first volume. The story isn’t resolved, but instead, our characters are set out on a path of travel. It’s a cop out. It’s trying to be Empire Strikes Back, but it feels like Matrix 2 instead.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not unreadable, but it’s not nearly as strong as the first volume because it doesn’t stand on its own. In reality, this entire story might read better together since very little time is passing between volumes. The strongest parts end up being the character development between Kaidu and Rat and watching their friendship grow as Kaidu loses his identity and Rat rediscovers hers.
The artwork is, of course, great if you like Hicks’ style. If you don’t, well you’re a bit crazy, but then you’re not going to like The Stone Heart. The art is consistent with the first volume, but you can see growth in the storytelling. Hicks works out some kinks that maybe didn’t work as well in the first volume. There are not nearly as many giant cityscapes to look at this time around which is okay, but it does leave the city feeling a bit lifeless at times. Otherwise, the art is wonderful and some of Jordie Bellaire’s best coloring work.
I’ll be back for the final chapter, but it’s clear to me at this point that I’m just here to be lightly entertained. This isn’t going to go down as a classic for me, nor is it going to change comics in the way that Avatar did. It’s wearing its influences on its sleeve, and that’s okay, but that keeps it from being great.
The Nameless City: The Stone Heart
Creator: Faith Erin Hicks
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: First Second Books