Review by Frank Plowright
It’s a necessary skill to ensure the middle part of a trilogy matches the opening volume, even if it lacks the thrill of the new. If it doesn’t there’s the danger the let-down prevents the conclusion being as successful. How does Faith Erin Hicks do with the follow-up to The Nameless City?
Three months have passed. Rat’s leg has healed while Kaidu taught her to swim, and the General of All Blades is pressing ahead with a plan to negotiate peace between opposing factors to prevent the constant cycle of warfare resulting from one or another enemy taking over the Nameless City. Attempting to change centuries of warfare or simmering resentment is an ambitious backdrop, and Hicks reinforces how powerless ordinary people feel as the political and military forces squabble. As with the first book, it’s difficult to avoid the real world parallels with Jerusalem.
The Stone Heart is a young adult graphic novel, and while the adventure element is important, it’s even more important that the younger cast are seen as people the prospective readers can relate to and Hicks establishes that as a priority early by broadening the younger cast. Also on the agenda is exploring the city after which the series is named. It’s so old that the current inhabitants don’t have any real idea about who built it and the techniques they used, despite a vast library. It’s already been established that Kaidu is a big reader… Rat and Kaidu have grown from their experiences, in Kaidu’s case displayed in a great military training session, and parentage becomes increasingly important as Ezri comes more to the fore. He’s been raised by the General of All Blades to believe he will one day rule the Nameless City, and as plans for discussions progress that’s being removed from the table, and he’s not happy.
The Stone Heart, the place, is the monastery in the Nameless City, a refuge and where help can be found, and Hicks cleverly embeds a reflection of the name in the past of the monks who live there. It’s a nice piece of characterisation that also explains why they care so much for Rat. So much of this book effectively builds on what’s been previously introduced, and it’s more than enough to ensure that it steers clear of middle book syndrome. With everything that’s going on, it’s certainly not the calm before the storm, and the storm takes place in The Divided Earth.