Graphic Novel Review: The Coldest City

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Graphic Novel Review: The Coldest CityThe Coldest City by Antony Johnston
Published by Oni Press on May 16, 2012
Genres: Historical, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 176
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

November 1989. Communism is collapsing, and soon the Berlin Wall will come down with it. But before that happens there is one last bit of cloak & dagger to attend to. Two weeks ago, an undercover MI6 officer was killed in Berlin. He was carrying information from a source in the East - a list that allegedly contains the name of every espionage agent working in Berlin, on all sides. No list was found on his body. Now Lorraine Broughton, an experienced spy with no pre-existing ties to Berlin, has been sent into this powderkeg of social unrest, counter-espionage, defections gone bad and secret assassinations to bring back the list and save the lives of the British agents whose identities reside on it.

The history major in me could not pass up this particular graphic novel. Although the Cold War is not one of the time periods I especially gravitate towards, it is definitely a great era for spy drama, which is what The Coldest City is. There’s as much drama, backstabbing and mystery as an episode of Alias. Well, maybe not quite that much, or quite that colorful, but still quite dramatic.

All of that drama, though, is told in a very detached style. Most of the story is told in flashbacks as Broughton, the female spy sent to Berlin to see what’s going on after the death of an agent, gives her report to her superiors at MI6. The graphic novel really had a noir feeling I thought, which was only exacerbated by the black and white illustrations.

The artwork did not particularly appeal to me, although it did complement the atmosphere of the story. The images are very shadowed and obscured, rather like the truth. I appreciate them for that, but, aesthetically, they’re not especially pleasing.

The one thing that I really felt made this graphic novel stand out was, for me personally, a big plus, but could, for another reader, be a serious detractor. Johnston does not just do all of the dialog in English; the language spoken by the character is the language on the page. This is not especially unique. What is unique is that there is rarely any translation offered. If you don’t speak that language, it’s all up to the context or an online translator for you. Most of the non-English parts were German, which, conveniently enough, is the other language I know, so I was fine and really enjoyed this. Had I not spoken that language, I think I might have been annoyed and frustrated, because the parts in German are not always simple and easy to derive from context.

All in all, I came away feeling rather meh about this one. The story didn’t feel quite fleshed out enough for me to really feel wowed. However, I think it could have some definite appeal for fans of spy stories.

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