The Walled City by Ryan Graudin.
Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife. This set of rules stamped on the cover of this book had me sold. I had heard a few things about this book but nothing more than action packed. I went into this without knowing much and that was a great decision!
This story is told through three view points: Jin, a young girl disguised as a boy who snuck into the Walled City to find her sister. For someone so small, she packs a punch. Jin is full of determination and perseverance and such a strong desire to find her sister that she really instills her strong value for family regardless of her parents mistakes. Mei Yee: a sister who was sold by her father into a brothel as a prostitute. Throughout the story we really get to see major character development for Mei Yee. She starts out as very survival based. Keep your head down, obey the master, take your clients, bite your tongue, but as the story progresses you see her come into her own. She wants to fight back and escape and is willing to risk death to do so. And Dai: a boy from the City Beyond, no one knows how or why he is in the Walled City. He has a past that haunts him and he spends the book trying to redeem himself in the eyes of the City Beyond, if he fails he spends the rest of his life behind bars and he knows it. He is a strong and clever character eager to throw himself in harms way.
The Walled City, Hak Nam, is where all of the criminals flee to in order to avoid arrest, its dirty, diseased and dangerous. There is no government, no laws, and no one to help if things take a turn for the worst. The City Beyond has no jurisdiction over Hak Nam and won’t send anyone inside to help. I really like where the author found her inspiration for such a setting, which came from Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong. The fact that she derived this whole story or survival around one very real location just shows how powerful the human imagination can be. The world building at the beginning of the story is wonderful but what really blew me away was that she continued to World build throughout the story. The author pays a close eye to details not only in describing the world but the characters, situations and scenes as well.
He different view points make the plot a bit addicting because each character wants something different. But when Dai convinces Jin to help him with drug runs for the most dangerous man in the Hak Nam, this helps both of them. Dai is able to get into the brotherhood to look for needed info and Jin gets to search it for her sister. The whole plot is based around survival and secrets. You are kept on your toes.
There is a strong caste system in place while reading but it’s very subtle when discussed. What I mean is, when it’s mentioned you can feel how heavily it ways on the characters but the author doesn’t spend every two pages making sure you know who is higher up on the chain of command.
I also really loved that there was no insta-love in this story at all!! I hate instantaneous love, you don’t just fall in love at first sight. But it’s a very prominent trope in the ya community so I deal with it. I usually won’t comment on it but I have to with this one. Dai and Mei Yee meet and you can see they are interested in each other. The scene is something similar to a princess locked away in a tower but less cheesy. Mei Yee wants Dai to help her but knows that it may not happen. And there is no “my heart skipped a beat when I saw him/her” type of feelings or commentary and I believe this is due to the characters being so focused on survival.
I also want to mention a much smaller character who I fell in love with. His name is Chma and he is a cat. Yes, a cat. This little stubborn ball of fluff is a light comic relief when the scene gets tense and he provides so much character comfort that people tend to skim over because he is just a cat. I have noticed this with animals in other books but I think this one really stuck out to me because now I have a cat that is really coming into his personality and it just warms my insides. So anytime Chma was mentioned my heart melted a little bit because I can relate now!
Over all I gave The Walled City a 4.75 out of 5 stars. I didn’t give it the full 5 because there were scenes that I wish had a bit more to them, and the same scenes I wish had more where a bit slow for my liking, but everything else was solid for me! I love this book and look forward to reading more from the author. Thank you reading my rambles and until next time,