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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Gritty But Gratifying, The Walled City Not to Be Missed

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Hak Nam Walled City is no place for children.  With its toxic brew of "humanity's darkest ingredients—thieves, whores, murderers, addicts," it's a 6 1/2-acre hell "so ruthless even the sunlight won't enter" (5%, uncorrected e-galley).  Kids don't belong here and yet, the city's teeming with them.  Survival of the fittest demands they do jobs that steal their innocence, scar their bodies, and snuff out all the hope they might foolishly harbor in their young hearts. 

Sun Dai Shing runs drugs for the powerful gang leaders who rule the Walled City.  The 18-year-old longs to bring the worst of the overlords to justice in the outside world, but accomplishing that task is impossible.  Even with his position on the "inside" of their nefarious enterprises, Dai can't figure out how to bring them down.  Not without sacrificing his own neck.  With only 18 days left to accomplish his purpose, he's becoming more and more desperate ...

Jin Ling is the fastest, most slippery thief in town.  Disguised as a boy, the 14-year-old girl ekes out a meager existence on the streets of the Walled City.  Always hungry, always on guard, always ready to run, Jin survives for one purpose—to find her older sister.  

Trapped in a brothel run by the most dangerous overlord in the Walled City, Mei Yee longs for freedom.  She dreams of the sea, of her long-lost sister, of flying away from her miserable life.  Sold into slavery by her desperate father, Mei Yee knows she can never return home, but surely, she can find happiness beyond the walls which keep her prisoner.  But, how?  How can she ever escape?  She's seen what happens to the girls who try.  Forced prostitution has to be better than enduring punishments that are far, far worse than death.  

As the fates of the three teenagers entwine, they must learn to break the most important rule of the Walled City—trust no one.  It is only together that they can accomplish their individual purposes, but can they work together without getting all of them killed?  Pitted against the most ruthless gang in the city, they will have to use all of their combined wit, strength and courage to triumph.  The only question is, will it be enough?

YA dystopians are a dime a dozen these days, making it almost impossible to find one that really stands out.  While The Walled City by Ryan Graudin (available November 4, 2014) isn't wholly original (not wholly dystopian either), it's absolutely memorable.  The main characters are well-rounded and sympathetic.  Rooting for them is as natural as despising their enemies.  Vivid descriptions of the Walled City make it come alive as fully as its inhabitants.  These elements, combined with a tense, nail biter of a plot, equal a first-rate thriller.  Horrifying but hopeful, gritty but gratifying, intense but inspiring, The Walled City is not to be missed.  Unfortunately for my dishes, my laundry, and my pile of uncut coupons, I could not put it down.  It's that compelling. 

(P.S.  If the setting of this novel sounds familiar, that's because it's based on Hong Kong's Kowloon Walled City, which was demolished in the 90s and turned into a park.  For some unsettling, but eye-opening info on this true-to-life place, click here and here.  

Also, you can read the first 90 or so pages of The Walled City for free on your Nook or Kindle.  You're welcome.)  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (one F-bomb plus other invectives), violence/gore, and depictions of illegal drug abuse and prostitution

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of The Walled City from the generous folks at Hachette Book Group via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!)

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