& Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin. Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy/Adventure. Publisher: Little, Brown

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin.
Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy/Adventure. Publisher: Little, Brown

The Book Itself: This one’s actually a little too simple for me. The title, in a brush-like scrawl, across a matte black background. Slanted in the light, the black background depicts a maze: the walled city itself. But it doesn’t stand out on a shelf. The only reason I knew about this one was a few reviews floating around that I’d read.

My Review: 730. That’s how many days I’ve been trapped.
18. That’s how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible….

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister….

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She’s about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window…..

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

Chalk this one up to “mature” “Young” Adult fiction. One of our main characters is a prostitute, and the other two are involved in the drug running trade. Death, disease, and famine run rampant in their home town. It ain’t a happy place. Rape, drug administration and the resulting addiction, and torture feature prominently at one point or another. It’s a story that tries to shock you at every turn…but is actually quite predictable.

Dai has a chip on his shoulder…and it’s pretty easy to suss out what it is, based solely on what he’s doing now and who he’s involved with. For chapters and chapters he “alludes” to a loss in his past. And it’s very obvious what it’s from (hint: it has to do with what he’s running now…) Mei Lee doesn’t get to do a lot, as she’s locked in a brothel, promised to one customer only, and simply moons out of her window for a boy who leaves tiny presents outside of her window. A poor, rather pitiful, character with so little to do. Jin is searching for her sister, although she’s already really figured out where she is (which brothel she’s in)…and in my mind it’d be pretty easy to get in there to see her (she could pretend she’s a customer. She’s already impersonating a boy). So at the story’s start, everyone’s basically stalling for time. Twiddling their thumbs, as it were. They all know what they need to get, but it’s a waiting game to get it. There are some unnecessary obstacles put in their way that seem to be in there just to prolong the story.

The boundaries in the walled city are funny. It seems quite easy to leave the place, so there’s suddenly a lack of tension there. Sure, all three characters have reasons to stay put: one is locked up in a brothel, one is on a mission to find her sister and get them both out, and the third has a personal vendetta he wants to see through to avenge someone from his own past, but to know that you can run outside the walls when you need to…it makes the city less imposing, less of a character.

The action ramps up appropriately in the last fourth of the novel. The last three days or so, everyone’s running places, bleeding out, holding their breath, waiting for rescue, reuniting with people from their past. The author does keep you turning pages then, and hurdle after hurdle is placed before each character, so that at some point you are sure that all of them are dead, that they can’t possibly come back from it all.

The conclusion is strong, although there’s a lot of nice-nice in the end. Everything is just a little too neat, in juxtaposition with all the nastiness the book tried to shock you with. So, overall, too direct and ugly out of the gate, a little implausible towards the end. Not a very strong contender.

My Grade: C

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