Publisher: Little, Brown
Release: November 4, 2014
Source: Won from YA Romantics
730. That's how many days I've been trapped.I wish I could say The Walled City starts out with a bang. I wish I could tell you the author dives right into the plot and that each scene is high on adrenaline. I wish I could say the story will captivate readers from page one.
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.
But if I said all those things, I would be lying.
The Walled City actually begins much more slowly than I had expected. Based on the blurb, which describes each character's desire to escape the Walled City and establishes a strict time constraint, I expected cinematic countdown with the deadline quickly approaching and each day full of action. However, while readers quickly learn that Dai needs to obtain an item from brothel owner and notorious criminal Longwai in order to escape, they do not discover what item, why he needs it, or why he is under a deadline until about halfway through the novel. As a result, the plot seems almost aimless during the first segment, with a character who has a vague goal but no known motivation to achieve it. The other two protagonists' stories help support the plot, but while they are engrossing on their own, support seems to be their main function. The three tales eventually intertwine, but Dai's is always the dominant one. And since his story does not truly seem to start until 200 pages in, many readers may struggle to become invested right away.
However, the plot's initial slowness is not all bad; Ryan Graudin fills space between the creaky scenes of the exposition with captivating world-building. The Walled City creates a setting like no other, a center of crime completely exempt from the laws of the rest of the Asian nation in which it resides. Gang violence and other nefarious activities result in heart-pounding chases and deadly confrontations, creating explosive subplots that destroy any hint of boredom that the idle opening may cause. Perhaps it is the fact that the Walled City is based on a real place—the Kowloon Walled City, which stood in Hong Kong in the 1900s—or perhaps it is Graudin's gift for bringing a setting to life, but readers can almost immediately visualize this book's backdrop, rising in all its ashen glory, pulsating with the lives of thousands of vagrants and those trapped in nefarious games.
Even better, the plodding introduction makes the final few days of Dai's countdown, when the intense action starts to take place, seem incredibly satisfying. I loved watching all three main characters unite, developing risky plots to achieve Dai's goal, which, over the course of the novel, becomes their shared goal. Readers will be riveted as the characters' plans continually encounter kinks and complications, forcing them to think quickly to save themselves and each other. By the final page, The Walled City provides enough thrills to more than make up for an exposition that focuses more on world-building than plot.
Scrolling through this book's reviews on Goodreads, you will encounter reviewer after reviewer who put this book down before the 50% mark, too disinterested to continue. While I absolutely understand this decision, I highly recommend powering through if you are close to halfway done or if you can handle books with a slow build. The beginning is not boring—I never would have finished the book if it was—it is simply focused on world-building. And if you can make it through the first 50%, you will be rewarded with a stellar second 50%, making it 100% worth it to stick with the story until the end.