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.
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on November 4th, 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller, Young Adult
There are three rules in the Walled City: Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife. Right now, my life depends completely on the first. Run, run, run.
Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai all live in the Walled City, a lawless labyrinth run by crime lords and overrun by street gangs. Teens there run drugs or work in brothels—or, like Jin, hide under the radar. But when Dai offers Jin a chance to find her lost sister, Mei Yee, she begins a breathtaking race against the clock to escape the Walled City itself.
Loosely based on the Kowloon Walled City in China, Hak Nam has grown up within the walls of an abandoned fort and remains largely ungoverned. It is controlled by Longwai and his Brotherhood, goons who deal in drugs and young women. Outside the walls, the city goes on with all the modern amenities, unaware of the struggle going on within the walls of Hak Nam.
Jin is small, spry and currently cross dressing. She followed her sister Mei Yee from their humble home after their father sold her to the Brotherhood. All Jin wants to do is find her sister and set her free, to be done with the walls of Hak Nam forever and to be a happy family again.
Dai was sent to the city on a mission. A mission to exonerate himself from crimes both committed and framed. He’s got a tough job ahead of him, one that involves taking down the city’s mob boss and the city with him. People are expendable to Dai, and he’s set up walls to keep them out.
Jin and Dai team up, one because he needs to and the other because it’s the only brothel in the city that she hasn’t been able to scope out fully. Their quests intertwine and become one before the book is finished, and both Jin and Dai come out the other side better for it.
Dai is in a standard redemption arc, both needing to avenge his brother’s untimely death and to clear his name and conscience. He does this vicariously through the two girls as he eventually attempts to help them reunite. For a boy who originally only thought about himself, he certainly got attached quickly. A case of instant-love and instant-friendship in each situation seemed somewhat unbelievable considering Dai’s earlier actions, but helped the plot move along. There really was no time to establish trust and romance.
Jin is a strong and resourceful character. Despite the instant-friendship on Dai’s side, she stays relatively distrustful of him and when she feels herself lull into a sense of security, quickly prods herself out of it. She’d rather take on everything head on and get grievously injured, than depend on him only to find that he’s let her down.
The last point of view comes from Jin’s siter Mei Yee, a young working girl in Longwai’s exclusive brothel. She is the exclusive prostitute for a visiting ambassador and not forced to see any other clients. After experiencing the horrible punishment of one of her fellow girls for trying to escape, Mei Yee develops a spine. Any and all interaction after that that offered a chance to be free was like a breath of fresh air, and she grabbed onto it like a drowning man with a life raft. She may have seemed too trusting and too eager, but when her other options were poor imitations of prisons, she latched onto what she thought was the best.
I had no idea what to expect coming into this novel, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it immediately grabbed my attention and kept it till I finished. There are no lighthearted subjects in this book. It covers human trafficking, drug deals, murder and prostitution. The other children within the walls are a wild mob who would stab someone for their belongings and leave them for dead. The book was dark, the book was intense and the book was wonderful. I loved the writing so much that I was almost immediately disappointed to find that although the author has written more books, they appear to be part of a poor, trope filled fairy story. I guess you can’t win them all. Though, I will be keeping an eye on Ryan Graudin’s new releases, to see if something catches my eye.