The International Writers Magazine: YA Review
The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
ISBN: 978 1 78062 199 9
Published November 2014
A brilliant debut. Ryan Graudin explodes on the scene with a fast paced gritty thriller set in the decaying seething walled city of Kowloon, days before it was raised to the ground. At first you think it is a medieval setting and it is jarring to discover the modern city with all its luxuries is just next door. The people in the walled city are imprisoned by a way of life, the drugs, prostitution, thieving, seemingly they know no other way of living.
But this is no dystopian vision of the future, it was a real place, just as the favelas of Brazil are real and life is cheap with people piled high upon one another.
Graudin has imagined a life in The Walled City that is at once convincing and rich in character. She is channelling China Miéville and Neil Gaiman and that is no bad thing. The beautiful Mei Yee is trapped in Longwai’s brothel, having to service the Ambassador exclusively. She is one of the lucky ones, not having to deal with customers who often beat the girls or worse. Mei was sold to the brothel by her father and Jin Ling is now in the Walled City,– desperate to find her sister and get her out of there. She does not know that for Mei there is no way out. Jin Ling is a terrific character. ‘I’m small. I can slip into cracks most of them don’t even see. It’s because I’m a girl. But they don’t know this. No one here does. To be a girl in this city – without a roof or family – is a sentence. An automatic ticket to one of the many brothels that line the streets.’
Jin Ling’s only friend is her cat Chma and she trusts no one. ‘In Hak Nam Walled City muscles and fear rule, survival of the fittest at its finest.’
The third character is Dai, a young drug runner, loner, sharp-boned, good looking, who needs a fast runner like Jin Ling for his own ends. He has a deadline – 18 days to get what he wants. Dai isn’t like the other Walled City residents. He is educated, aloof, but also sad. He thinks of the walled city as a City of Pain.
Dai reels Jin Ling in to his scheme, he does not know she is a girl or that she seeks her sister, Jin Ling does not share easily. She falls in because she is desperate to search Longwai’s brothel, her last chance to find Mei Yee.
The Walled City is jarring, exciting, the action breathless, Manga brought vividly to life with vivid fluid prose. No one is quite who they seem to be. Three lives are entwined by sheer desperation as they seek to erase the past and start anew or die trying. The writing is almost poetic, characters good and evil are created with ease and you are quickly drawn into this story and from the very first line. ‘Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife.’
The Walled City is most satisfying read of the year and I can’t wait to read more from Ryan Graudin.
© Sam Hawksmoor November 2014
author of The Heaviness