As a rule, I’m typically drawn to the romance within the plot (hello, romance junkie here), but The Walled City was an exception to the rule. In fact, I wasn’t really all that intrigued by the romance between Mei Yee and Dai. I didn’t connect with Mei Yee until about 60% of the way in, when she really stops accepting her life as it is and begins dreaming of more that the prison. What drew most of my attention was the budding friendship between Dai and Jin – and the love between the two sisters (not a romantic love, a sisterly love) that causes Jin to make such foolish but brave decisions.
The Walled City is a pretty accurate description of Hak Nam – or the real-life name that The Walled City is inspired by, the Kowloon Walled City that resided within Hong Kong until it was torn down in the early nineties. It was a first a military city, but over time became known as sun-less, ungoverned enclave overrun by gangs, brothels, and drugs.
In The Walled City Hak Nam was controlled by the Brotherhood, an extremely dangerous gang (though it seems bigger than a gang, I can’t find a better word to describe it) lead by a vicious drug lord called Longwai. I realize I should be disgusted by the fellow as he’s committed atrocious crimes – child prostitution, violent murders, and more – but he makes an entertaining villain. It was fun watching Dai subtly manipulate the man, I just wish he (Longwai) had a bigger part in the story and not a faceless boogeyman for a lot of the book. I think it would have been fun to add his own POV to the mix.
Did I mention the book is written in first person and alternates between three points of view – the three main characters – every chapter? This is one of my first reasons for waiting four months to read the book, because I am just not that into alternating POVs. Thankfully, it worked in The Walled City’s favor and really brought the book to life, showing us Hak Nam through the eyes of three very different people and conflicts, and yet they all see the city the same way: a prison of horror. It also made it easier to connect with the characters, even if it took longer for me to connect with Mei Yee. Kudos for Graudin’s talent in somehow taking something I normally hate in fiction and bringing it to life. That alone deserves a five-star rating!
Let’s Chat Characters
My favorite character from the book is Jin. How can it be anyone else? She represents the good, the knight in shining armor we’d all wish to be. Jin is no more than 15 (I’m thinking 13 or 14, but I can’t be for sure) but she’s always been the defender of her household. When her abusive father would try to turn his fists on Jin’s mother or older sister, she would get in the way. She never stopped fighting and never stopped hoping. She’s brave and makes foolish mistakes – but she makes them in the rescue of the underdog.
Several time it is mentioned that the only way to stay alive in The Walled City is to keep your head down and look the other way, but I call bullshit. It might save you own skin, but it will eventually make you dead to empathy and pain, which is something Jin never becomes. I think most of us would relate well with Jin, even if she isn’t the most realistic character ever. There is something in her character that we could all relate to, plus she totally kicks ass and wicked cool. :D
Dai was my second favorite character, even though he was a selfish prick for a lot of the novel. He was worse than dead to empathy, he chose to ignore the cries of others to save his own skin. I eventually realized he is not the bad person he convinced me he was, he’s just lost in his guilt and the death of his brother and wants more than anything to be out of the city that reminds him of his sins. I liked that I could see him grow as a person the more he gets to know the girls. He’s one of those complex characters that you don’t truly get to know unless you can read between the lines.
Why is Mai Yee my least favorite character? She’s not really. I wound up feeling proud of her the closer to the end I got, but I just couldn’t connect as well with her as I could with her little sister, Jin. Or even her love interest Dai. I think she reminded me of my own weaknesses and nobody likes to be reminded of their faults. She did wind up nabbing my heart, but it almost took ‘til the end of the book for her to stand up and fight for her freedom – I’m not sure I could have done that were I in her place.
I realize that this review was too long. Sorry to keep gushing about The Walled City but I can’t help but love it to pieces. Don’t blame me, blame Ryan Gaudin. She wrote the book! I urge all whom has yet to read this – pick up a copy NOW! I hope you won’t be intimidated by the all the imagery and just read it. Let me know how it went for you and please don’t kill me for having wrote almost 1000 words for this review.
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This review was originally posted on One Curvy Blogger