By Ryan Graudin
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
THE WALLED CITY seems like so many dystopians when it opens. Yet, it quickly becomes clear that the world outside the city is pretty darn normal and that the law is waiting just outside the walls. This is not a dystopian at all, but instead a more realistic story based on the history of 1980s Kowloon, a former military fort turned no man's land.
There are three points of view: Jin, Dai, and Mei Yee. Jin and Dai become drug-running partners as part of the secretive Dai's plan to do something. Jin agrees because he'll get her access to the final brothel she needs to search. Mei Yee is the sister Jin is looking for, who Dai meets unknowingly. The countdown that starts the book lets you know that as these three are drawn together, they only have eighteen days to achieve their goals before something big happens.
THE WALLED CITY is a rough read. Mei Yee's passages are particularly difficult, because she's been sold into sexual slavery. As a favored girl at the nicest brothel in town, she has it better than some others. But that's about the only good thing you can say about it. Jin is hiding as a boy and roughing it out on the streets, but one of her last thefts earned her the enmity of a gang and there's not many safe places left for her. Dai has dark secrets that drove him to the Walled City. Ryan Graudin does not shy away from depicting the dangers her young protagonists face.
This is Graudin's second book to release this year. Her debut, ALL THAT GLOWS, was a fairly standard urban fantasy with insta-love and a protagonist whose competence all too often relied on telling instead of showing. I bounced off of it. I wish THE WALLED CITY had been her debut instead, because this book says that Graudin is one to watch. It's not quite like anything else I've read this year. It's tense, deftly plotted, and well characterized, with an unpleasantly vibrant setting.
I'm not quite sure how to classify THE WALLED CITY. I think it will please fans of historical fiction, dystopian fiction, and thrillers. It has elements of all three genres, blended smoothly together. It's a real nail biter, right down to the cathartic epilogue.