The Walled City - Ryan Graudin
There are three rules of survival 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.Based on Hong Kong's historical Kowloon Walled City, a sunless, lawless shanty-town overrun by gangs, Graudin's novel takes place in a densely populated, walled off city, run by the ruthless Brotherhood. The narrative essentially carries readers along using three intertwined narrative voices: Jin Ling, Dai Shing, and Mei Yee. Dai notices Jin's running skills one day, and asks Jin to partner with him in a scheme involving the Brotherhood. Jin, desperate to find her lost sister, agrees to the partnership, knowing that the consequences of any slip-up is death... and a painful death at that. With only 18 days left to escape the City, Dai finds himself racing against the clock, trying to outrun the ruthless forces conspiring to keep them all trapped.
When I first began to read The Walled City, I didn't realize that Graudin has based the novel on a real place, but I was delighted to find the author's note in the back, where she describes the historical Kowloon City and her inspiration for this novel. Though the city no longer exists as a place to live, the area upon which it was built is still around as a park. But I'm digressing from the story itself...
I love multiple narrative voices, and though they can be difficult to write (the ability to write distinctive voices without simply differentiating through font shifts, is a huge challenge!), Graudin has managed to capture some truly distinct voices and backstories. It makes a world of difference to see multiple perspectives on a single moment in time, and to see multiple ways of approaching a challenge within the narrative arc. Using this style of storytelling allows readers access into the minds—the fears, anxieties, joys, and desires—of each character, rather than relying on a semi-omniscient third-person narrator.
And now the thrills: I was captivated from the first page. Yes, I know it's a cliche statement, but I'm going with it anyway! I really was drawn in immediately. The opening lines about the three rules of survival caught my attention, and then I was instantly witness to a chase scene, setting my adrenaline pumping. The chase is seen from two different perspectives, and the aftermath is seen from a third perspective, heightening not only the action, but also the consequences of going against the Brotherhood. Action can sometimes take over characterization, but I did not see that as an issue in this novel.
The characterization is strong, each character, having their own voice, lends a certain ability for Graudin to build not only the world around each character, but also the lived experiences and backstories inside each character. Only fifty pages into the story and I felt myself becoming very attached to Jin, Dai, and Mei. Though each has a very different perspective, the ways in which they work together throughout the story, building bonds and struggling against a menacing crime lord, will give readers a front row seat to the apprehension, the mistrust (and the desire to trust, at the same time), and the growing relationships between the trio.
Even Chma, the cat, is an integral and heart-felt part of the story. A memorable character in his own right, taking part is squabbles, feasts, chases, and cuddles, Chma is a wonderful addition to the text.
There is much to be praised about this book, and I sincerely hope that it catches on quickly (and I do believe it will!) Don't miss out on the suspense, the action, the glorious writing, and the rich setting of The Walled City. Graudin's love for her subject(s) and her dedication to giving life to the mistreated individuals in the walled city are evident in her writing and her characters.
(Note: This review is from an advance galley - Out November 2014)