ARC Book Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Posted November 12, 2014 by Debby in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from Book Expo America in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

ARC Book Review: The Walled City by Ryan GraudinThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Published by Little Brown and Company on November 4th, 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: Book Expo America

730. That's how many days I've been trapped.
18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible....

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister....

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She's about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window.....

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

3 Stars

When I heard about The Walled City at the BEA Buzz Panel, I was immediately intrigued. It’s based on an actual city, Kowloon Walled City, in which many of the horrid dystopian-like elements of the book did happen. It sounded action-packed and realistic yet disturbing. Ultimately, though I found the story entertaining, I felt it was bogged down in bad writing, bland characters, and only average world building.

The Walled City is a sort of historical fiction dystopia. In this city, crime reigns free. There is no governing body, no laws to be upheld, because… I don’t quite know. Here’s where the world building, to me, is pretty average. Hak Nam apparently fell into some kind of loophole when the countries surrounding it set up new governments, and so it was some kind of safe haven for anyone with a criminal record. I didn’t feel like this was explained well enough. Perhaps it was because Graudin based it on a real place and either thought we’d know how that came to be or that we wouldn’t care. I care. Dystopias have a history of why they came to be that way, so historical or not – I want to know. I was also confused because the city’s gates are apparently open. I didn’t understand why most people wouldn’t just leave. Couldn’t they move? Find a job somewhere? I mean, some people in that city work! They run food stalls and stuff… couldn’t they do that elsewhere if the gates are just open? Even being homeless in some city that was NOT Hak Nam would be better than living in that dystopia. Or are they all criminals that would be thrown in jail the instant they step out of the city? Even the kids? But wouldn’t jail be preferable to fighting for your life every day? SO CONFUSED.

Whoever told you this LIED.

But the dystopia element of the city was very well done. It sounded absolutely terrifying. Gangs run around freely, stealing, dealing drugs, and probably committing many other crimes. Everyone makes sure to have a weapon on them, because otherwise they could easily be assaulted or killed. Kids and women are sold into sex slavery. Should they disobey their masters, they could be injected with heroin until they form a deadly addiction to it. That last bit freaked me the fuck out. Not gonna lie. I couldn’t decide for myself whether I found it realistic, but the terror was real and well-written. This made the story extremely dark and exciting.

Personality-wise, the characters weren’t that interesting, but their individual stories definitely were. Jin Ling is a girl, disguised as a boy, who sneaked into the city to save her sister, Mei Lee, who was sold into sex slavery by their abusive dad. Dai is a guy with a mysterious past and mysterious motivations, but he seems to want to take down the leader of the Brotherhood – Longwai. The three characters are our POV characters and… well, they read the same. That’s a bit disappointing. Mei Yee, as a captive prostitute, does sound different, I’ll admit, because she’s struggling with way more issues than the other two. As such, I think I liked her voice the best. Jin Ling and Dai, however, are almost interchangeable. I really couldn’t tell them apart. And did I care for the ship? No. I felt that was entirely unnecessary and cliché.

But, overall, I was engaged in the story because I could understand their desire for freedom and I was scared for them. It kept me turning the pages, for sure. There were action-packed fight scenes, intrigue, suspicions, deception – so many of the things that make dystopias a hit for me. The story was by far the strongest part of the novel, because in spite of my dislike of other elements, I couldn’t put it down.

The biggest detractor for me is the writing. Right off the bat, I realized that Ryan Graudin doesn’t write in a style that works for me. The sentences are all really short and choppy. Lots of fragments. (See what I did there?) I realize that this is far from the only YA book that does this, as most are written in first person and people think in fragments. It’s normal. But here, it was so omnipresent and overdone. And then there’s the metaphors. Graudin loves metaphors but tries so hard to make them work, to make them super vivid, that they completely cease to make sense. Multiple times, I had to stop and stare at a sentence that was so weird, that I just could not understand. I’ll show you my top examples:

The air wrinkles with the sound of Dai opening the bag. The Walled City by Ryan Graudin (ARC)
How does the air wrinkle? Seriously, how? How does air wrinkle due to a sound?

I felt the hush of rain on my skin. The Walled City by Ryan Graudin (ARC)
How do you feel a sound??

They never slow, the franticness leaks under the door, mixes with the lemons. The Walled City by Ryan Graudin (ARC)
This is the one that made me stare the longest. The “they” refers to words – he’s overhearing a conversation behind a door. Franticness is decidedly not a word in the English language. But apparently words – sound – can “leak” under a door. And apparently it can also mix with the SMELL of lemons – from the cleaning solution.

Now I’m not saying that this writing is terrible, the worst, or incorrect. But it absolutely does not work for me. Some may like this over-the-top imagery, but to me it just tries too hard and ceases to make sense. Instead of immersing me in the story, it takes me out of it and makes me scratch my head in confusion. But these were by far the worst examples that I noticed – the end of the book was so action-packed that I was reading furiously and stopped nitpicking over mere sentences. So… I guess that would be my advice. Read quickly. Don’t linger and think about how odd some sentences are.

Summing Up:

In spite of how far the writing drove me up the wall, I can’t exactly say that I regret reading The Walled City. The story was dark and entertaining, and it did keep me on my toes. And yet, the characters were pretty bland and I cared nothing for the mini-romance. Thank god it was mini, I guess. Ultimately what I can say about this book is that I’m kind of glad I read it, I wish I’d learned more about the Walled City and how that came to be, but I don’t think I would reread this ever and I’m not sure I would recommend it to others. In sum: a mixed bag.

GIF it to me straight!

That would be the writing slapping me in the face.

Recommended To:

Fans of action-packed, dark dystopias, which may have some world building / plot holes, like Dualed.

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6 responses to “ARC Book Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

    • Those were the worst examples for me, and to be fair, there’s whole sections where it doesn’t really happen, but it’s just odd enough to make me twitchy. I think if you get swept up enough in the dark story, then you can overlook it for the most part, so maybe try a sample?

  1. I started reading this one, but very early on decided to put it down the writing and the bland characters aren’t working for me either. I might pick it up soon because I’m curious how this story will turn up – and I was enjoying the dark setting!

    • I think the writing has been everyone’s primary complaint, and I totally get that. I enjoyed the story, but it took some effort to push through the writing. *sigh*

  2. “the city’s gates are apparently open. I didn’t understand why most people wouldn’t just leave.” <— YES THIS. This was never explained and I just… O_o I understood why Jin stayed, but what about people who weren't trapped there?! Especially the kids – if they're living on the streets in Hak Nam, why?! Wouldn't it be better to be living on the streets in a nicer city?

    And yeah, the characters' stories were definitely the reason I *wanted* to keep reading… but the writing was the reason I quit. I soooo do not understand how all of those metaphors made it through the editing process. I just don't. If they'd been cut, or at least significantly reduced, this book would've been soooo much better. D:

    • OH GOD I thought I was the only one who found that weird (though admittedly I haven’t read many other reviews). Like, the fear was there to make the world awesomely dark, but if the gates are open, everyone staying makes noooooooo sense. I think maybe the surrounding cities would have strict laws about homeless people or something? Possibly? But that’s something I’ve decided myself. Graudin sure didn’t present any possible explanations.

      I can spoil you if you want to know the stories 😛 they were all right, but I totally understand the writing standing in the way for you. I think it’s a style thing. Some people like this – unquestionably including some editors – but I just don’t. Nooope.