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Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

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.

Released: November 4th 2014    Pages: 432
Publisher: Little, Brown             Source: Netgalley
First Look: ***** The premise of this didn't really grab my attention--people with secrets in a dystopian world?  Running the streets, or trying to escape something?  Sounds like...well, every other dystopian novel.  When I got access to it via Netgalley, though, something made me decide it was worth a shot.  I'm still not sure what that something is.

Setting: ***** 
I'm still left with one burning question: why, exactly, is the city walled?  How does the rest of the city (is it even part of an outer city, or is it totally separate?) fit into the picture?  If these questions were answered, I would have more positive feelings about the setting.  Apart from this aspect, the Walled City isn't much different from a typical dystopian city--gangs running around,virtually nonexistent police force, everybody is poor, etc.  It may not be original, but it's interesting.  It provides a rough, dirty, dangerous background against which to form the characters.  It's one of those settings where it's easy to see how the characters have been shaped by their world.

Characters: ****
If Ryan Graudin was trying to make me think of Day from Legend when she named her character Dai, it certainly worked.  The two characters come from different backgrounds, but they have so much in common: resourceful street-smarts, a haunted past, a drive to protect their families.  Dai is probably my favorite of the three POV characters in The Walled City.  His secrets make him complex, and his complexity makes him feel real.

If Dai is my favorite, Jin is a very close second.  She also has Dai's street-smarts and desire to protect, but her personality stands out in a different way.  She's less solitary than Dai, giving their brother/sister-like relationship an interesting dynamic.  If anything, she's a bit more ruthless, which gives her an edginess that makes her both flawed and likable.

Mei Yee is the character I cared about least.  Some of this might have to do with the fact that her story moves at a slower pace, since all of it takes place from inside the brothel.  Still, her characterization just isn't as interesting to me.  She has some real, raw emotions, but she seems more one-sided.  I know that she wants to escape the brothel, and she wants her sister back.  That's about it, though, and I spent much of her chapters wanting a bit more than that.

Plot: ***** While it didn't stand out to me as wholly original, the plot still kept my attention, for the most part.  Mostly, I just wanted to find out what Dai's secret was, even though my guess was fairly close.  This aspect still keeps the plot interesting, though.  A healthy action-packed pace adds to this interest.  Since I genuinely cared about the characters, I wanted to see them succeed, which kept me invested in the action.  Some of it could have used more explanation--why, for example, *highlight to view spoiler* did they wait until now to enter and clear out the city?  What changed?*end spoiler*  Still, though, I enjoyed the plot.

Uniqueness: ***** There isn't much to make it a strong standout from the crowd.  It's good, yes, but there isn't much to differentiate it from so many other YA dystopian novels.

Writing: ****As with so many other split-POV novels, I wish this one would have had more distinct narrative voices for each character.  I rarely lost track of who was narrating, but even so, I wanted more of each character's personality in their chapters.  That might have made the difference between The Walled City being a good book versus a great one.  The writing worked, doing its job effectively, but sometimes I just found myself wanted a bit more from it.  Mostly, that differentiation aspect.

Likes: "Mr. Lam told me you usually camp in this sector. All I had to do was look. And follow my allergies...closest thing I've got to a superpower."

I love this.  It's so true.  The closest I'll ever get to a superpower is the ability to detect, from a room (or more) away, the exact moment when someone opens a jar of peanut butter.

Not-so-great: Alright.  Dai has a secret.  We get it.  The emphasis on this fact is a little too heavy-handed.

Overall: The Walled City has its share of issues--namely, a setting and plot that don't do much to stand out from the approximately 528,491* other YA dystopian novels published this year.  Apart from this, though, it has a lot of good things going for it.  The characters are awesome, especially Dai and, to a lesser extent, Jin, who both have a ruthless side and a softer side, giving them interesting complexity.  The plot is full of a nice mix of action and emotion.  I would recommend it, but not if you're looking for complete originality.

Similar Books: It will certainly appeal to fans of Legend--the two have similar tones, styles, and even characters.  It also reminds me of Proxy and Frozen.

*Number is a completely estimated "scientific" figure calculated by yours truly.  If you define "calculated" as "stolen right from Inception because I wanted a random number".  (While I'm at it, here are some interesting theories about this number.)
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