This week, in our series of Author Takeovers, we’re celebrating the publication day of our guest Ryan Graudin’s new book: The Walled City.
The Walled City is a dark YA thriller set within the walls of a lawless slum city where Jin Ling searches for her lost sister and Dai struggles to complete an impossible mission. A fantasy setting inspired by Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, Ryan’s novel has a rich authenticity and an intense atmosphere, and its pace will enthral the reader from the very first page.
We are thrilled to be the first stop on Ryan’s virtual book tour and you can find out more about her tour and our exclusive competition for UK readers at the bottom of the page!
From Magic to Mazes
As a life-long Harry Potter fan, it is an honor and privilege for me to be writing a post for MuggleNet! I started reading Harry Potter as an eleven-year-old, when the very first book was published in the US. Like countless others, I fell in love with the series, a passion I carried into university by becoming a teacher’s assistant for the English Department’s Harry Potter literature class. My admiration for the world J.K. Rowling built has also, in some ways, carried into my own writing.
On a surface level my book, The Walled City, is quite different from Harry Potter. It’s a YA thriller based on a neighborhood called the Kowloon Walled City that actually existed in 1980s Hong Kong. This place, which one of my character’s describes as “a recipe of humanity’s darkest ingredients—thieves, murderers, addicts—all mashed into six and a half acres of land,” was home to over 33,000 people, making it the most densely populated place on earth. One of the reasons this place was so crowded was because it was a no-man’s land in terms of the law. Illegal activities went unhindered due to conflicts between Britain and China. The Walled City housed all types of law-breakers: illegal dentists, noodle-makers and other tax-evading manufacturers and members of the Triad.
The neighborhood’s buildings were crowded so thickly together that the sunlight could not reach the streets. The Walled City was literally a maze of sunless tunnels. Its Jenga-like apartments stood fourteen stories high; all of them interconnected with stairwells and bamboo bridges. It was possible to go from the city’s north end to the south without ever touching the ground. Because there was no formal architecture involved in the city’s growth, there were no proper drains, and rainwater was constantly dripping down the city walls.
This place was a far cry from Hogwarts. If anything it was more like the Goblet of Fire tournament maze. Except instead of boggarts, Blast-Ended Skrewts and sphinxes the tunnels are filled with knife-wielding street boys, heroin addicts and lethal gang members.
The Walled City follows three different characters who are all trapped inside this city. Jin Ling lives on the streets, disguising herself as a boy to survive. She goes on drug runs for the Brotherhood of the Red Dragon, in order to search inside the Walled City’s brothels to search for her lost sister, Mei Yee. For two years Mei Yee has dreamt of escaping the brothel, but she has never dared attempt it, since every girl who’s tried has failed with dire consequences. She’s about to give up hope when the chance to escape appears at her barred window in the form of a mysterious boy. A boy named Dai, who has a dark past, and is on his own life-or-death mission to escape the city.
At the beginning of the story every one of these characters is isolated. Jin Ling’s motto for survival—“Trust no one.”—is highlighted by an intense feeling of loneliness. Mei Yee is locked away in her room, forced into solitary confinement after another girl’s escape attempt. Dai is also a loner, who keeps his personal life wrapped tightly in secrets. Their three separate narratives begin very differently, yet all hold the same sense of despair. As The Walled City storyline progresses, plots intertwine and these three characters are forced into closer quarters, both emotionally and physically. Jin Ling, Dai and Mei Yee are all faced with the choice of remaining isolated and staying “safe,” or risking everything and trusting each other.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve drawn from my multiple reads of the Harry Potter series is that we’re not meant to fight through life alone. Harry’s own journey begins in a very isolated place: estranged by his own family, forced to sleep in the cupboard under the stairs. But as the books progress, Harry finds community and friendship. Harry’s victories are almost always made possible by these relationships. Hermione’s cleverness, Ron’s loyalty, Neville’s courage, Dobby’s sacrifice (along with countless others), all contribute to Harry’s eventual defeat of Voldemort. Rowling did an amazing job at illustrating how love—in all of its vulnerability—is actually our strongest weapon against enemies that seem insurmountable.
It is a lesson that I’ve learned again and again in my personal life, and a lesson that I’ve tried to explore through my own storytelling in The Walled City. No matter how grim your circumstances, no matter how dire the enemy is, you are not alone. The power of friendship and love is stronger than you think.
We’ve got three copies of The Walled City to give away to lucky MuggleNet readers in the UK. Simply join in our Rafflecopter giveaway below!
For more blog posts from Ryan, check out her virtual blog tour: