It’s been a long wait since I first reviewed the original book in The Walled City trilogy way back in 2011. However, I’ve spent the last few weeks reading through all three books, culminating in this, the final part.
It’s an extraordinary journey. The series revolves around the walled city of Kowloon, a slum that used to exist just outside Hong Kong, which defied the authority of various governments for generations. The story follows the lives of a handful of men, friends whose destinies have been woven into the fabric of the ramshackle city. All have spent most of their lives in or around Kowloon and, across the course of the three books, we follow them from boyhood, through tragedy and loss, until we appear at the other side, in their middle age.
While the first book had an element of introductory scene setting and character building about it, the second built up the meat of the story. It’s a twisting a tale of kidnap and human trafficking, which has directly or indirectly affected the lives of all of them. As they’ve grown up around the city and its difficulties, their innocence is lost tragedy strikes with increasing regularity.
This final book makes for a hard read, as we see how difficult times can take their toll on youthful hopes and desires, and shape the men to come. Embittered and lost, our heroes are crippled, scarred or wracked with guilt and loss. Behind it all, the difficult story of the child trafficking is wound up and sorted out, but the characters of these lost boys and the problematic life of Kowloon remain complicated and unsolved.
It’s a masterful, brave piece of literature. Anne Opotowsky’s epic story is truly flabbergasting and worth investing time on. It’s tough to sum up in a few words but while it starts with a whiff of magical realism about it, it’s firmly grounded in reality. Some of its exaggerated reality comes from the characters, some from the town itself, and some from the perspectives the artists have put on the series.
This final book is illustrated by Amber Ma, and the process of taking the existing characters into middle age, and leaping around the timeline to unravel the trilogy’s plotlines, can have been no mean feat. I’m not convinced that the differentiation of characters is strong enough here to achieve perfect clarity, but other areas of the art lift this book above and beyond our expectations. Ma’s sweeping cityscapes and birds-eye views just take the breath away.
The trilogy, then, is a deeply rewarding read and a phenomenal piece of writing. Built as a coherent whole from the first few pages, over many years, this volume just slots into place. It has its flaws, perhaps, in an overly florid narration and might have been better illustrated by a single artist, though that’s clearly a matter of debate. However, if you want a human, challenging read, beautifully illustrated throughout and standing at hundreds of pages, it’s well worth engaging.