The second book in The Walled City Trilogy is as fascinating as the first. It begins with the English destroying a tree that is central to the walled city of Kowloon; an act that is also a metaphor for the end of Kowloon’s time as a magical place in the eyes of main protagonist Song. Where he used to see wonder and character, the ugliness of humanity at its worst starts coming into focus. He sees through the glamorous surface of organised crime and finds it festering beneath, the ruling British Empire preferring to turn a blind eye to the lawlessness than attempt to control the ghetto’s uncontrollable poor. Amongst the criminal warlords a power struggle is erupting, and the lucrative business of child kidnap and trafficking continues apace.
While Song is the innocent protagonist of the first book, he’s truly walking the road to manhood in this volume, finding his vocation, if not a perfect career path, in the Dead Letter Office. It’s here that he uncovers clues relating to the missing children, which he uses to start unravelling the evidence. The links he uncovers to the criminal gangs mean his investigations put him in significant danger.
The plot is woven carefully and subtly. For the first few chapters I couldn’t help but worry that the book was going to suffer from the classic milddle-of-trilogy problem, where the book merely transitions from the beginning to the end, lacking the new of the first book and the resolution of the last. However, Nocturne soon reveals that this is not going to be the case: that it’s a journey in its own right. It introduces new characters; it shifts the pace of the story into a far darker place; and there’s an ebb and flow of story, that washes through the book and leaves the landscape looking the same but subtly different from what came before.
Some of this comes from the use of a different artist, with each of the three volumes in the trilogy set to be illustrated by different people. Here it’s the work of Angie Hoffmeister, whose sharper, more defined style helps add to the atmosphere of Song’s harder, more intense reality.
Anne Opotowsky is leading us towards a crescendo of some sort with this story, and if it’s anything as good as the first two books it will be well worth waiting for. Having not read the final book at the time of writing, it’s impossible to know for sure whether this trilogy is going to achieve classic status, but I think it’s looking extremely likely.