Title: These Violent Delights
Series: These Violent Delights #1
Author: Chloe Gong
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: November 17th, 2020 (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
Synopsis: The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
“The stars incline us, they do not bind us.”
The city of Shanghai in 1926 is split by a generations old blood feud between the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers. Juliette Cai returns to the city after several years abroad in America to assume her place as the heir to the Scarlet Gang, but the city is not as she remembers it. When a mysterious and deadly illness breaks out in the city, felling gangsters on both sides, rumors of monsters and plagues begin to spread. With the situation growing more dire by the day, and the growing threat of colonialism, Juliette has no choice but to team up with Roma Montagov, the rival heir to the White Flowers, whom she once loved and was betrayed by, in order to find and defeat this monster before the entire city is torn apart by the mounting chaos in the streets.
“These days Juliette,” he said, low and warily, “the most dangerous people are the powerful white men who feel as if they have been slighted.”
I’m not particularly fond of the original Romeo and Juliet, though I do appreciate from a literary standpoint, so I am always curious to pick up any retellings of it. The concept behind this book was a fascinating one and along with fantasy, the themes of colonization and Western influence also play a significant role. The setting of 1920s Shanghai was a first for me and in my opinion, this backdrop along with the whole rival gangs and star-crossed lovers concept really worked, and I thoroughly enjoyed this take on the story. It had just enough of the original story to be familiar, yet twisted things enough to be a fresh and intriguing read too. For those acquainted with Shakespeare’s play, there are many references to be found, starting right with the titles of this book and the sequel, both taken from a dialogue, and many more that were fun to observe. I know very little about what Shanghai was really like in this time period historically speaking, but this book has made me curious to find out.
The characters were all generally likeable, and I enjoyed the character arcs for Juliette and Roma. Juliette was definitely my favorite of the two and her internal conflict about her identity after many years away was very well portrayed. It is, I think something many readers can relate to on some level, being torn between two different identities and cultures. As for Roma, I felt that we didn’t get to see his story in as much depth, but from what has been revealed, and especially considering the happenings at the end of this book, the sequel will be an interesting one for his character. The side characters were no less, and despite not having POVs, all felt unique with their own background stories and motivations.
Story-wise, I have no complaints about this one. It’s mostly just that the pacing in the beginning was too slow for my taste and even though quite a bit was going on, it seemed to drag until about the 35% mark after which it took off and didn’t stop until the end. I also thought that the romance could have been handled better. There was plenty of tension and angst between the two of them given their history fraught with betrayal and their families’ ongoing feud, but considering that this is a Romeo and Juliet retelling, perhaps a little more page time should have been dedicated to developing this aspect too
The last quarter of this book was an absolute roller coaster as the pieces finally started to click. I loved the ending and the epilogue was such a good twist! With how amazing the storytelling and narration style was, it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, and it was certainly a very promising start to this duology. I’m so glad that Our Violent Ends is my next read because with that ending, waiting a whole year would have been unbearable. Highly, highly recommended!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series: