Title: These Violent Delights
Series: These Violent Delights, #1
Author: Chloe Gong
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publishing Date: November 17th 2020
Age Category & Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Retelling, Romance, Historical Fiction
Summary: 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.
Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.
**Thank you to Chloe Gong, Margaret K. McElderry Books and Netgalley for providing me an eARC. This, by any means, did not affect nor influence my review.**
T/CW: violence, death (human and animal), murder, gore, parental abuse
I started reading this book in the last week of December 2020 and initially planned on finishing before that year ends but failed to do so. Instead, I paused reading this for few days then suddenly spent the last day of 2020 and the first day of 2021 focusing on this. I feel satisfied with how I spent my New Year’s Eve and the first day of this year. The only thing that kind of makes me sad is the fact that I did not have enough braincells to read this earlier (hi to the books that I started and decided to put on hold 😅).
I was super excited for this book the moment I first heard about it. And if you are on book twitter, you have probably heard of These Violent Delights and have witnessed the hype surrounding it.
Now that I have finally read it, do I think it is worth the hype?
My only answer to that is: yes.
WRITING, CHARACTERS, SETTING
These Violent Delights follows the story of Juliette Cai, heir of the Scarlet Gang, and Roma Maligov, heir of the White Flowers—with both gangs ruling the streets of Shanghai in 1920s. It is mostly written on the point of views of Juliette and Roma, with a few written on some side characters’.
First notable thing and one of those that I really love is the writing. It was atmospheric. I was easily transported to 1920s Shaghai. It was easy to be swept and feel like I was on the main characters’ shoes, especially Juliette’s. Gong’s prose is just… It was like poetry and I could not get enough. And even though the writing is meant to reflect the language used in the period in which the book was set in, for a non-native English speaker, it was not hard for me to understand. As I usually encounter this problem especially in historical fiction.
Juliette Cai easily captured me. I love her so much. Her flaws are apparent right from the beginning. I connected with her in an instant. She is badass. Her fighting skills and strategic thinking amazes me. I just love her. I also liked Roma, though not as fast and I did not connect with him the way I did with Juliette. I still appreciate him. I love how well fleshed out they are. We see both of their sides. We see the different struggles they face, especially as part of their families. It was easy for me to see and feel how they became drawn to each other. Juliette and Roma really make a good team, even if we omit the romantic relationship between them. I love seeing them work together.
I love the characters in general. I love how we got to see the story of some secondary characters. They are all interesting in their own ways. It is apparent how important they all are in the story. And I am looking forward to knowing more about them in the sequel.
ROMEO & JULIET RETELLING, MONSTERS & SHANGHAI IN 1920s
One might expect that this story mainly focuses on romance and the story of this star-crossed lovers, while that is true, this is also way more than that. These Violent Delights talks about the city of Shanghai and its people. It talks about monsters and madness. And how humans themselves can go mad and do monstrous things as well.
It touches the topics of politics, colonialism, capitalism, communism, Chinese diaspora’s experience especially in the West, and some other social issues that were relevant at that time and still are until now. I did not expect that these topics will really be explored. I love how the topics it is aiming to tackle were balanced. This is one of my favorite aspects. I love how it does not just show a one-sided story. It helps us see different angles. Particularly, I like how it shows the advantages and disadvantages of capitalism and communism to many different groups in the story and presents complex scenarios that will urge you to think for yourself and assess the situations on your own.
I do not know much about Shanghai’s, and China’s in general, history but this book has given me idea of what it was like back there in 1920s. It made me interested and curious enough to do my own research and allowed me to see some parallels between our world’s history and this historical fiction.
The monster and the epidemic provided another layer to the story. It was the source of another emotion this book made me feel—terror. Reading this talking about an epidemic while we are currently in a pandemic was also an experience. The way these fictional characters reacted to the situation gives quite a realistic portrayal.
Another favorite aspect of mine is the fight scenes. They took my breath away and made me feel so excited. They were intense. All those strategies, maneuvering, gun pointing, knife pointing, I would really love to see those scenes in a movie adaptation and fan arts (if only I have the talent and skills to make a fan art myself, I would have done tons).
The emotions this book made me feel just… The yearning? The struggle of choosing between your duties and personal desires? Trying to forget the feelings you have for someone that you still really love? Proving that you deserve your place in your gang? These and many more just made me feel so many things that my heart can hardly handle. And I will be glad to go through it all again on the sequel.
These Violent Delights has a lot to offer—from a Romeo & Juliette retelling, to exploration of some political, economic and social issues, to a monster terrorizing a city. As a debut novel, I am quite impressed and so excited to see what more Gong can offer. I really love this book. I am so excited for the sequel and I am going to spend my time to emotionally prepare myself while waiting. I recommend.
Chloe Gong is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and International Relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times.