My review of this fantasy retelling of Romeo and Juliette set in 1926 Shanghai. Here is my review of These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of a duology
Source: My own
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.
I was so excited to read this- I have seen this book everywhere on Instagram and I loved the cover. The idea of a fantasy set in Shanghai in 1926 with monsters also sounded very appealing too. But unfortunately, I didn’t love this as much as I thought would.
So, I will start with what I liked about the book.
The world-building in this book is fresh and new 1926 Shanghai is not a location or time that I have come across in Fantasy. I could feel the atmosphere and tension through the author’s writing. The author’s afterword about the complex political and societal tension at the time makes it interesting reading and worthy of its own book.
As usual, I found the secondary characters so much more interesting, and I wanted to read more about their stories and follow their subplots. Benedikt, Marshall, Kathleen and Lady Cai had so many layers I wanted to read about. The burgeoning relationship between Benedikt and Marshall was one of the highlights of the story.
The sudden madness that has taken over Shanghai and the reasons and the mystery surrounding this was satisfying in own right too.
The book ends on one of the best cliffhangers I have come across AND I have to read the next book to find out what happens next!
Now the parts that didn’t work for me.
There was just a bit too much going on. I just found all the plots and subplots a bit overwhelming – this story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet retelling, a monster story, a gangster story, a revenge tale, as well as a tale about the societal and political upheavals in 1926 Shanghai! So this is perfect if you love books with many subplots.
I personally think the book would have worked without the Romeo and Juliet elements- sometimes this felt shoehorned in. Roma and Juliette didn’t feel like a passionate relationship that is doomed to fail unlike the relationship between Marshall and Benedikt. To me, Marshall and Benedikt are the real star-crossed lovers. I couldn’t warm to Juliette and Roma as characters which don’t help when they are the lead romantic couple. The focus on the romantic tension took away from the more fascinating descriptions of the creeping colonisation of China.
I was a thrown by the sudden insertion of sentences in French and other languages without translation especially since my high school French is a tiny bit rusty.
Violence, some racism